Esquire Job-Market Exposé Is Good News

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Is the employment glass half full, or half empty? That's the question provoked by a lengthy investigative piece in Esquire's July issue, in which a writer tested the waters by posing as a job applicant.

In the resulting story, Richard Dorment chronicles his saga of applying for almost 300 seemingly randomly chosen job openings this past winter. (A sampling: "I applied to be a marketing designer at Nascar, a personal shopper at Tiffany, and a methadone counselor at Rikers Island. I applied to be the vice-president of collections and exhibitions at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a product designer at La-Z-Boy, a housekeeper on a cruise ship, a butler in a mansion, and a baby photographer.")

He used his real resume - apparently an identical one for every application - and just three variants of a cover letter. Although he steered clear of openings that require a license or certification he didn't have, the 29-year old editor also purposely avoided applying for any job he knew he qualified for: "I wouldn't apply to any positions in the magazine or newspaper world..." The entire exercise took up a mere six weeks.

So no one should be surprised that his experiment led to just a handful of interviews and no job offers. Yet, both Dorment's own account and a pickup of it on the 405 Club site by in-house recruiter Janet Raiffa describe his results as "dismal."

2.7 Percent First-Interview Success Rate

I beg to differ. From less than 300 applications to jobs for which he had no experience, using a generic resume and cover letter, Dorment obtained eight initial interviews and two "real prospects" for an offer. That makes an initial hit rate of at least 2.7 percent (could be slightly higher, depending on the actual number of applications), and a second-interview rate of 0.7 percent.

Rather than signaling how depressed the job market is, those numbers should encourage job-seekers. Remember: They show the success rate for openings Dorment was both plainly unqualified for (having never done similar work before) and made only minimal attempt to stand out from the crowd (he did nothing to tailor his resume or cover letter to each situation).

Remember how in high school, people said you earn a minimum 400 score on each SAT test simply by signing your name on the test form? That's how Dorment's results should be viewed: a minimum or baseline success rate, the proportions of first and second interviews available to anyone at all who cares to apply, regardless of experience.

Given that the economy was in a severe recession at the time he conducted his research, I'd call the above percentages pretty comforting. Especially when you consider that during the bull market a few years ago, some career experts were calling 5 -10 percent initial interview rates a reasonable expectation when responding to job postings. And that's for candidates who labored over their resumes and cover letters, and consciously ran toward (rather than away from) jobs for which they had prior experience.

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