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Get A Job: The Craigslist Experiment (thoughtcatalog.com)
211 points by kawera on July 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

I attempted something similar during my last year of college. I made a posting at my closest large city, detailing my ideal job. I also laid out what seemed to be good requirements that I would have satisfied for the position.

I was astounded by the results. I quickly had to remove the ad, too. The messages were heart wrenching to read. One man was unemployed after being discharged from the military. Another man had been doing senior level work for 10 years. Another didn't have an ounce of experience in this field. And finally a couple were recent graduates -- these were the only ones I was interested in. I left mine up for a couple days. I realized the deceitfulness of this experiment. I genuinely felt remorse despite my animalistic nature to size up the competition. Then I reflected on myself and thought about the few times I'd read a job post and quickly turn to my wife "This one sounds perfect! I really hope I get it!" and be grinning from ear to ear for the next half an hour only to be hit with sadness for a day or two. Then I wondered, if it was this easy for me, who is to say others wouldn't be doing the same?

I changed my rules for applying to job posts after that. They had to actually state their recruiting firm in the post. Bonus points for disclosing their client. They also had to post an email or website -- some way to validate the poster. Again, bonus points for phone numbers. I would also search various strings in the post to see if they're listed anywhere else. I became a lot more cautious in my search, which was a good thing as I wasn't slapping my name, email, address and phone number all over to who knows where.

After my experiment I reached a conclusion-- I had broad competition and shouldn't try to gauge myself on others. This made me much calmer in the interviews. I felt reassured knowing it wasn't "what I knew", and instead "who I was." I decided to be more of myself and not give canned answers that I thought they wanted to hear. My skillset was expendable and I needed to realize that. I lost my sense of entitlement. I used to think my $100,000 piece of paper meant something.

Then I realized it did.

  > My skillset was expendable and I needed to realize that.
  > I lost my sense of entitlement. I used to think my
  > $100,000 piece of paper meant something.
  > Then I realized it did.
I feel like this part is going over my head if the 'did' isn't a typo (meant "didn't).

I think he means that his education helped him make these conclusions.

College is an upper-middle-class luxury. Most job-seekers don't even have that piece of paper, so they'll have an even more difficult time finding work.

> I had broad competition

While the competition in these situations is not often that broad (though there will always be a few ivy leaguers in that mess), the real problem is the noise factor. The chance that your resume even gets read is slim due to the fact that it will take many hours to go through 600 applications.

> Then I realized it did.

What did it mean?

Something. He says it right there.

I had hoped for a more specific answer or elaboration.

> I had broad competition

Maybe it's mostly the bottom 10% who are permanently unemployed / between jobs, no education.

Not only that, but also relying on job ads.

We’re familiar with the art of the job search: day after day, scanning the classifieds, Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for open positions; forever touching up résumés to appeal to specific job requirements; writing endless cover letters that never seem to sound quite right; applying to dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs per week; staring vacuously at the familiar monitor glow at 3 a.m.

This sounds horrible. I've never gotten a job that wasn't through personal or professional connections, so for most of them even handing over a resume was essentially a formality.

I work in a specialized field, which I think accounts for why this is possible. But I do only have a humanities education, and most of my day to day skills have been developed since leaving school (without a degree, mind you). It's just a matter of finding a niche.

For people who don't have personal or professional connections, sometimes applying to job postings is the only route. I'd also note that to get above the other 626 resumes, you need to use other avenues of attack (like phone calls, etc.). Probably relevant to mention job-buddy.com here, a site I manage to help people track this kind of activity, and keep on keeping on with this arduous cycle.

If you happen to have a Resume/Cover Letter that when read, has a high chance of making inroads at a company, then snail mail works surprisingly well. (obvious downside is that it takes a very long time to research companies and tailor the documents to each one)

Snail mail is the route I took back in the Fall of 2010. The response rate was roughly 20% for me.

That's rather high, I once had a 3 hours of interviews and then zero contact after that.

Some companies are just incompetent. I had that too, although I had decided I was not interested by hour 2.5 so was not so bothered. They still advertise on HN sometimes...

I didn't start out with personal and professional connections. I developed them as I went. The key is getting your foot in the door - be it through an internship, a temp job, or making a name for yourself as an amateur.

The point is to develop specific valuable skills. Then, make the right people aware that you have those hard to find skills.

Assuming that what you learned in college is enough to build a career is a mistake, in my eyes.

be it through an internship, a temp job

Well, those would count as jobs themselves, so you would have to send out resumes anyway. And clearly, this guy is trying to make a name for himself with his blog, to the extent that's possible.

The problem is a lot of people have very general qualifications. A masters in English may mean a lot or nothing. I keep an eye on job postings and you sometimes get used to the same very specific job showing up week after week. Anyone qualified would probably get hired immediately.

> "Well, those would count as jobs themselves, so you would have to send out resumes anyway."

It's bigger than that. The difference between internships and full-time work is that one is a lot easier to get than the other.

Being a student opens tons of doors for no particular reason whatsoever. Many companies have organized internship programs not only for recruitment's sake, but also out of some sense of social responsibility. People are also willing to cut students a lot of slack, and let a lot of problems drop. The expectations are dramatically lower.

The bar shoots up dramatically as soon as you leave school, even for the same type of work.

IMO anyone who isn't leveraging their student status to get at these opportunities is wasting time. You will never again be in this good of a position to be automatically given the benefit of the doubt.

I know many humanities majors from college, and the ones who have not have trouble finding employment have always been the ones who leveraged internships and other student-only opportunities to their maximum.

> I keep an eye on job postings and you sometimes get used to the same very specific job showing up week after week.

This is very good advice and I urge anyone using the resume drop type job channels.

This reminds me of when I was looking for a share house in Tokyo.. I kept seeing the same ones pop up over and over, and after visiting a few it became obvious there was a reason why in each case.

In the end I made my case as a good share-ee, and a good share-er found me soon after (on mixi, a kind of Japanese only Facebook which has since been consumed). Perhaps, if you are looking for a great job, it makes sense now to make your case, make it visible to the right people, and wait.

I've always heard it's the only way to go, but I've never gotten a job through personal or professional connections. I believe my last two jobs have been through either StackOverflow careers or HN.

What's your niche?

I specialize in opposition research. [1] I investigate and analyze political vulnerabilities.


This is interesting and well written. Find yourself a grad student in Math and you've got your job. I want more articles of a "pop math" variety exploring the numbers of everyday life. Not only are they interesting and engaging, these types of stories provide the groundwork for helping "us" (entrepreneurs) know what industries we should be attacking.

> Find yourself a grad student in Math and you've got your job.

Sorry, what do you mean by that?

It appears he means a statistics major, or somebody who could do some analysis, and continue to write articles that analyze everyday things we do.

The world could indeed use more people who can write like Martin Gardner.

The much sadder reality is what actually happens in a company that posts that ad:

1) Optimistically post the job ad.

2) Receive hundreds of responses within hours of posting it.

3) Begin going through those hundreds of responses, reading cover letters and resumes. At first you're pumped then you realize very few people here are qualified for the position/read the post.

4) After ~20 resumes, you close your email for the day. If you made the mistake of using your personal email address, I'm sorry.

5) Despair. Pick and choose random emails (maybe filter by email, are there any harvard.edu's in there?) and immediately call the first person who seems remotely OK. Iterate step 5 until you find 'the one.'

I've worked with/observed dozens of employers in this process, a tiny fraction of resumes actually get read, and frankly it's impossible to stay focused through the experience. A "fun" experiment is to print out 40 resumes in a pile, write a job description for those resumes and then try to find the most qualified one in that bunch. Free-text association with often poorly-articulated job requisitions is a nearly impossible proposition. Add in the step where you have to download and track those applicants, and it's damn near impossible to use Craigslist to find the best candidate.

This was the original inspiration for our company, Foundry Hiring (www.foundryhiring.com). We're trying to build tools to make this process as painless as possible. In this instance we will give you a free link to post in your CL ad which has an application form in front of it, so that emails don't hit your inbox, the applicant's are stored directly in our database. We then give you tracking tools on top of it to make the process better. We're still in beta, but I would love user feedback.

I recently started looking for an iOS artist to work with and I posted a job ad on Craiglist and Kijiji, for the first time.

I was overwhelmed with the response - I mean I knew there was alot of people using Craigslist but I had no idea of the scope. And the spam. I even had people submitting me their resumes who had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Needless to say, I was quite surprised by amount of response I've gotten.

It was definitely insightful to sit on the other 'end', even for a day, to try and make sense of all these resumes, to read through the greeting emails / copy+paste jobs. It was only a glimpse but it was an interesting experience.

Now I'm not advocating people to start creating fake job ads to see what it's like…

Edit: Anyone else notice the author using a coffee ring to make his pie chart from? Improvisation – mark of a true warrior!

But it's a pie chart! Pie charts are evil! :)


Anyone else notice that on his second graph, the wedge labeled "34%" is significantly larger than the one labeled "39%"? I'm honestly wondering if he just got sloppy while drawing the lines, or if some numbers accidentally got swapped around.

I actually need to start looking for a graphic artist for a small job soon - Do you have a recommendation for where to post other than Craigslist?

Keep writing and make sure you have a link on your site that says: "Like my blog? Hire me as a copywriter!"

Good copy is hard to come by and if you can get good at it, you'll definitely find yourself in demand...

"However, for a more specialized position, such as Full-Time English Instructor or Editorial Assistant or Professional Lobsterman, I’m sure there are far fewer résumés submitted."

I suspect that this is not even the case, as many/most people doing the resume machinegun routine blindly apply to everything in sight.

I've heard that the employment prospects with a humanities degree were... not optimal.

But to think that so many people with Bachelor's or Master's degrees are out there fighting tooth and nail over meager admin assisstant jobs that barely pay anything.

I'm shocked. o.o

Also, have you ever thought that maybe having a Master's degree makes you seem over-qualified for a secretary (sorry) position? When I think of a Master's in English I think of jobs like Editor, or Journalist.

The overqualified part definitely applies, since they assume that you'll quit as soon as something better opens up. Which, to be fair, is usually true.

Oh I hadn't really thought of that part, but that's a very good point.

I had imagined they'd assume you'd be gunning for a raise in short order or they might not enjoy having an admin assistant who is quite possibly more intelligent than themselves.

On a more "ideal" note, they may also not want someone with a Master's because they feel that their expertise would be more useful elsewhere and that their talent would be wasted in a secretarial role.

Editing and journalism are still very necessary, but somehow the actual streams of monetary income for them have almost entirely dried up.

The result is that we get very little independent (of state funding) journalism, and what we do get from any sources is very badly edited. But somehow there's no need being expressed on the market for journalists or editors?

Sounds like a market failure to me.

It is a market failure if people want to sell editing and people want to buy editing and no transactions take place. If no one wants to buy editing, no sales of editing is a market success. For example, it informs people wondering if they should learn editing or nursing that nursing is the socially and personally optimal choice. One could argue gl that government subsidies for editing misinform participants about what society wants and, simultaneously, redirect societal resources from things people want to things they do not want, like editing.

Actually, market failure is when the allocation of goods and services by a free market is not Pareto optimal. That is, there exists another conceivable outcome where a market participant may be made better-off without making someone else worse-off.

This is entirely possible in situations when nobody wants to buy X and nobody is buying X. One common example is when there are externalities involved -- e.g. companies using highly polluting processes that are bourne by not just the customers but also uninvolved 3rd parties. Another common example is due to informational gaps -- imagine a benign physician selling polio vaccinations to a less educated populace that doesn't want them. No one wants to buy, but no sales of vaccinations is very far from Pareto optimal.

It is well recognized that non-competitive markets and principal–agent problems can also lead to market failure and there is probably a case to be made that the supply side of high-end journalism suffers from both.

Good point. It's not a market failure, it's a market idiocy. People don't want to buy editing or journalism, they just want regular newspapers and well-edited books to somehow appear for them without having to pay anyone.

For big companies, the degree is just a requirement. If they ask for a minimum of bachelor, then they likely do not care if you have a Ph.D.

For smaller companies, experience is everything.

And Masters in English is not an advantage, unless you apply for a blogger position or something.

You aren't kidding. This "every degree" is worth something mentally is what's killing the workfore. Some skills are highly marketable, some aren't. With the decline of professional journalism, I imagine english majors aren't in high demand at this point and no one wants to hire someone who's over qualified and will get bored in 3 months.

Thought experiment: does applying a "price" to applying to a position make sense? Legitimate & qualified applicants get lost in the noise because unqualified candidates send hundreds of resumes on sites like Monster and Craigslist.

While this would open up possible fraud with disingenuous job postings with no intent of being filled, would something like charging $1 to apply to a position improve the situation? After all, this is the approach that Universities take when accepting applicants.

In 2009 a company called localbacon.com tried just that experiment: http://techcrunch.com/2009/09/14/tc50-job-seekers-pay-localb...

It seems that the experiment wasn't a great success, at least as a job board business model, because the company shifted course after a relaunch six months later: http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/22/jibe-localbacon-relaunch/

I've seen a number of posts on HN from developers saying, "I won't apply for a job if they require a {cover letter, resume, code sample}." Depending on your point of view, adding hurdles could either remove self entitled prima donnas or all of the code ninjas. The risk is that you create a selection bias the wrong direction.

Adding hurdles will definitely reduce the number of applicants, but what you'll find is that if you ask for X, Y, Z in the ad most people will still send you whatever they were going to send you before (most likely a resume and coverletter). You then know they didn't read the ad and thus should probably be deleted.

This is why lots of job ads on craigslist say: "write XYZ in the email title" buried in the text to filter for those people who aren't even reading the ad.

Cheat sheet for humanities master's degree holders: microecon 101 suggests that anyone offering to pay a substantial premium to the market clearing price for X will be offered lots of X.

Another cheat sheet suggests that wages are downwardly sticky, and that an oversupply of X will also result in a lot of X being offered.

I'm trying to connect the dots here without much luck. What's the unstated link between the second bit and the first bit?

You saying that he simply put too high a payrate on his fake ad and that's why the glut of responses?

He is getting many responses because he is offering approximately $4,000 (delivered half in taxable cash and half in untaxable benefits) in return for a thing whose market price is closer to $1,500 (delivered all in taxable cash). He should be offered the product he wishes to buy at any quantity which he wishes to purchase. (The product is "The full-time labor of any literate person legally capable of work in Midtown, NYC.")

12per hour with benefits is right in line with what payscale reports as the average for admin assistants in Manhattan.

Which is just slightly more than average pay for baristas.

Chipotle pays $10/hour in NYC. $12-13 for a secretary is not that high.

Interesting that this high rate of payment is much lower than the Australia minimum wage in USD. I guess the purchasing power in America might be a little higher but still sounds like a pretty sad state of affairs.

Australia is 65% more expensive than the US.


Probably due in part to some of the crazy markups Australians were/ are accustomed to paying at retail. Although this is changing as people become more comfortable with online buying.

I was thinking the same thing. I'm in Canada and I haven't made twelve bucks an hour since I was a pimple faced high schooler. If you advertised a wage like that here, you would be literally scraping the bottom of the labour barrel.

To be fair, that was in a big city for an extremely generic job. Anyone who is employable anywhere is eligible for that job. I used to hire writers from CraigsList; there were a lot of resumes, but few were well done, and even fewer had decent writing samples.

If you're really looking for a job, you have to look for something specific.

I'll share my experience on how I get jobs. I never won any job answering job offers. All the jobs I got (6 or 7, doesn't matter) I got knocking doors. Literally. I never "lost" any interview that I got this way.

Is this a rule to follow or was just luck? I don't know the answer. I know that it works for me. Ok, I'm in the architectural field, within other industries and corporations probably would be impossible to have this approach. Age is also an important factor. Knocking doors when you're during your 20's is not the same as during your 40's. Even during your 30's is already more difficult.

It's my experience. I hope it can help somebody.

edit: This way people who could make the interview already know you. You are already interviewing without any appointment! If they ask you a more formal interview you're in. Early mornings always choose early mornings. Afternoons are terrible for this approach. Everybody just wants to go home. Nobody will have any patience to listen to you.

Smile in the face and confidence of course. This can make the difference. Of course lucks has a big role also: if the decision-makers are in the office or not, if tehy are free, if there is any (even a slight is enough) need of people, etc

I've gotten several gigs through Craigslist. Both fulltime and one-off / freelance. It rarely has taken me more than a couple days to get an interview/callback.

My single most important tip for doing this successfully is to get your app in fast. Like within 30 minutes of the job going on the site max. I'm certain that almost no one looks at more than the first 50-100 submissions. It helps to put relevant categories/searches into some kind of rss reader that updates frequently and allows you to see multiple feeds simultaneously so you can see at a glance as soon as something you're interested in pops up.

Second to speed is writing a good cover letter. The letter should be concise, active tense, probably with bullet points for easy scanning, and talk about what you have done and what you will do for them that will make their life easier. Having most of the letter drafted in advance will help you get it in fast, but you will likely want to at least touch on a few key points from their job posting.

Interesting article. Time to make your own job.

Better yet. How can I make a job for these people? Think of all of the millions of man years that have gone to waste during this economic downturn. Surely there are a lot of unemployed people who could be adding value to something. I wish I was smart enough to figure out a way to harness the value of these people who are hungry for work.

Indeed. It's not hard to see how they could be producing value: if nothing else, they could be working on Wikipedia which always has an infinite number of tasks to do (such as copyediting, to tie into the OP, although a bachelor's or master's holder could be doing much more valuable in-depth research for an article), and that would produce a lot of value for all the hundreds of millions of Wikipedia users. The problem is capturing some of that value and returning it to them as a living wage.

Actually this problem could be solved in the same way most programmers take up side projects. Even the projects that are not designed to supplement income are valuable to an employer. Editing a hundred pages in Wikipedia has got to be a pretty decent way of selling yourself, even if just on a resmue, to an employer. That's a sort of "buzzword" that isn't found often. Instead of sitting around filling out 20 applications, that person could have just edited 10 pages of Wikipedia, and felt better about themselves too, and just added something extremely unique to their profile.

I doubt it. I've edited far far more than a hundred pages (http://www.gwern.net/Wikipedia%20resume), and I never got a job offer nor did it ever make any discernible difference to my life - which is inline with what I heard (or rather, didn't hear) from all my Wikipedian confreres. When I switched my efforts to my own website, then things changed a little bit.

Only until the Wikipedia Mafia reverts all of those changes and then bans your account for "vandalism."

One of the best ways to get contacts in a field is to volunteer for an organization that does exactly, or something in the neighborhood of, what you want to do.

This is what the "learn programming in X weeks and we'll hook you up with a job at the end of it" programs are about (ex http://devbootcamp.com/). Definitely a huge opportunity there, as companies are desperate for programmers but don't have time to train them, there are a lot of people unemployed and desperate for work, and it's possible to teach someone enough programming in a few months that they can begin contributing at one of these jobs. If you can execute correctly, it's an arbitrage opportunity, which is what all good businesses are built around.

This inspired me.

I downvoted this; and on further inspection, I wish I hadn't. Instead, I want to know: what do you mean?

If the odds of submitting your resume and getting any sort of response are so low, perhaps the time would be better spent carving a niche for yourself - such as publishing articles like this blog entry.

Who will pay people to do that though?

Intrinsic motivation is an excellent signal for would-be hires, so it works well enough.

(not sure if sarcastic)

After reading the post and admiring the creative pie-chart I started thinking about more time consuming experiment of a similar type. As I believe, most of the people that applied for this job weren't "snipers" but more of a bit desperate types machine gunning each single input appearing in their over-caffeinated visual cortices. If called back they probably wouldn't even remember the names of companies they applied for. I wonder what would happen if the fake job ad contained a fake website with a fake test (of some related domain or even a basic grammar/maths) for each applicant to solve before even uploading a resume. I guess that it would give us a more full picture not only on "quality" of competition but also on the number of machine guns in the field (ad views -> website views -> tests solved).

And a bit of an unrelated question - how illegal is posting fake job ads for such purposes?

1) "Administrative Assistant" postings attract lots of job seekers. For some reason unemployed candidates like to apply for these jobs.

2) Scammers like to post "Administrative Assistant" postings too. I'd say that at least half of "Administrative Assistant" postings are scam (scammers are trying to recruit people for money laundering or pyramid scheme).

3) Job postings looking for software developers are totally different story. There are plenty of openings chasing limited pool of available developers.

4) See how jobs/resumes ratio varies for different skills:


I was mostly unemployed for a year or so. Admin assistant posts were attractive because it sounds like a simple office job. Also, 10-13/hr in an office is incredibly better than minimum wage labour. But as you say, over half are scams. For my region, craigslist was worthless.

Fwiw, my solution was to move to an area with lower unemployment (18% to 6%). I have no pro experience and no related education, but I got a dev job with a probation period to ensure I'm actually learning quick enough to be useful.

Great timing on this for me. I just posted a job (a real one) to Craigslist and received a handful of responses.

Making the assumption that I would get a bunch of resumes I decided to add one little hurdle. I asked the applicant to copy & paste their resume into the email body. I did this to see who was actually paying attention and who was just spamming every posting and hoping someone would bite. Sadly this hurdle come not be overcome by the majority of the people I heard from... The search continues.

Personally, I hate the hurdle of the .txt only, or pasted in resume.

I put a lot of effort into the layout and style of my resume, and wrote it in TeX. My knee-jerk response when people won't glance at my .pdf resume is that they are lazy, don't respect the effort that goes into design and layout, and only wish to keyword search.

This may not be true of your case, just saying what my emotional response is in that situation. I agree that minor hurdles to weed out the insincere are valuable.

Yeah I can see how it would be annoying. I know I wouldn't be too happy if I had to copy and paste since I also spent a good deal of time on the format. However, I think that if I really wanted "THAT" job then the few extra steps, reformatting, etc. would be worth it.

Turns out it did help screen a bunch of people that were seemingly just spamming every posting with their resume along with one who copy and pasted an entire (unedited) email mail chain she used to apply to another position...

Overall I'm not very happy with the performance of the posting, maybe it's my fault...

There are not enough jobs. The 'economic' model is broken, and the 'economy' is being strangled.

But its worse than that. The very concept of a job doesn't even really qualify as civilized.

Pretty much agreed. The notion that there will or must exist demand for labor corresponding to every individual's basic needs has never actually been proven. The statement is then left as a should statement, but why should we force our society into the mold of a bizarre reverse-moralization?

I don't necessarily disagree with this, but I have to ask - how do you ration goods and services in an economy except for some kind of currency? And how do you propose we award people said currency besides some direct or indirect correlation with their work output?

It seems likely to me that technology will continue to create a gap between the supply of workers and the demand for those workers, but figuring out how to deal with the social and economic implications of that seems like a difficult task.

Who said to do away with currency? I didn't see him say that.

Removing currency isn't the problem - removing the traditional dominant method of acquiring it is.

Precisely the issue. Money is not the problem. Basing an entire economy on wage-labor is the problem.

I know that unemployment is high but how does a shift from say 6% (arbitrary number as I'm not american so don't know the numbers) to 9% have such dramatic effects, if you spin it round and say that employment has dropped from 94% to 91% the stats sound pretty good - wrong direction change granted.

Jumping from 6% to 9% means half as many more are now looking for work.

I must be missing something somewhere so if someone can explain this I would very much appreciate it.

Why would the author believe 600+ applicants for a semi-skilled entry-level job posting in NYC is an unusual number? How does that number compare to a similar job posting in London, Tokyo or Shanghai? This experiment is silly, contrived and unscientific. The data is without context, and essentially meaningless.

Also, while I wouldn't exactly call it unethical to do something like this - it is dishonest, and something about it feels slimy to me.

I don't think the point is to show that the job market is hard in NYC. The point is to try to understand the problem (finding a job) by putting oneself in the other side.

Regarding the ethical part, one application is a rounding error for most seekers. Either you send hundreds of applications, either you send a dozen or two of highly researched ones (and you would have avoided this one anyway).

Some time ago I made the same experience but making it more extreme: I posted a job for an architect offering very bad conditions (minimal money, long hours not paid, 10 hours day, etc). I can say that I got 250 answers. I'm speaking about Lisbon, Portugal reality, not in NYC.

I'm not sure what sort of context you were looking for. The author certainly explains the methodology well.

As for whether it's scientific, it strikes me as having many similarities to a paper "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination." That paper was authored by two of the most respected academic economists, and it was published in the top economics journal.

Yes, the methodology is well-explained. My reaction to this article can be summed up with, "“A lot of résumés” is an egregious understatement.".

Why are 653 responses for an unskilled job with no experience requirements in a metro area of 20 million people 'a lot'? Where is the context? How does that number compare to other metro areas? To other times in history? To the history of NYC? Would that have been 'a lot' 20 years ago? How about during the Great Depression?

I'll check out the study you cited.

I see. I think many of us had an (uninformed) expectation that he would receive fewer resumes... I certainly didn't expect so many resumes with 5+ years of experience.

I agree that it lacks context for comparison to other places/times. But for people who shared my expectations coming (which I suspect was a lot of people), this was still informative.

This is part of why temp agencies and "talent resource" companies can exist. Trying to filter the ton of resumes and hire the right candidate off of craigslist.com can be quite the pain.

I do wonder though what jobs bright people without hard skills should pursue. This guide is interesting: http://www.slideshare.net/choehn/recessionproof-graduate-172...

I think people in that position should try to learn a valuable skill. Of course easier said than done but there are a number of skills that should lead to a middle class life that can be learned relatively quickly.

Programming could be a good choice. See: http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/10/dev-boot-camp-is-a-ruby-suc... DevBootcamp seemed to produce quality developers in 3 months.

Though also PR, online advertising, some focus in marketing, web design, sales...whatever.

I'm wonder what the ratio of job postings to job applicants is.

If there are 600 applications per listing, and each applicant sends 50 applications, then there are 12 times as many applicants as listings.

Do the 600 and 50 numbers seem about right?

For what is worth, the job_seekers/opening ratio is usually published by the same agencies that provide unemployment rates.

For instance, a quick search reveals that ratio was 3.5 in the US in May 2012 (down from 4.5 one year before), while it was only about 1.25 in Japan.



However, if we assume a 3.5 seeker/opening ratio then 600 applications/opening implies 171 applications per seeker, which sounds too high.

Looking at the methodology, it's clear what the problem is: the denominator in the official seeker/opening ratio is simply the number of currently unemployed people. Those 600 applications must include people who are working, perhaps part-time, so technically not unemployed. I think your estimate sounds about right.

I posted an ad in the newspaper with a similar kind of experiment in mind. A dead marketing dude was daring me to do something crazy. What's the worst that can happen? (About midway through this: http://www.thegaryhalbertletter.com/Newsletters/aslz_winners...) You can read this first to see what he actually dared me to do.

The short version of what happened: my cellphone was ringing off the hooks and I had to just turn it off for a few weeks. Totally insane response.

This experiment demonstrates the futility of job hunting cold-calling style. In my experience the best way to get noticed is through networking, especially through friends in the field. If I were hiring, I would give more consideration for someone who was recommended even by a friend of a friend. Our job hunting time is much better spent networking than spanning every craigslist job posting with our resumes. I wish someone does a counter experiment with networking vs craigslist spamming.

I'm genuinely curious why the author - who is obviously very intelligent otherwise - does not simply use their intelligence to learn an actual marketable skill. Especially if they are looking at applying for such boring jobs - surely some sort of scientific analysis like they did in this article would be more interesting to do as a job.

I see how the author gets useful information for himself but is this ethical? He essentially wasted time of those people who applied in good faith. A bit cruel.

He solicited personal information from those people - I'm sure there are rules about storing and processing personal information.

I wonder how many of the applicants had well-written cover letters and resumes (good sentence structure, interesting content, devoid of massive typos and grammatical errors). I would bet that it's no more than 20%, and all of a sudden, things aren't so dismal anymore.

An interesting experiment (for a company that actually has a job and is not leading people on) would be to distinguish a job posting that says

"Hiring for this position will be based in large part on a work-sample test during a half day at our office"


"Previous experience . . . preferred, but will train the right candidate."

We can tell that the United States economy is in recession (as is the case in many other countries with Hacker News participants) because we keep seeing new stories submitted every day or so about the hiring procedures of companies, with multiple comments. In a long FAQ post I've posted recently


here on Hacker News, based on many helpful comments from other participants, I summarize a LOT of research on company hiring procedures. If you want to hire someone good in the United States, make a work-sample test part of your hiring procedure. Work-sample tests are much better than biographical reviews of resumes for finding good workers. If you want to get a good job in a well managed company, develop the skills to get past a realistic work-sample test for the position you seek. Many more details appear in the FAQ,


which is quite long but well worth a read if you are looking for a job or if you are a business manager trying to hire someone who will do a good job.

P.S. I still hear of young people who are gaining full-time, full-benefits jobs in today's economy. In the usual case, they are getting those jobs by showing what they can actually do as part of the hiring process, degree or no degree.

After edit: I recently read the VERY interesting book The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life


(I wonder if this book has been discussed here on HN yet?) and that reminded me of one of the main reasons that hiring by screening resumes is demonstrably less effective than hiring by giving work sample tests: many people lie on their resumes. The author of the interesting submitted blog post was of course posting a fake job ad, and several comments here on HN point out that many job ads may just be fronts for recruiters rather than postings by actual employers. Participants here gave examples (NUMEROUS examples) of job ads getting responses that don't appear at all to fit the job, but an employer also has to worry about "false positives," applicants who look like they fit the job but who are inflating their educational credentials or multiplying their years of actual work experience. The only way to know what an applicant can do is to test. Perhaps announcing up front that the hiring process includes actual testing of job-related skills MAY screen out some of the poseurs from even sending in their fake resumes (although the many shotgun applicants who don't even read the job ad closely will still be sending resumes all over the place only to waste the time of anyone who receives the resumes).

One way the author of the blog post could have demonstrated statistical acumen is by labeling his data presentations "Self-Reported Experience" rather than "True Experience" and "Self-Reported Credentials" rather than "Education." He has NO idea what the actual educational credentials or work experience (or other aspects of biography) of any of his applicants really are. He would have been aware of this point if he had taken a good statistics course in college, but alas good statistics classes are very rare in the United States.



While I agree that work samples are definitely the way to go, I'm unsure how you could possibly engineer a work-sample that is time effective for 600 people. Clearly, the first pass of the screen cannot be the work sample alone or you will be administering dozens if not hundreds, since I doubt the threat of a worksample in a job ad would scare many people away (could very well be wrong about that.)

I think this is why HireArt (YC W12), exists. They pre-vet these candidates using a work sample for you, presumably they only administered and graded the work samples of those they found passed the 'resume bar.'

As for false positives, from talking to many employers the fear false positives is generally low because they figure they can "weed them out" during the interview stage. And while there may be statistical evidence showing a high false positive rate, it is surprisingly hard to convince hiring managers of this.

Here is a simple example of how to automate this for developers.

Everyone who applies is sent a link. That link contains a problem description, and a stub program. You're supposed to write the program and send it back. When you send it back, they compile your program and run a standard set of unit tests on it. If it passes the unit tests, then a human looks at it. Generally the code will be "good enough" to bring the person in for an interview.

In the interview you will ask the person enough questions about their solution to give you confidence that the person you are interviewing actually wrote the code you are reviewing. This greatly shortens the interview process.

This is not a hypothetical approach. I know of more than one company that has actually implemented this.

You might think that it takes a lot of developer time to implement, but it doesn't. What you do is have a developer come up with a reasonable project that they think can be done in a reasonable amount of time. That developer then solves the problem. You take their solution and stub it out - that gives you the initial stubs people can download. The unit tests that they developed are the unit tests that you will use. And now you're off and running.

The problem is that the people you'd most like to hire probably have little interest in taking a programming test. So you're just filtering them out and left with the dregs. For this to work you need one of the following:

* Problems that are so interesting that people would hack on them just for the fun of it, even if they have no interest in the job.

* A company that's high profile enough (and in a good way) that they can have slightly abusive hiring practices and still get an abundance of good candidates.

* You're looking for inexperienced or desperate people.

The canonical example of using programming problems as a pre-filter was ITA software, who had both of the first points covered. There's some great discussion on this in the HN archives, e.g. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3429231

>The problem is that the people you'd most like to hire probably have little interest in taking a programming test. So you're just filtering them out and left with the dregs. For this to work you need one of the following:

That may be the case if you're trying to headhunt experienced developers who are currently in good jobs.

But if you're an unemployed programmer, or an employed programmer actively looking for a different job, why wouldn't you take a programming test? Programming tests and technical interviews where you have to code are normal and expected for coding jobs, at least in my experience.

There's a big difference between a programming assignment used as a filter to decide whom to interview vs an interview question.

The hiring process is very expensive. But it's expensive in a fairly symmetric way. It's in the interest of both parties to stop the process if there isn't mutual interest.

Both the company and the candidate will spend a lot of time in interviews, so it's in everyone's best interests to make sure that time isn't wasted if there no (or almost no) chance of the person being hired / accepting a job.

There might be earlier steps in the process, but those are also symmetric. It'll take a few minutes of your time to send a resume to a company, but somebody there will be tossing away 80% of them after reading through them once. There might be a phone screen or two in advance, to decide whether there's any point in having someone come in for an interview, but that is likewise costly to both parties.

But a programming test as the very first step of an interview is totally different. Now the costs are asymmetric. The company has an up-front cost (potentially substantial) but spends little time on each candidate. The candidate spends the time up-front, and only later finds out whether the company is at all interested.

The candidate isn't invested in the process yet. So why would he spend an hour, when he has no idea of whether the company is interested? Maybe it's a really fun problem to solve. Or maybe he really, really wants to work at that particular company. Or maybe he is indeed unemployed like you suggested.

But someone currently employed is likely to have a different priorities from a student or someone who is unemployed, even if they are actively looking for a new job. How large a percentage of them are you willing to weed out completely just by making it harder for them to even enter the hiring funnel? 90%? 50%?

When there are 630 resumes in the pile, the read/filter will be done by a junior HR person who probably couldn't tell XML from SQL.

I'd rather be filtered by a programming test, where my programming abilities put me ahead of the pack!

With that said, most of the programming tests I've been given in the past have been fairly interesting so perhaps that biases my opinion. I'm certainly no fan of jobs where they send you a huge MS Word application form.

And I'd rather not work at a place where my resume alone doesn't warrant at least a phone interview :-) Either I really wasn't a good fit for the job, or they have a broken hiring process. If it's the latter, chances are that a company with that bad a HR department is also dysfunctional other ways.

Programming tests can indeed be interesting. Anyone feeling bored could do worse than to attempt solving something from ITA's hiring puzzle archives. But unless you're extremely certain that your tests hit the sweet spot, it seems really dangerous to make them a mandatory first filter. A test once both parties are at least a little bit invested in the process, sure. Or if resume screening really is a problem, allow someone to "skip the queue" by sending a test solution along with the application.

I disagree.

One of my top concerns if I'm interviewing for a company is, "Are these people going to be sufficiently competent to be fun to work with?" If the interview doesn't provide a good enough filter for incompetence, then I am going to not want to interview there.

If my first experience demonstrates that only competent people will get through, then that is going to improve the company in my eyes.

That said, it will slow hiring down. If you want to hire a bunch of people, you can't put a restrictive filter like that up. But if you just need a few, it can work out in your favor.

Normally if I'm sending off a resume, I know it's probably going to be automatically filtered:

    if not resumeText.lowercase().find("postgresql"):
(Too bad I only bothered to put "postgres" on there.)

If there is an automated code test, I know exactly how the filtering is going to work. I write code, it passes unit tests, no auto-reject.

Sounds like a win for me. Of course, unlike many applicants, I can actually write code that works.

This is great solution and the impetus behind Interiew Street.

And while HN is a very programmer centric culture, most jobs can't be automated in this way. Look at the OP's job description, how do you automate that? And how does someone like the OP automate that process? Believe me, I would love to live in a world where every position in every company is able to command a great developer to build a customer filtering solution, but most companies in the valley (much less out of it) won't invest this time/infrastructure. Hence the rise of BS keyword filtering systems. I'm personally very interested in solutions that can make this process better, but it's a highly non-trivial problem in most subject areas.

We can tell that the United States economy is in recession

The recession ended years ago. May 2009, if I remember right.

Somebody must of forgot to tell the people: - Pending Sales of U.S. Homes Unexpectedly Fell 1.4% in June - Foreclosure Filings Increase in 60% of Large U.S. Cities - Household Income Still Bottom-Bouncing - June Home Sales Fall-Off, Quarterly Growth Slows/Contracts - New U.S. home sales decline 8.4% in June - One-Third Of Colleges, Universities In ‘Real Financial Trouble’

A recession isn't just general bad stuff happening. Recessions do tend to cause general bad stuff, but bad stuff can happen without a recession.

Tell that to the unemployment rate.

its kind of depressing to think of someone with a masters degree hoping to land a job that pays less than a fifth of what I make with an associates degree . . .

I am sooooo happy that I'm an engineer right now.

his post, in itself, just may get you a job. Nice work.

pssht. I've been doing this for years

From personal experience, don't apply to any positions that don't reveal the company name in the post. You'll rarely get anywhere, and when you do it will likely not even pan out to being who you want to work for or the job that was described.

What I normally do is this:

Find a job that you find unique or intriguing. If it has a company name attached I immediately jump to LinkedIn to find who I may be working for and if it's the small company, I just look up the CEO.

At this point, I start following the CEO on Twitter (if they have one) and I find out what they are interested in and post about. I will now usually start engaging that person every now and then to make them put a name to a face. This also allows you to get an idea of the personality of the person you may be working for.

After a while, I'll put the question out there, "Hey I saw that you posted Foo job at your company. Has this position been filled? I'm extremely interested."

If they don't have Twitter, I'll engage them straight through LinkedIn. At this point I'll be straight upfront and honest. Just tell them that you are interested in finding out more information about the company before you formally apply for the job. When the time comes, try and get your resume straight to their personal email via this conversation.

Open up a line of dialog with someone who is posted the job. If it's an HR department, it may be tough, but not impossible. It's worth it in the long run to build up connections (even if their virtual) with people. Blindly applying to positions is just going to leave you in the dark.

EDIT: Grammar

Out of curiosity, how many times did you do that? And how many jobs did you find?

This method has worked for me 3 times now. I turned down one of the opportunities. Not necessarily the best sample size, but the method shows very clearly that you intend to work for that company or at least that you are extremely interested in going the extra mile.

Thanks, that's what I wanted to know. I was curious because you have to change jobs very often to have enough exprience.

By the way, it worked 3 times out of 3 attempts?

So far, yes.

Imagine CEO's life if all of the 623 job seekers would apply this method.

I highly doubt that there would still be 623 job seekers applying if this much work were involved.

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