150,400 people in my city have lost jobs this year (August 2008 to August 2009), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’m sure many of these are riding severance packages and unemployment benefits, but as those eventually peter out over time, the newly unemployed are forced to enter the world of job searching. I’m in there with them. I’m currently “employed” as an independent contractor, but for personal reasons find myself needing a career change. So here I am in with the rest. To my surprise, the job search and application process exists nearly entirely online. I first thought that this would be so much easier than it had been for me in previous years. I was completely and utterly wrong.

The online process complicates things beyond measure. I thought I might be able to sit at home and fire off a couple of resumes and cover letters a day to this and that company with open positions that paid within a range I require in order to survive, and move on with my day staying positive and waiting to hear something eventually from one of them. I started doing just that.  And then my emails bounced back. Some addresses didn’t exist. Some are phishing scams that come back and say, “We’re sorry, but that position is no longer available. You are, however, qualified for this new position! It only requires that you give us your home address, full name, social security number and bank account number so that you can receive funds for us. You will receive ten percent of all monies deposited into your account! I will be traveling overseas and will not have a chance to do this so I need you!” Reporting these scams to the proper channels takes hours of time that I’m not willing to give up.

Over half of the automatic replies I get from companies redirect me to the same canned website that wants me to upload a single .doc file of my resume–no room for two files if I want to add a tailored cover letter. I thought myself brilliant, and started combining the two as page one and page two of the same file so the company could still get both. And then I realized that the single file I uploaded was the same one that that database stored for every single one of the other job applications that redirected me to that site. I realized after a bit of time that I’d wasted hours rewriting specifically tailored cover letters and uploading them because the newest one replaces all other cover letter/resume files for the multiple jobs I’ve applied for. Numbers of companies now have a bogus cover letter specifically addressed to a certain open position and person that doesn’t exist at their company.  I look like an idiot. I suppose I go into the trash pile for all my effort.

Most companies looking to fill a position will go the online route. It’s a faceless way to receive numerous applications without having to field walk-ins or phone calls seeking positions. It protects their time and resources. This also means that the company name and location are nineteen times out of twenty, shielded from the general public. The paradigm is that you now apply to a job description and not a company. I live in Atlanta, an urban area with horrible nine-to-five traffic. I’d like to know how far away the job I am applying for is. Yet most open positions do not give you the courtesy of even listing a zip code. Something I take 30-45 minutes to find and apply for might be nearly two hours away in morning traffic and there’s no way of telling. So I apply anyway. And so does everyone else. According to Accolo, Inc., a recruitment process outsourcing firm based in California, the average number of job applicants per open position is over 200. This includes executive positions. And it’s no wonder. We, the general job-seeking public are forced to spam them with our resumes because a job description fits into a radius that some job website pulled up. According to jobladder.com’s statistics earlier this year, 26% less jobs are being posted, and 11% more people are applying. That’s 31% more people applying for every open job.

I’m having a hard time staying positive when the process is this confounded. I’m thankful for the internet and the information it makes so immediately available. Yet it’s causing companies with understaffed human resources departments to have to protect themselves from the onslaught of applicants who’d beat down their door and blow up their phone lines if we had an address or telephone number.  It’s murky out there. At the job level for which I’m qualified (receptionist and administrative assistant), companies have been known to receive 500 applications in an hour, causing them to pull down their job posting. I even read about a company receiving 1,500 applications in 46 days for a receptionist. Holy hell, it’s brutal.

We’re not beating on the doors of specific companies most of the time. We’re beating on the system, trying to unravel something we can’t control. Consoling is the fact that I’m not the only one beating against the confusing doors of this system. I’m also lucky enough to be gainfully employed during my search, and I feel most aren’t. All this written, and I have no answers–no conclusion outside of the fact that it’s a clusterfuck and I’m not the only one dealing with it. No martyrdom here. Optimism, however is waxing and waning. I suppose I am to just repeat the mildly painful process over time with minimal complaining to the few that support me lest I completely alienate them. Something will eventually happen. What else can I do?