First dates and job interviews have a lot in common. In both scenarios, success is determined by chemistry, personality, responses to open-ended questions like “Tell me about yourself” and vague assertions about being a good fit. But do you want to pick your next, say, computer programmer using the same criteria as you would a life partner?
Not really, says Ofer Sharone, a professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of “Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences,” which compares hiring practices in the U.S. and Israel.
Sharone's research findings suggest that in the U.S., hiring is often based on a subjective process. Not only does this allow people to rely on their biases and perpetuate homogeneity in the workplace, but “it creates an experience of the job search which is highly personalized," explains Sharone. "So therefore, when you’re unemployed, and you’re facing rejections for six months to a year, it’s very common to hear people start talking about they’re flawed or saying 'something is wrong with me.'”
Yes, the job search can be demoralizing, but there are steps we can take to counter the status quo. Sharone offered his best advice for staying upbeat while your resume returns nothing but radio silence.
Know what you’re up against: When hiring is based on highly subjective elements such as chemistry or gut feelings, it can “create a challenge for anyone who is extremely skilled and qualified to try and fit the mold for what “the right fit” is,” Sharone says. “Networking, together with interviews, creates a [hiring] situation that has a lot with intangibles.”
The focus on intangibles in our hiring practice tends to put more focus on passion, as opposed to skill. This ethos can lead job seekers to take rejections far more personally — particularly those who’ve been scouring the market for six months or more — and leave them feeling demoralized, and even flawed says Sharone.
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Mind the gap (on your resume): Even if you’re unemployed, do something career-related, advises Sharone. "If you’re a professional, you want to have something at the top of the resume that you’re currently doing in your field. You have to be active and up-to-date in your profession, and whether you’re paid for it is really secondary. Employers have absurd biases, and this is a way to counter the bias.”
Consulting gigs or volunteering are great ways to stay engaged while unemployed, says Sharone. Whether it should or not, the stigma against the unemployed persists.
Seek support: During the job search and in a period of unemployment, it's not uncommon for your self-esteem takes a hit. “A good way to counter this is to find a peer support group. Find people who are going through the same thing. It de-individualizes the experience,” notes Sharone.
People often think they’re the only ones feeling discouraged, but understanding biases and structural obstacles can prevent frustrated job seekers from putting the onus entirely on their shoulders. Says the expert, “You realize the dice are loaded, but you need to keep rolling the dice nonetheless.”
Keep your eye on the prize: “You have to recognize the kind of game you’re playing. It’s somewhere between the lottery and chess. It’s a mistake to think you have all the power, or that you have no power,” he adds. Ready for another metaphor? "Job seeking is not like baseball," concludes Sharone. "You just need to hit it once."