There was a time, not too long ago, when employers were in such a rush to hire workers that they were doing anything they could to make it easier for people to apply.
That time has passed.
Job hunting was becoming more miserable even before the pandemic, as the amount of time companies took to hire stretched out and as they asked candidates to undergo more and more interviews. Labor shortages during the pandemic gave a temporary reprieve, but now, as fears about a recession grow, companies are going back to their old habits of putting candidates through a grueling process.
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“It’s frustrating and tiring—job hunting has never been this hard,” says Michael Cook, who was laid off from a gaming company in December after more than a decade in the professional labor market, and who has applied to hundreds of jobs since. One company had him go through six rounds of interviews over multiple months; another asked him to create a project that they then used on their website but didn’t pay him for his work; others sent him take-home tests or asked him to record videos of himself answering pre-set questions. He has not received any offers.
Part of the difficulty stems from a tightening labor market especially in fields like tech that have had hundreds of thousands of layoffs in the last nine months. There is now, on average, one job opening for every two applicants on LinkedIn, a big change from early 2022, when there was one job opening per applicant on average.
Read More: Empathetic Employers Were a Pandemic Blip
But it’s not just the economy causing companies to change their hiring processes in ways that make them take longer, says Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The pandemic increased the use of one-way video interviews, in which applicants are asked to record a video of themselves answering a list of pre-set questions, because interviews couldn’t be done in person. But the proliferation of these interviews just gives companies a lot more content to sort through.
Meanwhile, as companies prioritize equity, they’re getting more people involved in the hiring process, inviting upper-level managers and the peers of a would-be colleague to weigh in, which adds time. Companies who laid off human resources staff are now delegating interviewing and hiring to line managers who aren’t familiar with the process. None of this, Cappelli says, means employers are getting better candidates, but it has lengthened the time it takes to hire. The amount of time it takes to hire a new employee reached an all-time high of 44 days in early 2023, according to a report released this month by the Josh Bersin Company and AMS, a workforce solutions firm. “Make no mistake, the hiring market is not going to get easier any time soon,” said Jim Sykes, global managing director of client operations at AMS, in a statement.
Many job seekers told me that they’d been targeted by scams in which supposed hirers offered them an appealing-sounding job, and even set up Zoom calls and interviews—but turned out to be people posing as recruiters looking for candidates’ personal information and job accounts. Even legitimate companies are posting “ghost jobs” that they don’t actually ever fill, according to a survey by Clarify Capital. Employers post ghost jobs to get a pool of candidates that they may use someday, to give the impression that their company is growing, and to keep current employees motivated, according to the survey of 1,045 managers involved in the hiring process.
The miserable job market appears to be worse for people with a college degree, according to a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of TIME.
It found that 51% of job seekers with bachelor’s degrees who had at least one interview completed the interview process without receiving an offer, compared to 35% with at most a high school diploma. Those with a bachelor’s degree were also more likely than those with a high school diploma to be asked to complete a job skills assessment; to be asked to do a one-way interview in which they record themselves answering pre-set questions; and to report inconsistencies between the job requirements and salary range listed in the posting vs. what they were told later on in the interview process.
Companies’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion appears to be gone too, with Black job seekers having particularly bad experiences. In one recent survey of 1,200 U.S.-based employees conducted by the hiring software company Greenhouse, though two-thirds of respondents overall reported having been ghosted after a job interview, candidates from historically underrepresented groups faced a 25% higher chance of being ghosted when compared to white candidates.
Candidates frustrated with the rigamarole are applying to more positions, creating a vicious cycle in which the job market is even more saturated with applications and employers turn to software to sort through these applications that lengthens the process even more. Job seekers are sending out 40% more applications than they did last year at this time, according to Rand Ghayad, head of economics and global labor markets at LinkedIn. “Workers are losing some of the bargaining power they had over the last few years,” he says. “The balance of power is drifting back to employers.”
Part of this changing balance of power is related to uncertainty in the economy. Hiring managers and human resources personnel may think that they have the budget to hire one week, and then find out, after they’ve posted the job and even conducted interviews, that the company has changed its mind. The barriers in the interview process may explain why more people seeking employment are turning to freelancing and part-time jobs—perhaps they are trying to avoid wasting their time jumping through companies’ hoops when they aren’t likely to get a job.
Cierra Reid has applied to at least 10 jobs a day since getting laid off from her job as a customer success manager in November. She’s had a few interviews, but her experience has mostly been frustrating. Recruiters will schedule interviews and then cancel, saying that the company froze hiring or that the role has been filled internally. If the interviewing and recruiting process wasn’t already exhausting enough, Reid delivers for DoorDash 7-8 hours a day to earn money.
For Reid, the worst part of the job hunting process are the scams. Someone will reach out to her with an email address that looks like it’s from a well-known company and ask her to download a third-party application, but when she looks closely at their email address she sees that it is missing a letter or suffix and is clearly trying to impersonate the company. Sometimes the scammers will take the name of the real recruiter at the organization. Reid has been tricked: she’s filled out applications and answered interview questions for jobs that she later learned were scams when they asked her to send her bank account info. “You can’t ever be confident it’s a real job reaching out to you,” she says. “These companies are getting really good, and people are so desperate they could be vulnerable.”
One time, Reid, skeptical at this point, reached out to the recruiter independently to make sure the interview was real, and received a message back informing her the email address was “fraudulent and from someone trying to scam people.” Now, she spends a lot of time deleting scam emails that reach her via LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter, and searching messages from recruiters to catch grammar or spelling errors that may signal a scam.
LinkedIn said in a statement that it uses technology and teams of experts to find and remove unsafe jobs and those that don’t meet their standards. In May, the company said it would start to show verifications related to a job post, meaning that the information has been verified as authentic by the job poster, LinkedIn, or its partners.
That technology may be helpful in scanning for scammers, but both Reid and Cook say there’s a downside. They’ve both had the experience lately of applying for a job and getting a form rejection email within minutes—a sign, they both say, that no human looked at their application and that some sort of software filtered them out. When you get a form rejection at 2 a.m. after you’ve applied for a job at midnight, Reid says, you can be pretty sure software is sending that message. As frustrating as long and onerous interview processes are, the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence, with it’s lack of nuance and context, could be even worse for job seekers.”
It’s an ironic twist, since both Reid and Cook worked in tech and had long known of the threat AI posed to their jobs. They had worried that software would replace them, not that it would make it almost impossible to get a job.
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