Home Lifestyle I applied for 2,000 roles in 4 years. Jobseekers deserve better treatment

I applied for 2,000 roles in 4 years. Jobseekers deserve better treatment


I was sending out 10 applications a week (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When you’re searching for a job, fuelled by hope and desperation, there’s nothing that beats the excitement when you spot the perfect vacancy. 

A dream role, one you know you could really throw your heart and soul into.

In the past, I’ve spent hours tinkering with application forms, changing lines on my CV and making my cover letter read like poetry.

Then… nothing. Cue the crushing, slow realisation that, after weeks of silence, it was all for nothing.

All those hours of preparation, totally wasted.

The way we currently apply for jobs in the UK is woefully disjointed, frustrating and detrimental to our mental health. The whole system needs overhauling.  

If, like me, you had a careers advice session at school, you may have been led to believe that employers were lining up to accept CVs and cover letters, with us hopefuls in control, not only of our future jobs, but of our destinies.

My session was led by a teacher who seemed to think you could just call up the boss of any workplace or walk into any shop and ask for a role.

The reality, I’ve crushingly found out, is entirely different. For a start, the process varies massively from job to job.

One employer may ask you for a long online form, followed by a 30-minute aptitude test, complete with smiley employees explaining situations through pre-recorded video.  

Another employer, with exactly the same salary and similar duties, will simply require a CV and cover letter. 

There is no average completion time for applications because none of them resemble anything like an average system. Being forced to flutter from one jobs website to the next, creating new online accounts for every single one, feels like being punished for your circumstances. 

To be unemployed in a power structure that has no commonality or standardised process is like being stuck at the bottom of a well – I should know.

After a long spell of mental ill health after university, I attempted to find work in industries that felt like a good fit for my interests – public affairs, research and journalism mostly.

I hoped these employers would accept my skills, experience and education as unique. But what today’s job seeking process tells you is that you’re just data and, worse, desperate. 

There have been times when I’ve waited on the results of an application and felt my hope die as every new day passed without a single email (Picture: Daniel Reast)

By the end, I was sending out 10 applications a week, lowering my standards, as well as my expectations, with each one. I even started applying for jobs all over the UK, even though I didn’t really want to move away from my hometown in Dorset.

Eventually, after a long four years, my efforts blossomed and I received a job offer.

It put an end to the frantic, soul-destroying process, which reduced my skills and self-worth to boxes to tick on an online form.

And what made the whole process all the more devastating was the unacceptable number of employers who didn’t bother to contact me if I was unsuccessful.

Failing to send an automated ‘no thanks’ is very hard to justify. You’ve already read through my application, why can’t you tell me it’s not good enough?

Because, and what appears to be so easily forgotten, is that behind those forms are living people with aspirations likely to be well beyond the confines of the vacancy they’re applying for.

The decent thing would be to tell them they’ve not got the job – and even that should be the bare minimum. 

Jobseekers deserve honesty. If the successful candidate had better experience and qualifications, at the very least a robotic email could tell us that. 

Whenever an employer has rejected me through silence or automation, I’ve actually begun to question why I was unsuccessful. Human beings grow through learning, right? 

For one job I had my hopes on, I received the standard insufferable ‘regret’ email and wrote back to ask how I could improve my chances if another vacancy were to become available. There’s no harm in asking. But I didn’t get a reply. Not even to the follow-up email I sent to show my enthusiasm.

Hope of progression and useful feedback are dashed by a system that treats us with such little respect.

There have been times when I’ve waited on the results and felt my hope die as every new day passed without a single email.   

The job application process is an institutional problem, which turns unemployed people into frustrated, drop-down-box-selecting machines. Reforming this to implement a regulated process would improve people’s experience of job seeking, thus enabling easier access to work.  

For people who are long-term unemployed or from marginalised groups, this change is even more crucial to separate the biases inherent in the employers’ judgement. 

We can’t simply walk down the high street handing out our CVs anymore. Those days are long gone. I accept that.

However, new legislation should be brought forward to establish a regulated, simplified and empathy-led approach, which puts the jobseeker before the needs of employers. Reshaping this basic infrastructure of our economy is not a tough ask. 

Any government that claims to represent the best interests of working people should also accept that those out of work, desperately trying to find a job, are stuck in a system that treats them like livestock.  

One that responds to everyone with clear reasoning for a ‘no’, signposts to other opportunities, and personalised feedback to provoke improvements, must be the norm for every employer. 

Work works best when it works for us.

This article was originally published in February 2023

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