Dem old Unemployment Blues

I’ve been looking for work. It is one of the things that keep me busy, busier then I like to be. I find the job-hunting task to be an exceptionally frustrating and difficult experience.

It brings out the total ‘procrastinator’ in me. Applying for jobs requires an individual to make some hard choices about what they want out of life. For a person who has devoted years to an academic path, this is easy, in a way. Years of training and thought have gone into what you choose to do, and the main test is one of patience, in waiting to find the opening that you have been waiting for.

And in waiting, often the graduate has to find a different position to meet the more mundane task of making a living. This is a very frustrating situation, because you are required to apply for positions that may not be as challenging, fulfilling, or as interesting as you would like.

I am not a graduate, but I have a similar reaction. What I want to do is to write. However the chances of being able to make a living doing this, in the Australian market, are remote indeed. It is the ‘law of supply and demand’ and there are too many good writers, and too few paying publications.

I find this frustrating because I love writing, and over a wide range of topics. I love to write about business, politics, people, and places, as well as my sports writing. I am actively working to extend my writing ability by writing over wider things, and to this end, I’ve persuaded my inamorata to set me a different topic each week. It is all very well to write about what you know. It is no challenge for me to write about yet another Test victory for Australia; this way, I have a new topic every week.

That will improve me as a writer. It will not help me get a job overmuch. But when I am writing well, I feel well.

Getting a job of the sort I am looking for is a matter of simple mathematics. My good friend Michael Jennings, who is of a mathematical bent, sent me this chart:

If you apply for 20 jobs:

With a 1% chance of getting each of them, you have an 18.2% chance of getting at least one of them
With a 2% chance, 33.2%
With a 3% chance, 45.6%
With a 4% chance, 55.7%
With a 5% chance, 64.1%
With a 10% chance, 87.8%

If you apply for 50 jobs:

With a 1% chance of getting each of them, you have a 39.5% chance of getting at least one of them
With a 2% chance, 63.6%
With a 3% chance, 78.2%
With a 4% chance, 87.0%
With a 5% chance, 92.3%
With a 10% chance, 99.5%

If you apply for 100 jobs:

With a 1% chance of getting each of them, you have a 63.4% chance of getting at least one of them
With a 2% chance, 86.7%
With a 3% chance, 95.2%
With a 4% chance, 98.3%
With a 5% chance, 99.4%
With a 10% chance, 99.997%

If you apply for 200 jobs:

With a 1% chance of getting each of them, you have a 86.6% chance of getting at least one of them
With a 2% chance, 98.2%
With a 3% chance, 99.8%
With a 4% chance, 99.97%
With a 5% chance, 99.996%

If you apply for 500 jobs:

With a 1% chance of getting each of them, you have a 99.3% chance of getting at least one of them
With a 2% chance, 99.996%
With a 3% chance, 99.99998%

It is handy having friends who know these things . As you can see, if you are even with a hint of a chance, getting a job is a simple matter of plugging away.

Persistence, that is the key. I am just frustrated by two things. One is the imminence of Christmas, which means that corporate decision making is grinding to a halt. The second is ‘just missing out’. Many of the jobs I am going for have a fairly heavy interview and assessment process, and it is dispiriting to go through five hours of testing, knowing you’ve got further then 85% of the candidates going for the positions, and just missing out.

It is also hard to work out how to give the buggers what they are asking for. I find it hard to deal with recruitment agencies- I sense that what they are after is not always on the table. The hidden agenda, you can smell it in the air, and I feel like I can not get a grip on what it is.

And I am applying for jobs in two distinct sorts of fields. This means that there are two sorts of attitudes, two sets of expectations, two mind-sets to adopt. A frustrating and difficult experience.

I’ll be okay. It is just a matter of persistence and determination. A test of character, perhaps. That may be so, but it is a test I did not really feel like taking just now. Still, there is always old Theodore Rooselvelt to fall back on:

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.

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2024 years ago

Keep your chin up about the ‘survival jobs’ you’re applying for at the moment Scott. I know it’s a major drag.

Don’t give up on your dream!

2024 years ago


T.R. wasn’t in the Badlands forever.

James L.
James L.
2024 years ago

A word about the headhunters – you won’t believe their lack of professionalism.

Good luck.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2024 years ago

Recruiters are sales and marketing people. They’ve got nothing very much to do with – and generally no expertise in – the human part of human resources. It’s about closing a deal with the entity that’s hired them. The aim is to pick a shortlist that meets the skills required bill and hoping that one of them “clicks” with the client.

I think you’re a bloody fine writer. Ubersportingpundit is proof. You have a rare gift for getting to the point without extraneous embellishment. Spare, barebones, expressive prose is the holy grail of writers. You’ve got it in spades.

2024 years ago

Good luck Scott. Its a good time of year to be ‘free’.

Nic White
2024 years ago

Im having exactly the same problem. I hear you when you say how fustrating and demoralising it is. I just dont want to keep applying, Ive been at it for several months to no avail. But I need money so I must :/

2024 years ago

Hey sorry to be the glass-half empty guy, but I doubt there’s many jobs anyone would be even a 1% chance of getting, unless you were an expert or at least very well qualified in your field.

A company routinely gets 500+ applications for an advertised job, so if you’re the average applicant you have a 0.2% chance at best.

If you don’t have any formal qualifications, they’ll just throw your application straight in the bin the majority of the time.

A lot of them aren’t even real job offers – they are simply required to advertise the position as per company/government policy even though they’ve already selected the successful applicant.

Applying for a job cold is an absolute waste of your time. You’re much better off just asking people you know to help you out.

If you want to get a writing job, the best method would be to send some of your stuff directly to publications that accept unsolicited work – there are a few of them around. You’d probably only get freelance work from it but that’s the best type anyway.

Scott Wickstein
2024 years ago

For the sort of entry-level jobs I am applying for, these factors seem close to me. I have either qualifications or experience so for my case, the odds are about what I put in the chart.

I hope to get the energy to do some serious ‘freelance’ writing in 2005- hasn’t been even up to blogging this year :(

2024 years ago

A few tips. Firstly don’t forget a follow up call after the Dear John letter to get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses in the application process, as well as some feedback on the calibre/qualities/experience of the ultimately successful applicant. ie how close did you get to being considered?

Next important thing you have to understand is the nerve racking process for the employer. Basically we’re shit scared we’ll choose a bummer who won’t fit in and we(the group)will be stuck with it. In this sense we are often lazy and tend to go for comfortable choices like giving a chance to a friend or relation of someone within the group. Any member of the group undertaking this, has an implicit understanding that whoever they recommend had better be good(or simply fit in well), or it will reflect badly on them. Herein lies the best avenue for a foot in the door. Ask the empoloyer if they have any work experience going and if they say no, ask if they can recommend any other employers who do, or who would be likely to be taking on staff. Work experience serves 2 useful functions. It lets you get acquainted with the industry and some people in it, who may be able to recommend you to other employers as a result. Surprising how much we know about our industry, since many of us have moved about in it. Also, any successful applicant will be on probation and if they don’t work out the group will be looking around for another option. That could well be the work experience devil they have come to know after their negative experience with the hiring process. Also you may impress enough to be considered for another opening that may be in the offing(eg maternity, long service leave, etc). Oh and don’t bother with work experience with a group you didn’t feel you clicked with during the application process, irrespective of the attractiveness of the position. If the fit didn’t feel right at first glance it probably never will so move on.

David Tiley
2024 years ago

Live lean, write hard. Start a book while you have the time – non fiction essays, extended reflections embedded in journalism.

Grief and love in a time of atomisation.

Geoff has your style in one.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2024 years ago

“Grief and love in a time of atomisation.”

No idea what David means, but it’s beautifully put.

Scott, for every hundred graduates of some crap money making creative writing course, there are very few talented writers. You’re one of them. Keep the faith!

In the meantime, I empathise. When I finish the beastly thesis, I’m off looking for jobs. I am so not looking forward to it!

2024 years ago

Ditto C.L.
Ditto Observa.
Double Ditto Geoff.

Don’t take the dear J.’s as an indication of your ability or worth (it’s not). Keeping your self-confidence is the biggest battle in the job-hunting circus.

One of my friends has been making a living from writing books for several years now (and is a Sophie Masson fan). But it took him several jobs and several years to get there. He says there is always a market for a writer out there. Just don’t give up until you find it.

And don’t forget to have a happy Christmas.

2024 years ago

What they all said, keep the faith.

Applications are a serious damn pain. I am spared that for two years at least, but it’ll be the longest I’ve gone in ages without churning the things out on a 12 month cycle.

So, sympathies, but yes – focus on the maths, persistence pays off.

I wouldn’t disagree with anyone else’s advice but … most things I’ve scored over time have actually been through open interview processes – but I only found out these places were taking applications by talking to mates in the field.

The other edge of getting cold CVs out there is sometimes an organisation keeps short-listed types on file and passes them round internally when a different division is hiring.

Good luck!

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2024 years ago

There are those of us with qualifications and experience who don’t have a job merely because since we are over 40 we automatically lost all of our skills.

I echo others regarding your writing.
You can’t learn that at Uni and you have rare talent.

It is said about 80% of jobs are in the hidden market.

Look up people you either know or people you know know and ask for ‘advice’ never a job.

always buy them coffee ans they think it wil be short and it is rarely less than half an hour.

follow up with a thank you letter personaly written.

I suspect you will be gobbled up by someone who recognises talent sooner than you believe.

Like Saint Merry Christmas and good Luck in the New Year.

WHEN you get the job be sure to tell us all so we can read you on-line.

2024 years ago

Looking for a job sucks, and the only thing that sucks more are the sucking suckers who run the job agencies.

Still, there are jobs for writers out there. About half-a-year ago, when I was looking hard for a job, I was willing to do anything vaguely related to my skills (general officey, communication stuff). Weirdly, when I did get an offer, it was actually for a WRITING position (I write reports for an investigative company). What might have done the trick for me was the interview – I rocked up with a wide variety of articles written by me, including blog stuff, zine stuff, paper stuff, and other stuff.

I’m looking for another part-time job now, and one of the options I’m looking into is getting a job preparing crosswords (Lovatt’s Crosswords are based in Gosford, about 100km away from Newcastle). I originally got this idea because I prepare crosswords for a youth publication here in Newcastle.

So I guess what I’m saying is, you just have to be prepared to be versatile as a writer, and you’ll probably make headway. And I’m confident that in the years to come more paying opportunities for writers will be opened up.

Francis Xavier Holden
2024 years ago

If you’re a nut and knock on enough doors,eventually someone will open one, look at you and say, Messiah, we have waited for your arrival.

2024 years ago

Good luck with the job hunting, dude. When i was trying to get out of my job-from-hell earlier in the year, I made an anally retentive colour-coded Excel spreadsheet monitoring the status of every job I applied for. I reckon around 30% of them didn’t even have the decency to send back the standard sorry letter.

But I could see how many i applied for, how many I had 1st or 2nd interviews for, all that sort of thing, and eventually I got a job that I’m very happy with – writing about economics aside ;)

Oh yeah, my point is that I reckon Michael Jennings’ formula was pretty spot on if I cast my mind back to my spreadsheet. Just keep on keeping on.

2024 years ago

Cheer up Scott. If a foul-mouthed drunk with curious personal hygiene habits like me can get paying work, I’m sure you will.

I reckon Homer’s right about the ‘hidden market’ thing (which is how I got my current job) and Yobbo’s gotta good point too about doing pieces on spec. And if you don’t make a sale, you can always whack it on the blog instead.

Merry fucking Christmas. I need a drink.

David Tiley
2024 years ago

Francis.. what happened to the Messiah?


Paul Watson
Paul Watson
2024 years ago


If it’s any consolation, being a graduate doesn’t make a scrap of difference in terms of making it easier to get a job. I should know, with three degrees and hundreds of unsuccessful applications (including for “survival jobs”

2024 years ago

Good luck to you, Scott. I’m in the same boat and it’s shitful time of year to be job-seeking. You’re dead right about the agencies. There’s no HR angle, just sales and marketing. They just love you if you’re up for a temp or contract position, but the trap being they won’t be looking for a perm position for you either. Hang in there. I’ve found the really exciting positions come from your own resources.

2024 years ago

As a counterpoint to the persistence pays idea, one of the problems with making large numbers of applications is that you can forget what you wanted originally

2024 years ago

As a counterpoint to the persistence pays idea, one of the problems with making large numbers of applications is that you can forget what you wanted originally

2024 years ago

I’ve been out of work for 1 month. I had 2 interviews with my previous employer…. and it came down to being a finalist in both. Needless to say….I am writing this. Its been a discouraging situation since I hit both interviews on the head.

Any thoughts /encouragement out there

Mark Bahnisch
2024 years ago

Michael, I’ve spent a few times during my life out of work. I don’t know if this helps, but something that’s been useful to me is firstly to get on with all the things I’d usually do (on a budget needless to say!) and also to explore some things that I wouldn’t normally have time to do. Helps keeps the spirit strong!

2024 years ago

Yep, I Identify

Scott Wickstein writes of the annoying, depressive, soul-destroying search for employment whilst also seeking his ultimate goal in life, that…