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For some applicants, job search is futile endeavor

by James M. Flammang

Updated: September 2023

Even when Help Wanted signs are rampant,
many of the unemployed will face a
a steady stream of rejections.

Long before the pandemic and the economic crisis of 2020, we would hear endless tales about folks who had been out of work for weeks, for months, even for years. They kept searching, and kept being turned down. Yet, most of us probably assumed that such a person, while experiencing a rotten string of bad luck, would find employment at some point. It just took persistence, we smugly warned the plodding and downtrodden. Keep trying.

Even in periods of severe financial turmoil and economic downturn, many of us still cling to the misguided notion that there's a job out there for everyone. Therefore, if they don't find it, that's their own fault.

In the real world, only if you're one of the highly fortunate few – those who never went for long without rewarding work – can you justifiably insist on retaining such an outmoded opinion.

What about those who don't, and won't, ever find a worthwhile job – or any job at all, beyond the bare minimum? How about the unfortunate among us who are nearly always rejected: who rarely reach the point of being seriously considered, much less hired?

What do we make of those who endure rejection after rejection, even in times of high prosperity and low unemployment. How do they survive in harder times, when even ordinarily acceptable applicants are left to trudge from one prospective employer to another (whether physically or via online contact attempts), hoping and praying for some small chance to enter or reenter the workforce.

Can't happen? You'd better believe it can. And does. For a substantial but largely unknown number of job applicants, there's always someone better: more qualified, better educated, younger, smarter, more attractive physically – or simply better able to compete in an increasingly intense business environment.

Even in the best of times, with shortages of workers the hot issue, employers are adept at issuing a long string of reasons why a particular applicant cannot, and will not, be hired. Ever. Case closed.

Why are people rejected, for jobs large and small? The list of reasons (true or false) is practically endless, and many of us fall into at least one or two categories of the unwanted:
• Inadequate (or no) job skills, perceived or real.
• Troubled work history. At the high end of the employment ladder, a spotty work record can actually be a selling point. At the bottom, employment gaps traditionally have signaled a dead end, though their importance might be easing a bit when unemployment rates are low.
• Overqualified or underqualified.
• Weak interpersonal traits, if not outright behavior issues.
• Physical or mental disability. Employers cannot discriminate these days? Are you kidding?
• Personal appearance: obesity, inappropriate apparel, inadequate personal care and habits. Columnist Laura Washington also has pointed out the difficulty that applicants might have if their names sound too ethnic or too "Black."
• Making a poor impression at interviews. Some people are good at it; others not, and never will be, even if they invest time and effort in classes on interviewing techniques. If you're going to study, why not make it something useful, not trying to learn "how to get a job," or how to influence a Human Resources interviewer.
• Those in charge just don't like the person on the other side of the desk. Frankly, some people are not likable, which may have no relation whatsoever to their ability to do the job in question effectively, unless it's a PR position that demands effusive social skills.

One bit of good news: Even in recent years, discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers has been permitted in half the states. They could be rejected or fired for simply belonging to one of those categories. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that no U.S. employers can discriminate against anyone in the group.

Members of the Rejected class are so easy to ignore. By definition, they don't stand out. They're often embarrassed to admit being unwanted, disliked, declared ineligible to be a full-fledged member of employed society.

Therefore, the regularly dismissed have little choice but to come up with flimsy, transparent excuses for their presumed failure. In a society that values personal interactions as a measure of success, and stresses new versions of conformity while claiming to prize disrupters, not fitting in is still a recipe for a life of trailing well behind the achievers. The seriously unwanted never are able to take that first vital step forward into occupational acceptance.

At least, the younger, recent entrants into today's workaday world don't seem as likely to stand for retaining the norms of the past in terms of hiring, firing, punishing, promoting, setting salaries, and so on. Perhaps there's some hope out there yet. For instance, even the horrific Covid pandemic of 2020-22 and consequent double-digit unemployment rate appears to have yielded a somewhat more tolerable and tolerant hiring environment, though not necessarily for everyone. Viewed logically, the recent record-setting low unemployment rate, hovering near a modest 3.5 percent, should make job-seeking significantly easier for the readily rejected. The jury is still out on that one.

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Text and photo by James M. Flammang
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