ONTD Political

Get A Job: The Craigslist Experiment

2:53 pm - 09/13/2012

Get A Job: The Craigslist Experiment

Jul. 23, 2012

I am a 26-year-old with a Master’s degree in English. I am currently looking for a full-time job, preferably in a major city, since that’s where a vast multitude of jobs exist.

Unfortunately, so do an even vaster multitude of job-seekers.

Why would I ever want a full-time job, you may ask? Because I am currently an Adjunct Lecturer in English, which means part-time employment, which means a limited amount of classes per semester, which means no steady work during summer or winter breaks, which means no health benefits and barely enough money to pay rent, utilities, car insurance, student loans, etc.

I know, I know: “Why expect a full-time job with a Humanities degree?” you ask. But that’s not the discussion I want to start today. I just want to focus on the masses for a moment.

We all know the story: for a long time now, the U.S. job market has been in the toilet. The national unemployment rate is now 8.1%, though it is ever-steadily creeping its way back up the drain, as unemployment was 9.1% just one year ago. Still, for many (especially for my post-collegiate generation), coming across full-time employment is like finding one specific needle in a stack of billions of other needles.

But you know this already.

I shouldn’t complain too much because I have a Master’s degree and employers are more likely to at least acknowledge my résumé because of this. (Well, I hope so.) But what of the Bachelor’s degree? The Associate’s? The High School Diploma? My guess: the lesser the degree, the less likely a possible employer will schedule an interview. But that’s just my guess, as I am not an HR representative of any sort.

There’s also the paradox of present life after higher education: massive student loan debts and few jobs available to actually pay them off. But that’s also not why I write today.

We’re familiar with the art of the job search: day after day, scanning the classifieds, Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for open positions; forever touching up résumés to appeal to specific job requirements; writing endless cover letters that never seem to sound quite right; applying to dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs per week; staring vacuously at the familiar monitor glow at 3 a.m.; drinking gallons of coffee/alcohol to endure the monotony of it all; going days, weeks, months, seasons without a single response; yelling violently at the cat and punching the wall in frustration; discovering ennui and permanently bathing in it.

After repeating the aforementioned process for a while, I began to wonder if all of my efforts were purely futile or if I was actually making any dents (no matter how minute). I grew thoughtful, curious, worrisome, and thoroughly impatient — all in that order. I also knew many others in my position who had suffered similar fates.

I had to find out more on where I stood in this uncertain job market. I thought that if I could figure at least a piece of that out, then maybe I could improve my job hunting techniques, and, maybe then — just maybe — an employer would actually call me back.

So I conducted an experiment: I invented a job and posted it to Craigslist.

Sure, the job didn’t exist, and you might protest, “But Eric, how cruel of you to lead all these people on!” Then I thought of the mountain range of jobs to which I had applied in the last few weeks, followed by the complete lack of correspondence from these potential employers, and then I didn’t feel so bad. I assumed that those who had applied to this non-existent position would most likely shake the experience off as just another stone in the quarry of disappointment. (If, gentle Reader, you are one of those unfortunate applicants, then I offer my sincere apologies.)

I thought of sites where I regularly search for jobs, and settled on Craigslist for this experiment, since positions are uploaded there more frequently than on any other site I usually visit. I thought of the major cities where I’ve been applying to jobs, and settled on New York, since… well, it’s New York; it’s the place to be.

I wanted to create a very basic ad: a full-time job with decent starting pay and health benefits included. I wanted to study a broad spectrum of job seekers, so I did not require any specific educational background or related experience for the position. The entirety of the ad was created using what I had seen in my own job searches: the most common job, the most common job duties, the most common pay, in the most advertised district on all of NYC’s Craigslist.

In the end, I produced this ad:

Administrative Assistant needed for busy Midtown office. Hours are Monday through Friday, nine to five. Job duties include: filing, copying, answering phones, sending e-mails, greeting clients, scheduling appointments. Previous experience in an office setting preferred, but will train the right candidate. This is a full-time position with health benefits. Please e-mail résumé if interested. Compensation: $12-$13 per hour.


I created a fake e-mail address to receive all of the applications. Before I published the ad, I hypothesized that I would receive a lot of résumés, and I didn’t want applicants usurping my personal inbox, especially for a non-existent position.

“A lot of résumés” is an egregious understatement.

I published the ad at exactly 2:41P.M. on Thursday. The first response came in at 2:45—just four minutes later. Ten minutes later, there were 10 responses. Twenty minutes later, there were 56. An hour later: 164. Six hours: 431.

At 2:41P.M. on Friday — exactly 24 hours after I posted the ad — there were 653 responses in my brand new inbox. Not wanting to face any more after that, I promptly removed the ad from Craigslist.

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to gain a full perspective of who my generalized workforce competition was.

As if 653 responses in one day wasn’t enough already to knock me down the proverbial flight of stairs, I decided to sift through each and every application and record some basic statistical data — just to see what I was up against. I collected general information in two basic areas: Experience and Educational Background.

I should note that out of these 653 responses, 27 either contained an inaccessible attachment or a copy-and-paste job gone awry, so we won’t even bother with those. This leaves us with 626 résumés. One week and several pots of Café Bustelo later, I had some fancy-shmancy graphs.

I attempted to figure out how an actual HR representative might narrow this ocean of applications down to a mere puddle, and I guessed that experience would play a hefty role in the process. In the ad, I originally wrote “experience in an office setting preferred,” but while sifting through, I decided to apply “true experience” to those who had held clerical/secretarial positions before — you know, in the spirit of an Administrative Assistantship.

What surprised me the most about the above results was the number of people who had true experience as Administrative Assistants — and not just baby years, either. I additionally counted how many of these 626 applicants had five or more years of true experience: 147 (23%). And, as you can see above, 62 applicants had 10 or more years of true experience. That’s 10 percent of all applicants — much higher than I originally anticipated. A few even had 20 or more years under their belts.

Overall, 76% of applicants had previous true experience and 24% did not.

To reiterate: I am not an HR person, so I don’t know how much education weighs against experience when choosing possible employees. However, I was curious as to how many people with higher education degrees applied to this entry-level position. After all, I have a Master’s degree and I apply to these types of jobs on a daily basis.

I was a bit relieved to discover that not many folks with Master’s degrees applied (only three percent) — though, as previously mentioned, I’m not sure how much education usually factors into this process. I counted anybody with a relevant clerical/office administration certificate with the Associate’s group, since those applicants still received a higher education of some sort. What shocked me the most was the number of applicants with Bachelor’s degrees (39%), all from a wide variety of disciplines. (Maybe some of the Bachelor’s group should just obtain graduate degrees? At least this will kill two more years of job searching — so long as you don’t mind another dash of debt.)

Overall, 66% of applicants held one or more degrees/certificates in higher education and 34% held only a High School Diploma or G.E.D.


Depressed and exhausted after discovering all of this information, I drew one general mantra from this experiment, one that I could repeat to myself whenever I apply to a new open position:

“No matter how much you want this job, there are 652 other people who want it, too.”

The problem with this is that mantras are usually meant to calm one down, not bring one to tears. Another problem with this is that it’s an exaggeration. For an entry-level position such as this imaginary one, yes, there are at least 652 other aspiring employees. However, for a more specialized position, such as Full-Time English Instructor or Editorial Assistant or Professional Lobsterman, I’m sure there are far fewer résumés submitted. But I’m tired, and that’s another experiment for another day.

For now, I’ve just compiled three primary conclusions that I can offer the job-seeking public, including myself:

1.) Employers won’t notice me by my résumé alone. This one I kind of knew already, but I need to actually follow through
with my lesson. Am I really going to stand out in a tidal wave of 626 applications? Probably not. What I should do is figure out methods to grab the employer’s attention, whether it’s finding out if anyone I know works with the organization, seeking out a personal recommendation, or calling to double-check that the employer received my résumé (even though we all know how daunting actual phone calls can be). I need to find additional ways to let the employer know that I am the right man for the job. Anything to make the employer say, “Ah, yes, Mr. Auld,” and not, “Oh, right, Applicant #24601.”

2.) When job searching on Craigslist, apply to positions immediately. 49 percent of responses to this non-existent position were submitted in the first three hours alone — that’s 317 emails. I know that when I apply for jobs, I like to imagine my résumé near the top of the pile; this helps me sleep at night (in addition to scotch). Because of this experiment, I’ve decided to not bother submitting to Craigslist positions that are more than one day old. As for other sites, I’ll probably discard any postings that have been up for more than one week. “But Eric, why?” you ask. Because, gentle Reader: that’s just how I roll.

3.) Expect the application review process to take a while. I repeat: 626 résumés in one day. That’s all I have to say about that.

Thank you for reading. Good day, good night, and good luck in all of your endeavors.


OP Note: I read this a few weeks ago and found it to be a fascinating experiment and just how desperate people are for work.
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rex_dart 13th-Sep-2012 07:54 pm (UTC)
i'm saying this as someone who's preparing to apply for grad school in the humanities but also as someone who helps run a business and has a say in hiring decisions: this guy seems kind of delusional about exactly what a master's degree in english looks like to an employer.
leaf_collector 13th-Sep-2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
Not trying to be a smart-ass, but how do potential employers view a master's or bachelor's in English?
Studying English is like a dream job/education for myself, but I decided not to go that route on the assumption that my future potential employers would see it.... not favorably, but as my spouse says "rather useless". :/
pullmystrings 13th-Sep-2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
WOW. that is depressing to me as an almost-grad
sakuraberries 13th-Sep-2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
OP, I think your source link is messed up!
gangsterdorothy 13th-Sep-2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
Fixed. Thanks!
mutive 13th-Sep-2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I actually posted a (real) job add to Craigslist for a company and got a similar degree of responses. It was a basic entry level, "Anyone can do this" type job. Got...well, hundreds of responses, most of which looked decent.

And yeah, from that side, it is tough. Since how do you weed through 100 responses? (Which was about how many I got that met the basic requirements - maybe 50% didn't, so were easy to delete.) I couldn't interview them all. (I think I called around 20. Anyone who I left a message with and didn't respond in around 48 hours was out.) I think it ended up being one of those things where those who had some vague amount of relevant experience were the ones I went for, along with those from schools I was familiar with and respected who had decent GPAs.
layweed 13th-Sep-2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
How do they weed through hundreds/thousands of responses? Idk about smaller companies, but larger ones use resume screening software that sort through applications and look for keywords. Which I really hate because your application is turned into some form of dehumanized list of keywords and phrases and experience. With the sheer volume of applicants though, Idk, there isn't any way for companies to get around it. =\
ninety6tears 13th-Sep-2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
I'm a little shocked people would submit resumes as little as a few minutes after the job posting goes up. (I mean, at least try to hide it if you're just pulling up the exact same application you've sent everywhere else, I would think?)

This whole thing is hella discouraging, but at least I'm no longer taking it personally that I didn't hear a peep out of the one job I've found to apply for in the past few months that I actually was well-qualified for.
pullmystrings 13th-Sep-2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
yeah, that's a good point. I'd think it'd be better to spend your time tweaking your resume/writing a cover letter.
scolaro 13th-Sep-2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Interesting experiment. However...

“No matter how much you want this job, there are 652 other people who want it, too.”

I hate to say it, but what you actually mean is "there are 652 other people PER DAY who want it"...which of course is even more depressing...
miss_almost 13th-Sep-2012 08:47 pm (UTC)

i work for a university, and they usually have to have a job posted externally for at least one week before it can be taken down. i wasnt on the hiring committee, but they had over a thousand qualified applicants for a job that required a bachelors degree and was up for the minimum amount of time. HR hates hiring externally because of the flood of applications and from what one of the people told me they start eliminating applicants almost randomly until they get it narrowed down to under 100. :/
poetic_pixie_13 13th-Sep-2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
Jesus, this is depressing.
iolarah 13th-Sep-2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
I am definitely feeling like it's the same sort of thing in Canada as well. The current unemployment rate here is about 7.3%, down from 8.5 in 2009, but still higher than it was in 2007, about 6%. I'm so tired of being passed over.
gangsterdorothy 13th-Sep-2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
I have a full time job now, but I remember when this was my life.

Now I'm looking for a higher paying job in the (new) field I have been learning at my current job (marketing). Even looking for a better job while at a current one is depressing still.
danceprincess20 13th-Sep-2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
The most frustrating issue I'm having is that, because the job market is so shitty right now, it's a great market for the people doing the hiring.

I have a BA, did 3 internships during college, have had some type of job since I was 18, and worked the first part of this year in a temporary job and cannot even get a freaking phone call back.

First off, people are posting jobs, calling them "entry level" and when you click, they want you to have a degree and 5 years of experience. In what world is that entry level?! THEN, for the same job, they post that the starting pay is $10/hour. I just can't compete against people with master's degrees or 5 years of experience.
gangsterdorothy 13th-Sep-2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
Ugh all of this! It's ridiculous what is called entry level these days and how little employers want to pay.
flcadam 13th-Sep-2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, in 2008 when I was a campaign organizer, I put out a Craigslist ad to hire temporary canvassers for my voter outreach campaign. My inbox was flooded with replies within hours of posting the advertisement. Of those who did attach resumes (which was way more than i was asking for), I was really surprised by their credentials. I hired a handful of people with master's degrees and several years of experience in other fields who were in the process of finding regular jobs.

Fortunately, I was operating in mid-sized college town, so I didn't have to sort through nearly as many resumes as the above author. But based on that experience, I wouldn't really recommend using Craigslist or other online sites to find jobs; the competition is definitely fierce.
bellichka 14th-Sep-2012 01:13 am (UTC)
Every job I've gotten (that wasn't a "hey Bethany, can you come do this for us?") has been through Craigslist. I'm currently the assistant program coordinator for a small music school, which is not what my MS degree is in (International Studies), but I have soooo much music experience (school accompanist, organist, choir director, assistant music director), and office experience, that I was an easy hire. I'll have to ask my boss how many people applied for my position.
haveitall 13th-Sep-2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
I have a job, but I'm looking for something that gives me less anxiety while I'm getting my Master's in Library Science. I like Craigslist because I lot of local businesses post there and I've gotten a few interviews from there (no bites yet, though). I have a BA in English but I think my 10 years in sales/customer service is far more relevant.
gangsterdorothy 13th-Sep-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
Customer service is such a vast industry and a great place to have experience. It can be a really stressful job, but having that is definitely a great asset.
rooneyism 13th-Sep-2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
I was lucky enough to get a job right out of college. The pay is...okay. My issue is, I've been a contractor for almost a year. While the permanent employees around me do the same amount of work for more pay plus benefits/bonuses while I get told it's going to happen for you! Promise!

I'm grateful for the job, but I'm barely getting by. It's a pretty discouraging position to be in.

I've been looking for other jobs. Weekend jobs, full time jobs, whatever. That's just as stressful. Overqualified for the weekend jobs and underqualified for a new full time job.
gangsterdorothy 13th-Sep-2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
I'm barely getting by myself on a full time job. I'm lucky my job allows overtime, but making $11/hr is tough for where I live. I've been at my job over a year now and was actually promoted to a more involved department but no raise (from data entry essentially to marketing department).

I'm applying for things and saw a career coach recently who helped spruce up my resume and covers letters for my new skill set, but its still tough.

Edited at 2012-09-13 09:21 pm (UTC)
mollywobbles867 13th-Sep-2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
I'm overqualified for everything but teaching adjunct at a college or working in a publishing company. We don't really have any of the latter around here.

P.S. No wonder no one will hire me, even when I do well in an interview: I'm overqualified. When you live in a mid-size city, about the only thing you can do with a master's in English is teach college. I don't want to do that for the rest of my life because I hate teaching. It's rather depressing. I need a job now so I can pay off my debt after I graduate in December. It's too late to get a teaching job. I'm fucked. I hate my life.

The reason I got a Master's is 1)It was always my plan. 2) I needed a way to get my life back on track after my dad died and I became extremely depressed because 3) the idea of working at that point freaked me out because I could barely talk to anyone.

Edited at 2012-09-13 09:39 pm (UTC)
lozbabie 13th-Sep-2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
If your master is hurting your employment chances why don't you take it off the resume? You don't need to put everything on.
bonesnapdeez 13th-Sep-2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
A couple of years ago I took a chance and moved before finding a job in the area I was moving to (I couldn't stand to live with my parents anymore).

Trying to find a new job was one of the most stressful things ever. I can't even remember how many places I applied to, how many times I had to tweak my résumé and cover letters, etc...

Funny thing is, when I was finally called for an interview offer I had no recollection of applying to said company! I had sent out so many applications that everything had just become a blur. I had to ask the HR person a few (subtle) "who is this and where are you located?" type questions just to figure out what the hell was going on.

So I go to the interview. It goes well and I get the job, but my boss is a bit unclear about what exactly I'll be doing (and like I said, I couldn't remember anything about applying in the first place). On my first day (orientation) a couple of people ask me "what are you going to be doing here?" and apparently I give a vague shitty answer. On my way home after day #1 my boss calls me and says, "It doesn't seem like you know what you're doing here, let me explain it..."

tl;dr Finding a job is tough and I'm a dumbass.
sesmo 13th-Sep-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
If you ever do it again, I highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet. Keep a spreadsheets of jobs you applied for, the contact person's name, and any follow-up. It also ensures you don't send multiple resumes for the same job/company. Plus, if you can wrangle Wordprocessor & spreadsheet, you can mailmerge the hell out of it.
tsuni_night 13th-Sep-2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
Think if you had left that up a week or more before checking your responses. Depending on the size and motivation of the company it might take HR some time to get to those applications.

I know some companies have used the unemployment boom to require more to even consider an applicant. I.e. that may be an entry level job, but they may require a Bachelors degree to help "weed" out some people. To the same tune they may also not be interested in someone with a masters degree because they may feel "they aren't serious", or won't be a long term employee. I'm not saying they would mind, but I've heard of such things.

[edit: editing out my random rant regarding employer requirements as not necessary]

Also in random musing I wonder how accurate that 8.1% unemployment rate is. I'm not sure how it's calculated, but do they count people who can no longer receive unemployment?

Edited at 2012-09-13 10:05 pm (UTC)
layweed 13th-Sep-2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
I think that's why some of the ridiculous "entry level" requirements came about. They help weed people out and shrink the applicant pool. I honestly am not sure if they really expect people at entry level to have 2-5 years of experience, but that's at least one way of shrinking the pool.
trex_in_boots 13th-Sep-2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
I just returned to finish my undergrad with future hopes of getting my masters & in the future be the first in my family to receive a doctorate but after reading this I just want to crawl in a hole and hide for the rest of my life.
ebay313 13th-Sep-2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
This is depressing. It makes me thankful and honestly surprised I have a job. Though I'm still underemployed. But at least it is something.
thecityofdis 13th-Sep-2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
He's right on some things and way off the mark on others.

As someone who works a standard (but specialized) office job, runs their department, and has hired before: Yeah, a Master's degree is going to be a boner-killer for any prospective employer of his at this point. It's not a good thing when applying for admin jobs - it's pretty much an automatic disqualifier.

I also don't want to say that there's no merit to job postings on Craigslist, but there's... very little, honestly. It's a catch-all where every generic job is posted and every single person wants it. The pool of people looking is enormously large, and those jobs have mostly already been posted and advertised elsewhere in more specialized circles (where applicable).

Sometimes those jobs are already even filled, but there's a law that you have to post for a certain amount of time before you give the role to an internal candidate.

Telling people to go to grad school just because is a terrible idea.

And frankly the problem right now isn't just 'a degree in the humanities lol', though that's part of it - which I am not judging, I got a degree in the social sciences, which is just as lolworthy - the problem is lack of specialization.

As someone above mentioned, if you have a Master's in English and want to work for a publishing company: Yes! This is a good thing! If you have a Master's in English and are applying for literally every job under the sun, you have no more advantage (and maybe even less of one) than someone at the very bottom rungs of the ladder.
peace_piper 13th-Sep-2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
I have a degree in engineering, and I usually just leave my degree off my resume or lie about it so I won't be "overqualified". Which makes me sad as anything. All that work, time and effort and it's actually screwing me over.
tsuni_night 13th-Sep-2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
Regarding the standing out:

I got a job at a fairgrounds as an administrative assistant because my grandmother beat some rules into me. I called a week after I applied and let them know I was very interested in the position & after I got an interview I sent a thank you note for the consideration after an interview.

I later got told the thank you note was what got me the job. I loved that job. If it hadn't been part time, no benefits, and minimum wage I would probably still be there.

I got my foot in the door with my current company because I made the phone interviewer laugh.
zaure 13th-Sep-2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
I got mine because I grew up in the same town in Michigan as my interviewer. (This is in Seattle).
closetospring 14th-Sep-2012 12:16 am (UTC)
or calling to double-check that the employer received my résumé

do not call to ask if they received your resume/check on the status of your resume, seriously, this is terrible advice and yet people continue to give it.
sio 14th-Sep-2012 12:40 am (UTC)
and how are you supposed to show that you're interested and stand out from the crowd? that's the whole point of calling/stopping in to follow-up.
astridmyrna 14th-Sep-2012 01:58 am (UTC)
Why did I read this. Now I want to cry.
msdevin92 14th-Sep-2012 02:23 am (UTC)
IKR? I've got to stop reading articles like this. /chews fingernails off
pamoreno 14th-Sep-2012 02:28 am (UTC)
This post reminded me of this song

kitchen_poet 14th-Sep-2012 03:02 am (UTC)
See, that chart makes me think that with a.) more than 2 years experience, and b.) the masters degree I'll graduate with in December, it should be really easy finding a (decent paying & with benefits) job!

Sadly, I'm not finding that to be the case.
ljtaylor 14th-Sep-2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
actually I swear to goodness the more experience and the better educated I have become (and two degrees is standard for my profession), the harder I have found it to source work.
ceilidh 14th-Sep-2012 03:39 am (UTC)
Sigh, this is so depressing. I'm kind of regretting quitting my job and going back to graduate school. I'm halfway through my PhD program--I taught in public school for over a decade, had student teachers, am National Board Certified--and now I'm getting my PhD with the hope of teaching education at the college level. But if I don't get a college job, I doubt I'll get anything else, and I can't go back to public school teaching because I have too many degrees and too much experience.
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