I Applied to 200 Jobs and All I Got Was This Moderate-Severe Depression

“And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

 

About Me, Your Friendly Neighborhood Millennial:

I was your garden-variety smart kid, shuffled through GATE programs of every type from kindergarten onward. In sixth grade, I left the classroom in the afternoons to study Latin roots with our school’s principal for the spelling bee circuit. As you can probably imagine, I was bullied a lot (Apparently, no one likes a first-grader who says “in addition to” instead of “and.”). I went to a competitive high school near Silicon Valley, where– with my AP courses– I had a 4.0 cumulative GPA, but was not in the top 10% of my class.

After getting summarily rejected from the Ivies, I went to a small university in Oregon, where I worked harder than I thought possible to graduate a year early with two degrees. My reasons for adhering to this less-than-brilliant plan were the following: 1) the astronomical cost of college tuition, and 2) the desire to move to New York to be with my high school boyfriend, who ended up ghosting me at the end of my sophomore year in college (s/o to my ex, you heartless used gym sock*). Here comes the controversial part: I got both of my degrees in the humanities. I know, I know. I was young and naive. But I loved writing and reading more than anything else, and I wasn’t sure, especially given my intensifying feelings of loneliness and depression, that I would be able to graduate if I wasn’t doing something loved. I tacked on the Spanish degree because I loved studying the language, and hoped it would make me more marketable later on. Like most ambitious English majors, I hoped I would find work in either teaching or writing after graduation.

Long story short, I ended up graduating magna cum laude, won my department’s award, and learned that no one really wants to talk about E.M. Forster while playing beer pong. Go figure.

Post-graduation, I attended a fully-funded MA program in English with the hope of seeing if academia was a viable field for me. Though my most promising offer was from Boston College, I could not attend the program for financial reasons. Even as a fully-funded candidate, there is no way I could have afforded to live in the Boston metro area as a full-time student, and I already had an undergraduate student loan. I ended up accepting an offer from Oregon State University, where I would get to teach English Composition for a generous stipend.

Another long story short: It was fantastic. I loved it. But as many of my readers know, there are simply no jobs in the humanities, especially in English Lit. Like every baby academic who is just beginning to fall in love with Eve Sedgwick and affect theory, I wanted to continue on to my PhD, but I was also reaching graduation knowing that my future would likely end up like this:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/adjunct-professors-homeless-sex-work-academia-poverty

or this:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/08/28/more-humanities-phds-are-awarded-job-openings-are-disappearing

 

The Job Search:

Before I finished graduate school, I met with a career counselor at OSU and explained that I might like to pursue a career where I could remain part of university life, i.e. as a low-level administrator. For jobs even at that tier, she told me I would likely need another MA in “Higher Education Administration”. Really? Another MA? That I would have to pay in full for? To use the same programs and software that I had already been using as an instructor at OSU? Okay.

I heard her, but I also ended up applying to a lot of entry-level admin jobs, most of which amounted to working as a receptionist. I didn’t get any interviews.

After a summer of job searching, and increasingly desperate for cash, I began working retail at a local bookstore, thinking that I could continue looking for a position while I earned minimum wage. I ended up there for a year. Every few months, I was given tasks that increased in complexity and responsibility– everything from daily bookkeeping to making bank deposits for the store– while being told it wasn’t likely I would ever get a raise beyond a cashier’s minimum wage. At the store, nearly all of us had a college education or more, but we were treated like high schoolers with little to no intelligence. For example, one member of upper management referred to us as “the blind leading the blind.” Another, when I gave my two weeks notice, assumed it was because I was starting college as a freshman in the fall, expressing utter shock after she learned that I was 24 with an MA degree. In addition to those comments, there was the daily drudgery of being condescended to and degraded by everyone’s favorite I-must-speak-to-the-manager-immediately shoppers, who a) routinely berate you for store policies you have no control over and b) treat you like a thoughtless robot.

 

Some ~special highlights~ from a couple of my favorite customers:

“Oh, I take everything a woman says with a pound and a half of salt.”

“I’m looking for books about the USSR. I bet you don’t know what that is, do you?”

“The fact that you don’t keep track of everything your customers purchase is just ridiculous. You know, it’s because of you that Jeff Bezos is winning. Because. Of. You.”

Later that year, I moved with my partner to a town about 40 minutes away from the bookstore. At that time, the owners of the store were running skeleton crew, and had almost no one to close the store at 9 PM.They were going to “promote me” for 25 cents more an hour to “be in charge” at night. In other words, they were going to ensure that I took mostly closing shifts by trying to inflate my ego with…a quarter (Hang in there fellow retail workers. Solidarity.).

 


Hitting 150:

While working at the bookstore, I applied to dozens of positions. But now, with no income, I had to increase the rate and quantity of my job applications. Anyone who has conducted a less-than-casual job search in 2018 will be familiar with the tedious nature of applying to jobs over the internet. You attach a resume and cover letter to whichever portal is associated with that position, then you have to re-insert every item of on your resume, including job experiences, references, demographic information, and educational experiences, into algorithm-friendly online forms, and then answer a variety of supplemental questions. I suppose all that makes a kind of sense. But lately, the process has become even more ridiculous.

For example, Indeed.com, my job search platform of choice, now has its own assessment quizzes according to job type. I’ve applied to a lot of receptionist positions, for example, where the company asks you to take a “Receptionist Quiz” filled with questions like “If this is Steve’s schedule, and this is Sarah’s, what time can they both meet with Client X?” and “How would you label a folder than contains information about Printer Setup?” I have taken this “Receptionist Assessment” about 15 times. None of the companies I took the quiz for ever met me in person, and I doubt a human being even looked at my application materials. I have also taken dozens of in-house corporate assessments, where you are asked to spend about 45 minutes rating your personal attributes on a 7-point Likert scale and then respond to multiple-choice questions about everything from shoplifting to coworker drug abuse. Again, for the ultimate reward of that sweet, sweet minimum wage.

In interviews, I am rarely asked anything about myself or my experiences, but instead given a list of corporate-sounding and depersonalized questions. I understand that for large businesses and universities, some of this is designed to eliminate bias in the interview process. That’s good. But more often than not, the result is an interview where you walk away feeling like your interviewers still don’t know a single thing about you or what you can offer them. Which is…kind of the point of an interview.

Another example: In the past year, the majority of my interviews have lasted around 15-25 minutes, and have consisted of an average of 10 questions that almost exclusively provide sample scenarios that you could probably solve a lot more efficiently after receiving training for the position you are applying for. The other questions are always enormously vague, and don’t provide a lot of opportunities to sell yourself. Here’s a great one I got a few weeks ago:

“Name a time where you were given technology that you had never used before, and explain how you overcame that challenge in detail.” Um, I don’t know, I used Google? I figured it out? This is seriously one of ten questions you are going to ask me before you send me out the door?

 

Some ~special highlights~ from interviews I have been on:

  • While interviewing at a local law firm for a receptionist position, I was told in the first portion of the interview that it was clear that I had an introverted and submissive personality, and that it would be in my best interest to alter myself a bit before the lawyers came in to meet me because “they don’t really like people with the kind of personality that I have,” or something to that effect. No call or email back after the interview, even for a rejection.
  • At an interview for a classroom assistant position, I was led into an empty room, asked maybe three questions (while awkwardly standing across from my interviewer– we never even sat down), then thanked and sent on my way. I drove 45 minutes to that interview. For similar interviews that I have been on, I had to miss shifts at work. No call or email back after that interview, either.
  • At a nonprofit nursery for low-income families, I was told after the interview that I needed to apply to the Oregon Registry** as part of the job application process, and that the organization prefers employees to have about a Step 8 on the registry. It was a process that took nearly two months and tons of paperwork. When my registration was approved, I was given a Step 3 on the registry because “it wasn’t clear that I took AP Psychology in high school on my college transcript.” When I emailed the hiring manager about it, she never replied, not even to say that my step was too low for them to hire me, or that they would be pursuing other candidates. This, like most of the positions I have applied to, was a job that did not pay much more than minimum wage.

 

Throughout the year, I applied to positions in several different fields, but most were related to education, nonprofit work, child care, retail, and writing/editing, all of which I have at least some experience in. But it seemed like so many companies were looking for (random) qualifications and (expensive) certificates that I did not possess, like the Oregon Registry requirement. One of the most common qualifications for receptionist positions is an “AA or certificate in Office Occupations.” Okay, fam, I know how to use Excel. I can answer a multi-line phone. I can greet customers. Please. Just put me to work.***

At some point during this mess of a job search, I discerned from the “Applied” section of my Indeed account, my email inbox, and my calendar that I’ve applied to over 150 jobs in just one year. As I write, that number has continued to grow to about 200.

 

Depression Tacos:

To cope with feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and regret that I ever attended college in the first place (when I clearly should have gotten a certificate in Office Occupations instead!), I have eaten a lot of tacos al pastor**** and gone to a lot of therapy. I have also started substitute teaching to make some extra cash while I figure out what I’m doing. Fun fact: they don’t interview you at all, nor do they make you take assessment quizzes, to be in charge of a room full of children. We live in a strange world, my friends.

This humble/ self-indulgent essay will not end in a success story, but it will end on a positive note that recalls Rebecca Solnit’s words in the introduction. As empty and washed out as I sometimes feel, I still believe that there are tangible ways I can contribute to the world around me, even if I do so outside of the workforce. In dark times of my life, I have discovered many ways to experience and share moments of beauty, and I am looking forward to sharing similar moments with you in this blog. At the risk of sounding like a tired cliche, we can be rich in loss together.

 

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists This is the website that my mom, an MFT, recommends for finding a mental health professional that suits your needs. It is also the place where I found the therapist I currently work with. I have been seeing her for three years now, and she has helped me endure the trash fire that is 2018.

https://www.selloutyoursoul.com/2010/11/21/phd-in-english-and-life-after-grad-school/ This blog was influential in my decision not to pursue a PhD. The author tries to get you to buy stuff now, which I’m not a fan of, but that method makes sense given the blog’s premise. Especially if you have grad degrees in the humanities, I would recommend checking out some of the blog’s resources and guest articles.

berthamasonsattic@gmail.com If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, or even if you just feel like you have become a failure in the eyes of the great machine of capitalism, feel free to shoot me an email. Though I’m obviously no expert on anything except the local taqueria scene, I have learned a few things that might be helpful to you.

 

Footnotes:

* classy insult also courtesy of Rebecca Solnit, my eternal muse

** The registry looks at your work experiences, education, and other skills, and then assigns you a “step” based on how well your experiences align with the goals of Early Childhood Education. My understanding is that some workplaces need to know your step in order to decide what to pay you, but frankly, I still find the whole thing confusing and bureaucratic.

*** I have sincere respect for people doing administrative jobs and working in all kinds of entry-level and service positions in this country. I do not mean to disparage their skills or hard work. But I do believe I have demonstrated that I am capable of doing basic administrative work. If my education does not speak for itself, then I just wish that these businesses would give me a chance to prove that I’m willing to put a lot of effort and care into any task that I’m given.

**** s/o to Carniceria Mi Casita: gracias por todo

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209 thoughts on “I Applied to 200 Jobs and All I Got Was This Moderate-Severe Depression

  1. Sigh. I’m coming close to 175 applications—with only 1 face to face interview, 3 phone interviews, about 100 “we received your application” emails, and only 20 “we went with another candidate” notices. Interviewing is brutal. Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow i’ve applied for 157 up today so i have a long way to go Lol but any way what cracks me up i have more experience and knowledge than the young person behind the desk that tells me i’m no good for that position thanks for applying. I feel good not far to go now haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Applying for jobs is a pain… You’ve just got to accept it unfortunately. I applied to 200 within the space of 3 months and got less than 10 positive leads in total. Just keep firing them out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I have been going through a similar struggle in my own job search. At this point, I sorta want to just hire myself out as a Cover Letter Writer, although my cover letters are getting me no where. In fact, this is why I have decided to just say “screw it” and just be overly authentic in my letters. The standard b.s. letters have gotten me no where, so I figured why not try something completely unconventional. If nothing else, at least it ends up being more entertaining to write a really honest letter than just checking off boxes that need to be hit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “In interviews, I am rarely asked anything about myself or my experiences, but instead given a list of corporate-sounding and depersonalized questions. I understand that for large businesses and universities, some of this is designed to eliminate bias in the interview process. That’s good…”

    This, to me, is the evidence of remarkable empathy; of sensitivity along with intelligence. In spite of the personal struggle, you find the mind and the time to look at the situation from the point-of-view of those not ready to do you the same courtesy. I’d say, that shows a lot of courage too on your part.

    With best wishes! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have my sympathy!! When I got out of school, I sent out 800 resumes and got two call backs. One was to ask where I had had my resume done. I had been trying for the same types of jobs as you, but what I found worked better was doing something completely off the wall like dog walking. (At least part time.) You make decent money, and you make a lot of contacts in the community. I wish you luck in finding a great job in the near future!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I thought about this post for a long time, ok maybe a week. I have to tell you that you are a very narrow minded person to not have found a job. I have a B.A. in English. I have been a Realtor, a mortgage loan officer, blogger, published children’s book authour, artist and hustler.
    I am going to say this, “Life is not perfect like grammer.”
    You take shitty jobs to get a better job and then build. If you can not build on a job, create a job. Write fucking book and stop crying in the blog world. This is 2018, in 2019 you need to make shit happen. You got this!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My friend is going through the same process with engineering background and being the top student in her class. I try to give there for her, but she feels so sad and disappointed. Also, she has lost her hope and is very tired.
    I always think there needs to be a change in this system, but don’t know what the change should be!
    Good luck to everyone, going through the same process!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve been searching for a job since March, it’s crowded out there, especially where I live (Santa Cruz), because there just aren’t a enough jobs here to accomodate everyone. The longer I’m around, the more I realize it’s who you know is more important than what you know. Good luck!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. , I was bullied a lot (Apparently, no one likes a first-grader who says “in addition to” instead of “and.”). I went to a competitive

    Like

  11. Similar feelings here, and I think I am coping with this in two ways: First, I am convinced that this is what I want to do (as you also did) and I decided to go with it instead of doing something that I will not be enjoying doing. After I am done with my degrees, who knows what is gonna happen? I let it go. Second, I am also convinced that something related to your field comes up for everyone (even in Humanities), but at the right time. I take the fact that you are writing here as a step for that! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the addition of the “I want to speak to your manager” type of customer. I have worked in retail for a couple years now since I began my college career and needless to say, that line is the most common. I even worked at a store that was closing down. Imagine the chaos as the deals, discounts, and consumer rates increase simultaneously. The lines get longer and your patience wears thin. And not to mention the amount of rude, sassy customers that simply refuse to understand return policies that no longer exist in a closing store. So, reading this post, I feel you at a surmountable extent. As for the degree, I sincerely hope you find a job that suits your masters because you deserve it.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hi Athena, I hope my comment will be of some help to you and if you do want to discuss anything further, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m always happy to offer some advice or just have a chat.

    What really stood out to me, whilst reading about your journey, was that you might be going for something that isn’t meant for you. I believe that everything happens for a reason and if your journey is constantly pulling you back then there’s something that you need to change – whether that be your intentions, your goals, or even just the regular route you take everyday.

    Try this exercise and see if it will help. It won’t happen over night but it’s worked for me.
    Imagine your dream job, what three characteristics does that job have? For example, my dream job must 1) allow me to help others in some way, 2) allow me to be creative, and 3) allow me to be flexible.
    Then, imagine whether that job exists. If it doesn’t, do you need to create it?
    Then, think about all the people that would be involved. Where can you reach them, how can you establish contact, what would they look for in a candidate?

    When you have a clear vision of what you want and where you want to be, you put that out into the universe and every action you take will ultimately lead to that. Most of the time unknowingly.

    The biggest, and most important, thing about getting the job you want is networking. Networking can open so many doors and it can also get you to where you want to be. But don’t forget that a big part of networking is also giving back to the connections we make. It’s such an old cliche, ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’, but that literally is how the world works. It doesn’t have to be negative but even something as small as ‘let me put together a quick article to get you going on that idea you have’.

    If you want to talk cv, job search, and interview tactics let me know. I’ve done so many and also been on the other side of the interview so I hope I can provide some insight for you 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Hi, I really enjoyed your post and checked out your blog site and found really interesting and inspiring reads on here that can be not only helpful in average daily life but useful for those seeking motivation and inspiration and I wanted to ask if you be willing to follow my blog? I’m trying to help those struggling with addiction and/or Addiction Recovery, addiction Recovery for parents or even the loved ones helping someone with addiction. I am fairly new with WordPress but am determined to spread a positive and inspiring message to readers and support those like myself through recovery or guide addicts to recovery. I appreciate your consideration and hope you become a future follower and support my cause. Thank you so much,
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  15. This was amazing Athena! I totally understand the frustration you went through. My country went through an economical dip which led to my industry being minimally interested in employment. The salaries were crap and any job you could get was so underpaid, you could hardly cover your monthly expenditures. I ended up working for a rehab that permitted me to live on their property in a house that flooded when it rained and a toilet that kept overflowing. And yet, we millennials don’t know what “suffering” is.
    You apply for 200 jobs but only 3 have the decency to let you know that you didn’t even make the cut for interviews and none have shown interest in you whatsoever.

    Sorry for the ranting, but I really appreciate this piece you wrote! It was really close to home. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow. Thank you for writing this article. Thank you for making me feel like I am not alone in these feelings. I just graduated from college this year with a Biology degree and I’ve been applying to every job you could imagine. They are mostly sales jobs (media sales, marketing sales, some retail stores, EVERYTHING) because that’s what I have experience in and the most frustrating part is not even hearing back to see if I have been denied the position, that’s common courtesy, you can at least do that.

    In turn, I have been at a real low point with my mental health because it makes you feel like you’re not wanted or like you can’t even fit into society the way they think you should. So frustrating, but I’m trying to keep hope that something will fall into place soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Thank you for sharing this, I am going through the same thing right now and I am glad to see that I am not alone. I often feel like people around me do not understand! I know they mean well but I can only hear “just hang in there” so many times!!

    Like

  18. This was my exact experience for 5 years after graduating from college. It was awful. And you didn’t even touch on the unpaid internships! Thank you for putting this struggle into words so well!

    Like

  19. I Know this feeling all to well, you are not alone, and thank you for sharing! The part about not being interviewed at all to be responsible for a class full of children is so unreal. Keep writing and don’t give up!

    Like

  20. Will you love to become rich, famous and have protection by joining the ILLUMINATI New World Order?if yes get back to me for more information on how you can join the great Illuminati.Add me on WhatsApp on ±19856162109

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  21. Job hunting really sucks. I was unemployed for two months (I know, it wasn’t too long, but it felt long to me because I needed rent money), and every job was either too far away for what it pays, or it doesn’t pay enough to pay my rent.
    I’d like to recommend Liz Ryan’s column on the Forbes site. She has heard a lot of similar stories, and she has a recommended process of reaching out to hiring managers directly.
    Sending love your way!

    Like

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