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Don't Waste Your Time

by Peter Weddle

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Peter Weddle

Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as '... a man filled with ingenious ideas,'...

Time is the greatest enemy in a job search. The longer the hunt for a new job takes, the greater the frustration, futility and the possibility of making a mistake. So, the best way to conduct a job search is to use every minute of every day wisely.

Unfortunately, the Internet has caused a lot of people to adopt a quantitative approach to their job search campaign. They pour and pray. They shoot out a huge stream of applications to openings posted on job boards and employers' Web-sites and pray that at least one will yield a response.

While making such an enormous effort may feel as if you're investing your time wisely, however, the results indicate otherwise. The quantitative approach is almost always a failure. Why? Because you end up applying for a job you don't want or can't get.

Employers are risk averse and very finicky. When you apply for a job in which you aren't very interested, they will sense your indifference and focus on applicants where they have a higher chance of success. And, when you apply for a job for which you aren't qualified, they will quickly decide you're a "trash applicant" and summarily discard your resume. In either case, all you've done is waste your time.

So, what's a better approach? Use a qualitative application strategy that I call select and succeed. It involves using two screens to evaluate job postings so you only apply for those you truly want to do and can actually get. As a result, you use your time wisely and optimize your chances of being hired.

The Select and Succeed Strategy

The first screen in the select and succeed strategy will help you determine if a job is an employment opportunity you want. To perform that evaluation, ask yourself five questions:
  • What will you get to do?
  • What will you get to learn?
  • What will you get to accomplish?
  • With whom will you get to work?
  • How will your work be recognized and rewarded?
Then, assign each of your answers a value on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating a low value and 5 indicating a high value to you. If the combined score for the five questions isn't 20 or higher, you're wasting your time if you apply for that job.

The second screen in the strategy will help you evaluate your chances of hearing back from the recruiter responsible for an opening. To perform that evaluation, ask yourself these five questions:
  • Have you done the job before?
  • Have you acquired the skills to excel at the job?
  • Have you built a track record of excellence in doing the job?
  • For which organizations did you do the job?
  • What recognition did you receive for excelling at the job?
Once again, assign each of your answers a value on a scale of 1 to 5, but this time put yourself in the shoes of a very finicky recruiter. From their perspective, 1 indicates a weak application, while 5 signals a strong one. If the combined score for the five questions isn't 20 or higher, you're wasting your time if you apply for that job.

Using a pour and pray approach to job applications wastes one of your most precious resources in a job search: time. To make sure time works for you, therefore, use the select and succeed strategy. It will help you identify those jobs that you truly want to do and can actually get.

Thanks for reading,
Visit me at
Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including A Multitude of Hope: A Novel About Rediscovering the American Dream, The Success Matrix: Wisdom from the Web on How to Get Hired & Not Be Fired, WEDDLE’s 2011/12 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet, The Career Activist Republic, and The Career Fitness Workbook: How to Find, Win & Hold Onto the Job of Your Dreams. Get them at and today.


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Reply worker said...
this ostensibly more successful strategy is out of touch with the real world. job ads almost never specify with whom the applicant will work with. they also typically say very little about compensation, let alone the reward system in place. you can "select" only if you know the menu.

06/12/2013 08:05 PM

Reply miller02127 said...
Peter, after nearly a year out of work, I have finally landed a job that is more than a job--it is an opportunity for me to pursue my professional passions (working to promote student retention and success) in a supportive community of like-minded colleagues. Throughout a search that was sometimes discouraging, your advice, about being careful, selective, and making sure to be a "career activist" rather than a "job supplicant," has helped to keep me on task and true to my own values and beliefs about work and about what is important to me as I have searched for work. To respond to worker's concerns, I would simply state that good research and networking--before an application is even submitted, and then astute and attentive interviewing help the candidate to know when "the next right thing" is really all that one might hope it would be. Intuition, coupled with perseverance and faith, make all the difference in the sorting process.

06/12/2013 08:31 PM

Reply Cliff said...
I've had great success with the pour and pray approach. I strongly believe in playing the percentages. If I send out 400 packages to 400 different schools, I'm hoping for a 1 percent positive return and I usually get it. Doesn't mean I'll take the job, just means that I have the opportunity to interview.

Placing your hopes on one or two elusive jobs has more to do with hope and praying than playing the percentages. In a perfect world where everything is created equal your approach might work but I seriously doubt that by the time someone gets around to applying using your qualitative research methodology, that the job would still be available.

I wonder if we each had 25 applicants and we used your approach and my approach, which group would have the highest number of offers to interview.


06/12/2013 10:37 PM

Reply Disenchanted said...
Unfortunately, teaching jobs are inherently corrupted by self serving faculty members who circumvent state laws and University protocols and only apply them when they are convenient to achieve their agendas. The majority of jobs are predetermined before the ad is even placed by the search committee. This coupled with the retraction of education and the constant pressure from administrators to quantify the success based off graduation rates and student evaluations skew the results. This leads to more degree's to people with the skills of a High School graduate. The government is dumbing down the population, saddling people with debt and making them believe they are educated with a worthless piece of paper and in my view after teaching at 5 public institutions can't even use MLA or APA style guidelines. Faculty are forced to pass underachievers in order to maintain graduation ratios or face being removed.
In the former elite private schools which I went to 3 you pay enormous tuition to be taught by adjuncts and are surrounded by spoiled rich children of wealthy foreign dignitaries. Accreditation groups are compromised by sub-contracting evaluation committees to overworked University employees who just sign off and cash the check because the accreditation institution just wants its dues from the institution that is up for renewal. Cherry picking gets you no where as the writer indicates here. The fact of the matter is these jobs are filled by nepotism and are rarely merit based on student outcomes.
Lets get rid of these six figure VP's and administrators and split their salaries on hiring truly effective teachers. The fact that a terminal degree qualifies you to teach is ludicrous because one must study how to be a teacher on the college level to be effective. Just because your good at what you do and publish frequently does not make you a qualified teacher just a trophy on the shelf looking for ways to exploit your institution to further your ambitions. The whole system and the egos in these places by people in tenured positions make me sick to my stomach. Just google the persons name on the faculty members you would be working with and you come up with their office phone number and nothing else. Absolutely pathetic, and when you read the student reviews of tenured faculty it gets even worse.

06/12/2013 10:38 PM

Reply director1971 said...
Strategies that work in corporate America do not have a direct correlation to the academic job market, especially considering the current market, and this article is not directed at the educational jobseeker. Ironic, considering one of the points that the author seems to make is the intrinsic value of knowing one's audience.

HigherEdJobs editors, please do a better job at vetting the materials that you post in the Career Tools section of this site.

It's frustrating enough to feel lost or hopeless in the current market, without feeling that one of the chief resources for academic employment does not recognize the difference between advice for applying for a customer service manager position and a tenure-track assistant professor.

06/12/2013 10:50 PM

Reply Doctoral student and assembly line worker in car manufacturing! said...
Ouch. Thanks for the lesson. I guess I need to be patient, less naive about the selection process and hope thing work. We need jobs now but if andministraters and faculty are the bottleneck then its time for them to re-learn the needs of America.

06/12/2013 10:57 PM

Reply Anon said...
This article offers good advices. Another criteria helps to evaluate should one pursue a job is if the college can afford to invite candidates for a campus visit. However this information is not listed anywhere on the job postings. After going through tedious interviews and long wait, many applicants decided to not continue only to find out that the school in unable pay for campus visit and "highly encourage" job applicants to complete the process. This information is useful to save employers and job applicants' time.

06/12/2013 11:11 PM

Reply Michelle said...
Thanks for the great lesson. I am currently working in a field on a one year contract that fails both screening processes. I am looking for a position that will spark my career in higher education. This information that you have provided will be most helpful in my new job search which I am starting tonight for the new school year.

06/12/2013 11:12 PM

Reply Paulo said...
I share your views regarding Peter's approach as I see how important is to stay calm, confident and clear-minded when seeking for a job with great meaning.

06/12/2013 11:19 PM

Reply Dr.Sridevi.Ch said...
article is impressive and thought provoking

06/13/2013 01:58 AM

Reply ron said...
All good and well except you totally remove any new graduate from the chance of getting a job.

06/13/2013 07:03 AM

Reply Michele said...
When I had recently graduated my professor told me to do the pour and pray and it was very successful. I mailed out one to every community college in CA and within a week I had two part-time jobs. A year later someone else called me from that mailing and I picked up a third job. With the experience I was able to get working at those and a few more colleges, I was able to get a full time position at another college within five years. Over 70 people applied for that position and it helped to have several strong references. Good luck to you.

06/13/2013 09:03 AM

Reply Van said...
This article is obviously NOT targeted to an academic audience. The author does not seem to be familiar with the academic job market, or the article was written for another publication and simply picked up by HIgherEdJobs for some reason. For many faculty positions in the USA, a quantitative approach IS a very effective strategy in job searches.

06/13/2013 09:16 AM

Reply Lendra said...
I agree with you on the quantitative approach. The more applications that are put out there on the job boards, the better chance of an opportunity to check out a job. Your time is valuable but, a job in your field along with what feels like a good fit for you is what is hoped to be gained.

06/13/2013 11:32 AM

Reply Anonymous said...
After being out of a job for over 6 months I have to say that I don't agree. Of course, the ideal would be to have a contact, although, I haven't gotten any interviews where I have had contacts. I am looking for the right job. Unfortunately, if you're older it takes longer because they can hire someone younger and cheaper. The education sector has a horrendous track record with interviewing and getting back to candidates in a timely manner, or responding to them at all, and I speak from experience. I do believe when the right job comes to me it will be the best for me.

06/13/2013 11:33 AM

Reply Adah L. Ellis-Anderson said...
Dear Disenchanted,
I agree with you on your post. However, isn't what you stated even more of the reason to keep pushing to find our way into these situations? I have found in my experience with higher education the individuals teaching are some of the most exclusive, snobbish, and mean people I have met anywhere! On the other hand there were individuals that were worth their weight in gold, and were the very reasons why I wanted (and still do) to be an educator, counselor, professor, etc. Please don't give up!

06/13/2013 12:34 PM

Reply Disenchanted said...
Thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree with you and have certainly not given up or have any plans to give up. I work for the students, and it seems that some force wishes me to travel and make more of an impact in more geographic locations. However, I will not deal with the politics of these snobbish, and mean spirited people and will continue to nurture my relationships with those worth their weight in gold as you so eloquently phrased.
The quantitative approach is the best approach as long as you truly meet the requirements of the positions. However when someone shines so bright many people get blinded by their own shadows and succumb to behavior that is not student centered. I have no disillusions and wish all of my colleagues out there the best of luck in their searches. Perseverance, is the key to success in education and being worth your weight in gold and dedicating yourself to the students is all that is important.

06/13/2013 03:10 PM

Reply Realist said...
@ Disenchanted,
It is SOOOO refreshing to see honesty on the page. Higher Ed is an anomaly. It's like Fight Club, no one talks about the real facts of hiring or anything else. And like the Wizard of Oz, who really knows what is going on behind the big voice and large screen? Give it to 'em (especially newbies) straight. It will save you your sanity.

06/13/2013 06:23 PM

Reply Mark said...
If there is anything to be gained by the article, one should reverse the "screens." Take the first screen, "what will I get to do?" You do what the position requires! Duh! The second, I have been lucky to have several jobs in Higher Ed, but am currently not where I want to be, but..."What will I learn?" No one has ever given me a job, because THEY wanted me to learn something. If I did learn something it was coincidental with the skill I already had that got me the job. And as someone remarked, this and many Articles, particularly by this author, with due respect, are NOT at all related to college or university faculty positions. So see the title, "Don't waste your time." How much time did everyone waste reading this who is looking to be a college faculty? How ironic, void of insight and ludicrous is that?

06/13/2013 10:16 PM

Reply Zabalburu said...
I echo what has been said above: this is not useful for anyone seeking faculty jobs (and I would guess, other higher ed. jobs). HigherEdJobs, why bother posting such generic articles?

06/14/2013 09:15 AM

Reply Rene' said...
Peter, You say to stop using the quantitative method in job searching, yet you encourage a quantitative method in the search through your scoring method.

06/15/2013 08:42 AM

Reply higheredcraps said...
Does this author write something for higher ed people? This BS is for other craps!!

06/15/2013 12:16 PM

Reply EJP said...
Many posts to this article indicate considerable frustration. According to the American Association of University Professors, 3/4 of all university teaching positions are filled by graduate students and adjunct faculty. I found this statistic in Harper's Magazine, July, 2013, p. 13. This ratio illustrates that higher education teaching positions have been in decline for some time, ostensibly to lower costs. Rather than manage higher education institutions, the "six-figure administrators" mentioned elsewhere in this thread appear focused on saving their own income streams, fiefdoms and careers, at the expense of students and faculty alike. Faculty job-seekers are frustrated by career "musical chairs."

I spent 30+ years in executive recruiting and retained search, in the commercial world. I have two masters degrees and a few years ago shifted my own career, in my mid-60s, to being an adjunct at a well-regarded and ranked east coast university. I work in a graduate technology management and innovation program; I am also a self-employed career mentor, coach and resume writer for senior executives. I landed my position not via "pour and pray methods" but because the professor who directs my program had known me for 10 years and understood my value. My time with students is a mix of individual mentoring, resume and interview guidance, authoring and sharing articles concerning topics of career value and some face time in class. My student cohort is international and diverse. When a student finishes with me, she/he lands a job they want. Both my students and my superiors are pleased with my work. In my work, being older is an advantage. For a few years, I volunteered at my undergraduate alma mater by assisting its career services staff to provide the same services I now perform as an adjunct; I was well-received by students and department staffers alike. The career services department staff turned over regularly. In spite of my reputation and alum status, my attempts to seek employment within the department were ignored. The college continued to hire alums with large corporation experience, much of it from marketing and less from career management. Being an entrepreneur without Fortune 500 experience and over-age cut me out. After yet another round of department turnover, I am no longer asked to volunteer.

Many of my contacts who have landed full-time and adjunct faculty positions have done so through networking into the actual university/college departments they wish to join. Networking is not exchanging business cards and a few minutes of small talk; it is about establishing relationships with experts in your field beyond the walls of your present institution. Done right, it is the most effective means of managing a transitional campaign. Applying for positions via "the front door," that is, via Human Resources, is a waste of time. It may work for recent graduates but even then, I have proven with my students that networking is the better way. HRs job is to screen people out, not in; they focus on narrowing the candidate pool and do so by two methods. One is via computer, which searches for the number of "hits" of key words. If a prospective candidate survives that, she/he gets to experience the same this, this time by an HR person who is usually not qualified to screen for the position. The results are often absurd and I could share many stories.

My point is that a job search should not be limited to one method. Statistics in the business world, prove that networking is the most effective method in 60-77% of all career searches. This indicates how you should allocate your career search time.

06/17/2013 09:54 AM

Reply Andrew Hibel, COO and Co-Founder, HigherEdJobs said...
I want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts. We appreciate the time it takes to read these pieces as well as the additional time, and courage, it takes to share your thoughts with our entire community.

I’d like to clarify the role of Peter Weddle’s articles on HigherEdJobs. The articles are intended to help job seekers think about different job search processes, as well as provide motivation to continue through a process that can be overwhelming. For those who may not be aware, Mr. Weddle is a syndicated columnist who writes for a general audience. He is one of the leading experts on job search and is a strong advocate for job seekers.

Like the over 200 categories of job postings offered on HigherEdJobs, each article we offer is often only applicable to a subset of our community. By its nature, higher education has many diverse types of professions represented in it and many times these disciplines have unique qualities to their job searches. It is impossible to ensure that all of our articles and ideas are 100% applicable to everyone in this diverse community. For those who are looking for more specific higher education content, we would suggest you look at other areas of our career tools tab like interviews with higher education experts , our quarterly Higher Education Employment Report , Salary Data from some of the leading associations in higher education , and our Author In Residence (

Thank you for all of your comments. I, and everyone else at HigherEdJobs, greatly appreciate your time.

06/18/2013 09:45 AM

Reply Richard Reinert said...
I'm retired and have had a quirky job history. I now regret that I quit academia where I was respected for my teaching as an assistant professor of oceanography in line for tenure, simply because I was ****** off at the administration.
It was the '70's and I was radical in many ways but I was expressing my inner self more than the perfectly sensible reasons I had for quitting, or so I realize now.
I could have taken a sabbatical and cooled off.
I ended up going in a completely different direction in my career (arts management) and was quite successful. For example, I ran an organizational development project for small cultural NPOs and even published a book related to the results of the project.
I turned down an opportunity to become CEO of that organization and moved on to successfully work in fundraising, i.e., grant proposals and special events because I was good at publicity, mainly because I was an aggressive SOB who could be nice when necessary.
I give you this short bio because I advise those of you in higher education that if you hate the job but or because you are not completely happy because there is some talent inside you that can be applied elsewhere, I advise you to try it out as a volunteer with an NPO or take some courses in the field to decide if you actually enjoy being a good artist, dancer, magician, salesperson or administrator (ugh!) before you quit your position at the university by telling the administration that you have had enough of their B.S.

06/18/2013 01:57 PM

Reply katherinelizabeth said...
Amen. Amen. Amen.
But just try to take your credentials OUTSIDE of education, and you wind up with an even worse scenario: over qualified with out of touch industry skills. And if you happen to not be 20 or 30, you (still) do not fit into their retirement programs. How do we get to pay our bills under such classifications as these?!

06/18/2013 05:32 PM

Reply katherinelizabeth said...
This assumes, of course, that the educator is able, willing, and free enough to just pick up stakes and move to wherever-in-the-country the jobs are.

06/18/2013 05:34 PM

Reply Nate S. said...
Maybe Peter just wants to eliminate all of us from the "pour and pray" approach because it gives him less competition. I believe it is overwhelming and frivolous at times- but if you need a job- you do everything you can to get one. The select and succeed strategy is great for those that already have a decent job but are looking for other opportunities.

06/19/2013 11:35 AM

Reply worker said...
copying and pasting columns by "a syndicated columnist who writes for a general audience" in an academic environment is rather un-academic

06/27/2013 06:04 AM

Reply MissDisplaced said...
EJP - I wish I could have a consult with you as a career mentor because I seem to be getting nothing but a series of bad jobs and even worse bosses. It's weird because I LIKE what I do, but HATE where I work.

I'm trying to shift career track somewhat (from graphic design to communication) after going back to school for my master's but keep hitting a brick wall in making the switch. Unfortunately, by school's career center was useless. They didn't really know what to do with someone my age who already had the years of experience in the workforce.

06/29/2013 05:07 PM