Opinion: The futility of job applications

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Filling out applications is demoralizing for many college students, especially when the system lacks proper lines of communication. (Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons)

It’s the most stressful, distressing, soul-crushing time of the school year. While the trudge never truly ends for those unemployed, university students are currently getting a taste of the state of job applications with internships, summer programs and even careers for those finishing their degrees. And what a bitter one it is. While this may feel like a diversion from the regular topic of public versus private interests, highlighting this aspect of the private sphere seems like a fitting way to see what really needs to change in our system.

For those not as concerned about the impending summer, or for those whose plans have already been decided handily, the application process can best be described in a single word: demoralizing. When starting out, there is so much hope and excitement in the air for all the potential futures. Companies and other groups post their available positions, students collect the needed materials, applications are sent out right up to the deadline. And then the students must wait. And wait. And wait some more. Maybe an interview here and there, but mostly just waiting for the business to make their verdict.

This process can be long, too. Oftentimes it is months between applying and final decisions, and most applicants aren’t out until the very end, even when that end is a rejection. This false hope can be crushing for students, especially when multiple nos come in a batch. To be clear, this isn’t just some clerical error; this is by design. Companies benefit from having fallback options just as students benefit from applying to dozens of positions.

However, there are key differences in how the applicants and reviewers are conditioned to act. Brown-nosing is expected on the part of those applying. After all, it is best to make the hiring manager feel loved and respected to have any chance in the process. As such, we are told to be polite, courteous and timely. Deadlines for responses are given when positions are offered, and sometimes people must make their decision out of desperation and without full information on other offers. Meanwhile, businesses are able to take their sweet time. There are no expectations on timelines, updates or even regular communication on their end, and applicants have been trained to not question this imbalance of power in the decision.

At the end of the day, it communicates a lack of respect. We must all suck it up as these groups take their pick of the litter. Of course, the ordinary person has a lot to gain from getting through to the other end of this gauntlet, but so does the company. The reason there is an expectation of pay, after all, is because the work provided for them is valuable! The recruitment and outreach aspects of internships are primarily meant to help the company. This despair caused, then, is not deserved at all.

For those throwing up their hands and accepting this as normal, there are alternatives. The best, although it would require more active effort on the part of companies, is to actually work at negotiation. Upon receiving and culling applications, these businesses should try to actively contact the various people on their shortlists. Having an open line of communication and a way to work to a mutually beneficial deal would go a long way to building trust between employer and employee. Both groups could explain fully what they have to offer, hopefully leading to a more transparent system. Of course, this is a hard idea to pitch, as it gives more power to the laborers, but it can and has worked. We need to stand up for more workers’ rights, and that begins even before the job has begun.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.  

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