Job Hunting Sucks. This Programmer Filled Out 250 Applications to Find Out Why

FIVE MONTHS AGO, software engineer Shikhar Sachdev adopted a peculiar hobby. While his friends met for drinks or played FIFA 23 to unwind after work, he would come home, boot up his laptop, and spend hours filling out job applications, for sport.

Sachdev is content with his job at a San Francisco fintech company, but he writes a career blog in his spare time and had noticed a recurring sentiment: Job hunting these days is the worst. Friends described returning home from an exhausting day of work they hated, applying for new positions, and quickly growing discouraged by clunky application software and a low response rate. Research suggests the frustration is widespread: 92 percent of candidates abandon online job applications before completing them, according to the recruitment platform Appcast.

“You might hate your boss. But if you think that searching for jobs is worse, you’re never going to change,” Sachdev says. “I wanted to try to put some data behind the claim that job hunting sucks.”

Sachdev set himself the challenge of applying to 500 software engineering jobs to observe exactly what made the endeavor more or less frustrating. Halfway through, however, he hit a snag. “I wanted to chop my head off,” Sachdev says. He scaled back his target to a still brain-melting 250 jobs across a range of industries and company sizes, chosen largely at random—companies he’d seen on billboards, for instance, or friends’ employers.

Sachdev timed each application from start to finish and for consistency always applied directly through a company’s career page—he ended up spending about 11 hours total filling applications. Since he wasn’t looking for a new position, he always stopped short of clicking “Submit” on a completed application, except for a few choice roles that piqued his interest. (He landed three interviews, but didn’t pursue the jobs.) He aimed to make each application serviceable, but wasn’t as thorough as a truly ambitious or desperate job seeker would be, so he figures the times he logged are underestimates.

Sachdev found it took an average of 2 minutes and 42 seconds to fill out a job application—but that doesn’t include time spent identifying suitable roles, and the time could vary widely from job to job. The longest took more than 10 minutes, the shortest less than 20 seconds. Much of this variation sprang from the particularities of applicant tracking software.

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