Do you really get a job by looking at job ads?

How exactly do people get jobs?

A few people I know are currently looking for work. I began to wonder if combing through advertised jobs is enough, and thought a little sample of my own experience might help answer that question.

1996. My first ever job was selling ice-creams at a festival in Melbourne called Moomba. I got the job through a friend’s dad. Pay and conditions were great.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 100%.

Back when I wore a watch

1998 After I finished school I got a job as a busboy at a cafe in a shopping centre. It wasn’t advertised but I handed my resume out to 20 businesses near my house and this one had an employee quit the next day. $8.50 an hour in cash seemed pretty good to me.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 100%. Inside running: 0%.

2000 I became a waiter at Pancake Parlour. Pay was a whopping $7.27 an hour. It was an advertised job for which I went through a quite involved interview process.
Ad: 100%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0%.

2001 Waiter at italian restaurant. Through a friend. I lasted about three weeks.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 100%.

2002. Market research interviewer. A friend who worked there told me the place was hiring. Great pay and conditions so I joined the union. Ended up doing market research for big tobacco, but I didn’t mind because smokers loved to chat about smoking. It beat asking people about banks.
Ad: 80%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 20%.

Teaching english2003 I applied to an ad for an English teacher in the small town of Qinhuangdao, China, where I found I could go months without seeing another foreigner.
Ad: 100%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0%.

2004. I parlayed my meagre teaching experience into a job as a tutor in the first-year economics subjects, which was among the best and most convenient jobs for a student ever.
Ad: 100%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0%

2005. My first full time job. I became a graduate Treasury policy analyst, living in Canberra.Treasury shot tidied up Ad: 100%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0%

2005. Ski instructing at Perisher Blue. A week-long “hiring clinic” for which you have to pay hundreds of dollars serves as both interview process and training.
Ad: 100%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0%

2008. Nauru budget adviser. I happened to have just finished my tutoring contract when I was asked by someone I knew in the federal government to come to an interview. I don’t think they interviewed anyone else.

nauru office Ad: 0%. Luck: 20%. Inside running: 80%

2009 Victorian government policy officer. Through a recruitment company.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 0%. Inside running: 0% (I’d say it was 100 per cent luck but luck should be good and this job wasn’t.)

2010. Journalist at the Financial Review – I applied at a timely moment when a bunch of people had quit. But there was no job advertised and I had someone on the inside put in a good word for me.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 30%. Inside running: 70%

2013 – Freelance writing. I sell things mostly to people I know from my other jobs, but also via some cold calling.
Ad: 0%. Luck: 20%. Inside running: 80%

After having had 17 jobs, just six came from simply seeing an ad and applying. My crude averaging of the numbers (including some jobs I didn’t go into above) says ads explain 46 per cent of my jobs, inside running 32 per cent, and luck 22 per cent.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.24.52 am

(I should note luck played a pretty big part in being born to a family that cared a lot about education and invested in my future. It also doesn’t hurt to be in a bunch of categories that are unfamiliar with the sting of discrimination. Is my experience strongly shaped by these privileges?)

The common trope is that 70 per cent of all jobs are not advertised.

Economic theory suggests a great benefit and a great cost. If firms are able to fill jobs quickly and minimise their search costs, that could be an advantage. But if it means they miss out on the best human resources, they suffer.

Despite the risks of hiring through word-of-mouth, the approach is not about to go away. This paper finds that firms that hire through referrals may be more profitable.

This expert recommends job hunters should spend: “20% of the time responding to job postings … another 20% ensuring your resume and LinkedIn profile are easy to find and worth reading, and the remaining 60% networking to find jobs in the hidden market.”

If my experience holds for everyone, its going to be advantageous to keep working in the same city, or at least the same country, where you have a bunch of connections. It also doesn’t hurt to be on LinkedIn.

But I want to know if the same is true for you. Have you got your jobs by responding to ads and going through rigorous processes? Have you been lucky? Made your own luck? Deliberately developed and used your networks? Please share your experience in the comments! (Look for the words “Leave A Reply” below)

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

11 thoughts on “Do you really get a job by looking at job ads?”

  1. Does this make me a sucker that every job I’ve ever got (excluding shitty hospo) were from ads? Maybe its different if you work in government.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an employer in a small business, formal recruitment processes are a drag. They impose transaction costs such as the cost of placing an ad and time spent reviewing applications. It is also very difficult to cull a list, most applications read quite well. People are often reluctant to mention their kleptomania/second head in their CV.

    A reluctance to conduct a formal process forces many small business employers to choose from a smaller pool of people you know, their networks and randoms who happen to walk in off the street that day (but give off a great vibe, like TTTE). Although this smaller pool of potential applicants means you may not get the best person, you are more likely to get candicates with a compatible personality and cultural fit, then you need to rely on on the job training to remedy any shortcomings they have (like TTTE).

    As an employee in medium/larger organisations, personal network have their place (to fill short term and emergency vacancies), but ultimately you need diversity in your staff, and that means formal recruitment processes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. From the comments above it seems like the size of the employer is a major factor in whether it’s who you know or what you know that gets you in the door. I wonder if that holds for all types of small businesses?


  3. It would seem that in my 35 years of life I have only had five jobs none of which I got through an ad…how have I only worked in 5 jobs? That doesn’t seem right….


    1. I guess you are a reliable employee! not constantly flitting off to what look like greener pastures like everyone else.


  4. im about 70percent weighted to inside running. Having said that both of the jobs ive applies for through ads have been the best jobs ive ever had. Maybe because I actually really wanted them? The inside running jobs have largely been disasters (for various reasons). Also your cv must read like a novel – I thought id had a lot of jobs already but you take the cake!


    1. 17 jobs seemed like a lot to me too! But I am counting 18 years of work history, and including jobs I only did for a few weeks. They don’t all go on the CV!


  5. Great post, it’s really got me thinking about my employment history which is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year. At a rough estimate, i would say that it’s about 35/65 word of mouth/inside running v responding to adverts. I don’t think I could say I got any by “luck” in the sense I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. All my serious full-time jobs I’ve had to go through an interview and selection process whether it’s been advertised or not.

    But hasn’t the whole idea of advertising come about with the meritocracy and equal opportunity ideal? In the olden days, all you need was a ‘reference’ to get a job. And a reference was pretty much knowing someone who could vouch for your good, gentlemanly character to someone who was hiring. I think employers still give a lot of weight to this idea.


    1. I think having to apply and go through an interview process is a sign that your job has a decent approach to meritocracy and some idea of how to manage staff.

      Taking a job through a low-rent hiring process is probably a fair sign other aspects of HR will be done cheaply and badly too!


  6. This piece makes me wonder how many jobs I’ve had. There have been a few. Like a lengthy hiring process for Nando’s where I was then fired after training for wearing nail polish to work. Gosh I’ve had some crappy jobs.


  7. Great article! (I assume) our work histories overlap at that same market research company. My parents got me my two first jobs and everything after that has been through an open interview process. However, I did have to network and work my personal contacts in order to get the job over the other applicants.

    I want to linger on your point about privilege and discrimination. I can’t pull a key quote from this article, because it’s all pretty relevant:


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