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)

Media and IT are the future, they said.

The total number of people employed in Information, Media and Telecommunications is the lowest since 1999, according to new official data from the ABS. In the last three months, under 200,000 people were employed in the sector, down 23 per cent from the peak over over 250,000 in 2006.

That got me interested. I recently left a job with a major media organisation, at the same time as some heavy hitters (1, 2). How bad was it getting?

The answer: REAL BAD. In the publishing game (books, newspapers) employment fell during 2013 to the lowest since records began in 1984.


[All data from the Detailed Quarterly Labour Force series, Nov 2013].

Publishing is not the whole story.

Employment in traditional broadcasting has also seen very little growth. There were more people employed in the sector in one ebullient quarter of 1994 than during the most recent three months. (In 1994, SBS was finally available in all capital cities, but it broadcast the test patten for hours every day.)


That all makes sense.

Online, the classic economic distinction between work and leisure is shaky. People work on the internet for free.

The proponent of the idea is a man called Clay Shirky, and I have written about him here. He claims people would happily give up TV watching for something a bit more active and participatory, and so free content is booming. Content is not just blog posts like the one you are reading, but Youtube videos, Wikipedia, Reddit, Open source software and more and more #doge memes.

Also it’s hard to charge for things online.

So far so good.

But thanks to the mysterious ways in which ANZSIC standards move, folk who work in communications are included in the information and media statistics. This shocked me more. The way this little sub-sector has collapsed puts the newspaper game to shame.


This next graph may look less dramatic but the numbers of people involved are far greater. The communications sector is now employing fewer people than it has for ten years.


See that steep ramp-up in 1999? That was the year I started university.

I had long hair, I was 17 and I weighed about 60 kilos. I was getting paid $8.50 an hour in my part time job bussing tables at a very busy Cafe in the local shopping centre. I was studying economics and politics – which I loved – but I had a nagging feelings of doubt.

All the headlines were pointing to IT being the great gold rush.  In 1999 the Nasdaq index rose from 2200 to 3700. Another undergrad friend of mine became an executive in an online company that was apparently booming. I felt like I had missed the plane.

Boy, am I glad I studied economics and politics.