Skip to Content

Why Is Job Hunting (Still) So Slow?

Maddening, isn't it? You know your skills and experience are in demand, and you're ready to move on. So you apply for a few job openings that sound perfect for you, and the interviews you've had so far have been great. Just one problem: Weeks have gone by since then and all you've heard is... nothing.

Demand for talent is certainly still growing. The latest monthly job market report from Glassdoor, for instance, notes that the U.S. economy added 5.9 million openings in July, up 4.6% from July of 2018. Yet the number of job seekers left in the dark isn't shrinking. Almost half of all candidates are still waiting to hear back from employers two months (or longer) after they've applied, according to a new survey of job hunters by nonprofit research firm Talent Board.

What's going on?

No question, employers can't take all the blame. Plenty of people still make the same old mistakes they've always made when looking for a new job, and that can certainly slow things down. But even if that applies to you, the sound of crickets most likely has little or nothing to do with you or your qualifications.

"This is a structural problem, and it's pervasive across millions of jobs," says Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse, which designs hiring software for Pinterest, Lyft, Airbnb and many others. "Companies know they need to do a better job of communicating with applicants —especially the ones they really want. But in most cases, the recruiting process just hasn't kept up with the growth in the economy."

In this as in so much else, the Internet has been both a boon and a curse. On the one hand, it's far easier than it's ever been to research prospective employers and find opportunities. But on the other hand, now that everyone can apply for jobs in a few easy clicks, companies' recruiters are swamped with applications.

"Recruiters are drowning in resumes, many of them from people who aren't even remotely qualified," notes Chait. "So an already-inundated HR department has to sift through all those CVs even to find you in the first place." Digital applicant-tracking systems (ATS) were supposed to narrow the field by screening out anyone lacking the right keywords for a given job opening but, against the 24/7 onslaught of online applications, the technology hasn't helped much.

So what, if anything, can a frustrated job hunter do about it? If you've already been interviewed and you're now just waiting for word about next steps (if any), it's okay to ask where you stand. Don't inquire more than once, however, or you risk annoying the people you've been trying to impress.

In your next interviews, Chait suggests taking a more assertive approach than you may have used so far. "It's perfectly okay to ask, 'How soon can I expect to hear your decision?' at the end of the conversation," he says. "You'll probably get a vague answer like 'We'll be in touch.'" If so, follow up with a question: "If I don't hear from you by [fill in a date here]" —or in two weeks, or whatever fits your own timeline— may I email you?"

Then do it. That email can be a chance to remind the hiring manager of your interest in the job and, briefly, why you'd be a great fit for it.

Better yet, put all that in a short, handwritten thank-you note right after the interview, and then paraphrase it in an email on the date you've chosen. So few people bother with snail mail (much less handwriting) anymore that the gesture is guaranteed to make you stand out from your competition.

Another way to be memorable: Chait believes that most candidates are too timid when it comes to controlling the interview. By his lights, most hiring managers are so busy already that, when you show up to meet them, they're winging it. Not only have they read your resume for an average of about six seconds, but then "people get pulled into the room who really know little or nothing about the job or the candidate, and they 'go with their gut' and make snap decisions," he says. "So make sure you've done enough research beforehand to go in with smart questions" about the company and the team you'd be working with.

"Most interviewers are unprepared, but you can't be," Chait adds. "After all, you have a lot more at stake here than they do." Too true.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—These are the top 10 U.S. cities for tech jobs
—This woman went from Goldman Sachs to Blue Apron recipe tester
Millennial workers are thriving in age-old workplaces
—How Fortune’s 40 Under 40 get stuff done: their favorite productivity hack
—There’s a refugee pay gap—and it’s costing the global economy trillions
Get Fortune’s RaceAhead newsletter for sharp insights on corporate culture and diversity.