Why we apply for jobs we don't want, and how to stop doing it

Why we apply for jobs we don't want, and how to stop doing it

Picture the scene: You’re looking for a new job. You’ve applied for quite a few roles, and suffered the usual mix of nondescript rejections and outright radio silence. One day, there’s a glimmer of hope — a recruiter for a role you vaguely remember applying for on a whim reaches out and wants to chat.

Pause right there, because you’ve already made the first mistake. You put your time and energy into applying for a role (even if it was just an ‘Easy Apply’ on LinkedIn) that you have no intention of pursuing. Don’t beat yourself up though–it’s a mistake you’ll likely make during every job search for the rest of your working life. But being aware of it can help stop you in your tracks when you find you’re getting too tap-happy with that ‘apply’ button.

There’s so many non-financial reasons why we apply for jobs we don’t actually want, but high up the list has to be for the confidence boost. You apply for a role that’s either way too easy, or way above your current abilities, to seek validation. You get an interview invite for the easy role–good, you’ve still got ‘it’. You get an interview invite for the sky-high difficulty role–wow, you’ve even got a shot at a job you’re super under-qualified for! Now you can definitely go for the jobs at your own level with that chip on your shoulder! And it’s also easy to justify a rejection–“I was way over-qualified anyway” or “I knew that was a long shot”. It’s way less of a knock to the ego than being rejected for a job you actually believed you had a chance at getting.

There’s so many non-financial reasons why we apply for jobs we don’t actually want, but high up the list has to be for the confidence boost.

Here are some potential scenarios which might resonate with you during your job search, and questions to ask yourself when you feel the urge to hit that ‘apply’ button:

The salary and/or benefits are much better than other roles I’ve applied for

  • These things are definitely enticing, but take time to read the job description carefully first. Does it actually sound like something you want to spend the majority of your week doing? Take it from me, great benefits and even lots of money begin to lose their shine when you come across hard times in your role.

It’s a step up from my current role–that’s what I’m supposed to do next, right?

  • If the role requires taking on extra responsibility, are you going for it because you genuinely want to take this on and progress? Or are you doing it because you think it’s what you ‘should’ be doing? If it’s the latter, then it rarely works out to push yourself beyond what you actually want, and often results in burnout.

I don’t really understand what the company does, but the role sounds interesting

  • This might not be a red flag, as you don’t have to know the ins and outs of every company you apply for. Just ask yourself, how connected is the role to the service the company offers? Does this service interest me enough to live and breathe it for 40 hours a week?

This job doesn’t sound quite right for me, but I’ll quickly apply anyway as the company sounds cool

  • This could be a good or a bad thing. Best case scenario: a recruiter at the company likes the look of your profile. They keep you on file for future potential matches. Worst case, is they see your weak application with no understanding of the role and blacklist your name, burning the bridge before it was even built.
  • The question to ask yourself in this scenario is: how much do I want to work at this company? If the answer is YES VERY MUCH PLEASE, then you’ll likely have more success in the future by reaching out to the recruiter or hiring manager directly, and registering your interest with them. You never know, this might put you at the top of the pile for your dream role that’s not been listed yet.

Have you experienced any of the above scenarios? Have you had any learnings from applying for jobs you didn’t actually want? I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this topic — I have a lot more to say!