The Numbers Game

Just a numbers game, innit? Let’s see; Schiffman, talking about the art of Cold Calling, points out that a third of sales calls are guaranteed to be successful, while a third are destined to fail. He also claims that sales people make hundreds of calls to prospective clients every month, which generate dozens of appointments…and he includes the homily that ‘every time you pick up the phone, you’re getting closer to a yes.’

I was reminded of this by a recent news item concerning an unemployed history graduate who claimed to have applied for thousands of jobs.

A desperate jobseeker who applied for 15,000 jobs with no success in the past ten years has resorted to advertising himself by wearing a ‘hire me’ sandwich board.” [Daily Mail, 22 May 2012]

And I began to wonder; is there any reason to suppose that everyone will eventually find a job if they post enough applications? Will everyone find a spouse if they just spend enough time chatting people up in bars or checkout queues? Will everybody end up coming first in the two-hundred metres if they only take part in enough races? Or are there some people damned to spend their lives alone and jobless?

If an individual receives 349 rejection letters from job applications before finally landing a post, is it logical to think that the preceding catalogue of failures contributed in any way to the eventual acceptance by an employer? Or would the candidate have been better off sitting at home watching daytime TV and playing the clarinet, finally sending off a single application that arrived on the right desk at the right time?

There seems no reason to think that hundreds of job application letters will inevitably result in success; because a coin lands heads-up twenty times in a row does not make it any more likely that the next flip will give tails. There is no reason to believe that a gambler who buys five lottery tickets every week will inevitably win a jackpot after a certain number of years. The realm of fairness and balance and justice – where regular purchase of lottery tickets is rewarded by sudden, intoxicating wealth – is an illusion. Although spare a thought for poor Madame Descoings in The Black Sheep; she resolutely places a bet on the same three numbers in the weekly lottery, until one day her savings are stolen by the dashing young ex-soldier Philippe. Balzac shows no mercy, forcing us to watch helplessly as he casts this gentle creature into financial despair.

Consider the practical aspect of applying for huge numbers of jobs; if it takes twenty minutes to craft a half-decent job application, then to send out five hundred will take up about 170 hours – or seven whole days and nights. And if these letters are all completely futile, then those seven days could be spent doing something pleasant instead of generating anxiety.

Of course, part of the problem is that candidates are rarely told the reason for their rejection; normally a Human Resource department will despatch a letter containing only a soothing platitude – ‘some of the candidates appeared to have more relevant experience…’

Yes, it is just a numbers game, but for some people the numbers are astronomical, and we should teach youngsters to accept that a good job, comfortable lifestyle and happy marriage are not available to all.

Meanwhile, the lovely Adrian Beecroft, millionaire vulture capitalist and keen supporter of payday loans, has produced a report commissioned for the Government to explore options for achieving growth in the UK economy by reforming employment law. One of his proposals (to no-one’s surprise) calls for the abolition of unfair dismissal tribunals, and sets out the case for employers to be able to dismiss workers at short notice, for no reason, and without payment.
Employers’ representatives have claimed this is a triumph for common sense, and will encourage bosses to take on more workers thus leading to enhanced growth. Some of the more cynical sections of the press have suggested that the money saved by reducing headcount will end up being skilfully reinvested in Directors’ pension funds. At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions is to gain new powers to force unemployed benefit claimants to perform unpaid work in retail outlets, and it is not hard to see how these two policies might neatly dovetail…

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