Digital Age Job Hunting: The Ugly Truth

| Posted in Jobs

It really is an understatement to say that things have changed since the Internet was born. Nothing is the same… and our parents, God love them, experienced a completely different challenge when they began their job searches twenty, thirty, forty years ago. So their advice, which usually is priceless and sufficient, falls short at the crucial moment of transition between college and job search. I’ve found that even friends ten years older than me have irrelevant advice, because they were looking for work during the Internet’s onset and the economic boom of the nineties. It was a completely different ball game.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted a job you spent days perfecting and typing your resume on heavy-weight business paper. You either mailed a cover letter and resume to employers or dressed your best and walked right in their front door. If it worked and the employer was interested, you’d get a call for an interview. And the interview was everything. In fact, two or three interviews wasn’t unheard of. Your interview was what got you the job.

Today, while interviews are an important part of the hiring process, it’s the portion of the job hunt before the interview that has completely evolved: the introduction. Walking in the front door with a resume in your hand is actually one of the biggest no-no’s in present day job hunting. Today’s game begins right where you are now: online.

Searching for jobs online is a time-consuming, tedious, and often discouraging process. There are thousands of job listings – everything from the typical newspaper site listings to “Employment” or “Careers” links on the employers’ own Web sites. There are massive, all-industry search engines and career-specific sites. Where to begin? My advice is to decide what you’re looking for, very specifically, before you even turn on the computer. The more narrow your search, the easier it will be to pinpoint where to look. I was a “professional” internet job searcher for three years after college – I was continually employed, but constantly looking online for something better. Here’s what I found:

Tips for Online Job Hunting

  1. Begin by searching your chosen location for employment. Use Google to find the Web sites of the local newspapers, which almost always have an employment section that you can search by category. Next, search for regional or state-specific search engines – most cities and states have a Web site dedicated to local job listings.
  2. Organize your findings. As you discover Web sites that you would like to continue checking, make a folder in your browser’s Bookmarks, so that you can easily get back to any site.
  3. Search by your career field. Next, you’ll want to look for Web sites that are specific to your chosen career. Again, use Google to search: “jobs in information technology” or “IT job listings” for example. Vary your keyword searches to find a variety of different sites. Browse through them, and bookmark the ones that seem the most relevant or populated.
  4. Watch out for the top placements in Google. I’ve found that often the worst job search engines come up first in Google, surprisingly. Usually, the larger the site, the less useful its content. Many times gigantic search engines become bloated with get-rich-quick or pyramid schemes, military listings, or national listings, where competition is obscene. While I still chose to bookmark and check major search engines, I often found jobs to apply for on smaller, more specific job search Web sites.
  5. Search for Employer sites. If you know, for example, that you want to work for a printing firm, then do an area-specific search on YellowPages.com or Switchboard.com for printing firms. Use your search results to visit the Web sites of companies you’d like to work for – it’s becoming more and more common for businesses to have an Employment page of their own or an email or mailing address for employment inquiries. Bookmark and check back on any businesses that you find especially appealing.
  6. Pay close attention to listings. Notice the date it was posted, as you may not want to apply to a job that has been online for six weeks. If a listing contains the company’s Web site, not only go there but read as much of it as interests you – an employer’s site speaks volumes and can provide an accurate portrait of the company. If they have an Employment or Careers page, then you can be sure that they hire frequently or receive an abundance of job inquiries.  It’s also pretty typical for job listings to lack a salary or pay rate – don’t let this prevent your from applying or sending an email unless you’re otherwise suspicious of the listing. And lastly, pay attention to the contact information. If a listing is posted anonymously, you may be able to Google the phone number or email address to find out details. Additionally, if a contact person is listed, Google their name for further information. If an email is provided, but no company Web site, check to see if the @ location of their email is the company site. You can learn loads about employers from these sneaky tips – don’t feel bad, because they’ll do the same to you!

Tips for Applying for Jobs Over the Internet

So now that you’ve compiled a folder-full of bookmarked Web sites to check daily, you need a game plan for applying to the jobs that you find.

  1. First, follow the instructions! This is absolutely essential. Every job listing is different, so make sure you do exactly what they ask their applicants to do. If they request no phone calls, don’t call! If they provide an online application system, follow the directions explicitly. If there are no specific instructions, use the contact information as a cue – if a phone number is provided, then they probably would like you to call. If an email is provided, they’re most likely expecting applicants to email a cover letter and resume. The same goes for mailing addresses or fax numbers. If all of this is provided, email is always your easiest and safest bet.
  2. Next, take you Dad’s advice: perfect your resume. Your resume should be accurate, neat, clearly organized, free of typos, and targeted towards the type of job you are trying to get. You may want to create a couple different resumes to have on file – during my job hunting days, I had a film resume, complete with Screenings and Production Experience lists, as well as a general labor resume, which I used for non-film job applications. I also kept another version that pinpointed my design and web experience. The more versions you have prepared, the faster it will be to apply for jobs. Lastly, save your resume as a PDF. It looks more professional and prevents anyone from altering the text.
  3. Now is your biggest challenge: the cover letter. This, unfortunately, is your first impression. Void of any human connection, you are forced to grab the employer’s attention with nothing more than HTML text. How do you do it? First, use the job listing as a cue. The language used in the job posting as well as the method of application are your guide to what the employer is expecting. Alter your cover letter to be formal or informal, based on your observations in the listing. Next, be brief, concise, honest, and personable. Avoid reiterating everything that’s in your resume, since you’re most likely going to be attaching it anyways. Instead, highlight what you’ve done and what you have to offer that’s relevant to the position. Unlike your resume, you should never copy and paste a cookie-cutter cover letter – always customize the letter to the position and employer. Lastly, leave them wanting to know more. Tell enough to have them interested – not your life story.
  4. Show them who you are. Nowadays, having just a cover letter and resume are not enough for certain job industries. If you’re going after a job in the arts, such as photography, film, or design, an online portfolio is absolutely essential. Send them the link within your cover letter, or if you’re mailing an application, provide a carefully designed CD or card with your Web site. Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, you may want to provide links to articles about your past work, Web sites of past employers, or online samples of your work – use your own discretion and do not provide additional information if it is in excess of specific application instructions.
  5. Be patient and don’t give up. The most discouraging aspect of online job hunting is that once you click “Send” there are no guarantees and no promises. You could spend two hours writing the perfect cover letter and never even receive a response from the employer! Once, I spent an entire afternoon putting together a carefully designed application, all of which I printed and mailed to the employer the next day. I received a generic letter that my application had been received, and nothing further. I was crushed. It’s the sad truth in digital-age job hunting: nine times out of ten you will hear nothing. That’s why it pays to apply for as many jobs as possible.
  6. What about follow up? This is a tricky topic and there are no right answers. Again, you need to use your best judgment based specifically upon the job listing. For local job listings on small websites or informal job posts, dropping an email to see if your resume was received should be acceptable. If you’ve applied for a national listing, highly competitive position or employer, or a job that had a complicated and rigid application process, chances are that any attempts at follow-up will be ignored, just like your application. It’s the hard, cold truth of job searching online. I highly discourage phone calls unless the listing specifically requests them, because usually the reason the employer posted online in the first place was to avoid receiving cold calls. And never, I repeat – NEVER – drop in to check on an application that you sent online! I learned this the hard way, when I looked up the address of a company I’d applied to and decided to stop by and introduce myself. The office manager cooly muttered under her breath something about “…if everyone that applied dropped in…” and the woman in charge of hiring pretended to appreciate my enthusiasm, but I never recieved so much as an email after that.

My last bit of advice? I said, Don’t give up! Check your Web sites daily so that you can be the first to apply. Continue perfecting your cover letters and resumes. Keep checking Google for new places to search for jobs. The truth is that you never know when or where the perfect job for you will come along. I can attest to that, since my current job – and the best job I’ve ever had – was a three-sentence ad on craigslist! I almost didn’t apply, because one of the requirements was that you lived within thirty miles, and I was an hour away. So I sent an unusually short email with a few links to my work. I got a call the next morning, and two days later, got the job.