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Work the Web

published on January 1, 2003
in ComputerUser Magazine

About 21 million U.S. workers have posted their resumes to But the number of job seekers who get jobs from and other job boards is sort of a mystery. Even the job boards themselves don't keep figures. In place of hard statistics on success rates, job boards offer anecdotes from happy job seekers (but no recently employed job seekers to interview).

People who are actually hunting for jobs tell the real story.

Joshua Abbey, a New Jersey-based job seeker, has not fared well by his own admission. "From January of 2002 to date, according to alone, I have submitted 470 applications," he says. "Guess how many jobs that has resulted in? Zero. That's certainly not the only site I use, but it gives an idea of how effective the sites are."

The sad fact is that cutting and pasting your resumes from Microsoft Word into little boxes on the job boards and then clicking "apply for job" gets the average job seeker nowhere. Even the job-board proprietors admit this.

"Monster is never going to surpass the effectiveness of you knowing someone who's going to help you find a job," says Marcel Legrand, senior vice president of product at Monster, formerly

Once thought of as a panacea for the job hunter, the boards are now seen as a necessary evil in the job search process, according to job seekers. What they gain in resume exposure, they lose in becoming targets of spammers, scammers, and other nefarious folks trying to take advantage of people down on their luck.

However, a little savvy about how jobs sites differ from one another, how to modify your resume, and how to network can offer even the most dispirited job seeker some hope. The journey starts with understanding how job sites work then bringing expectations and job search strategy into alignment.

The mega job boards

Monster is the largest Internet job search site in the world. The site attracted 43.4 million unique visitors in the month of September 2002 and has more than 1 million job listings. Of these, 6.3 percent are in IT and 6.3 in engineering categories, says Legrand from his office at Monster's Maynard, Mass.-based global headquarters.

By virtue of Monster's size, it is a resource that most job seekers should use, says Legrand.

Another mega Internet job search tool is the CareerBuilder Network. Through acquisition of other job boards and newspaper partnership programs, the Chicago-based company has built a huge following. Some 26 million visitors hit the network's flagship site and 130-plus affiliated career sites through major media outlets, including such Gannet newspapers as, Bloomberg, Knight-Ridder, and Tribune Co. newspapers. The network claims 400,000 job listings from 25,000 employers in every industry and field, with 32,000 IT-specific jobs posted to its IT community late last year, says Dawn Haden, CareerBuilder senior career advisor. Haden estimates that the site has more than 2 million IT-specific resumes.

What the numbers don't say is that when a job seeker clicks "apply for job," she often lands herself in competition with 1,000 other job seekers. Although the job boards won't (or can't) confirm the average number of applicants each job posting receives, hiring managers and recruiters know the reality.

Abbey, the unemployed IT manager, says the number of applicants per tech job can be astonishingly high. His experience as a former hiring manager taught him that job listings frequently get more than 1,000 applicants.

The problem of sifting through hundreds of resumes was so grave that companies had to come up with applicant tracking and filtering systems to help recruiters winnow down the number of applicants. In the case of Monster, automated filtering software now cuts down the list of applicants so "the top 10 applicants float to the top," says Legrand.

The other problem with the mega job boards is that they mangle the formatting of carefully worded resumes.

"That's most likely why every recruiter's auto-reply message says, 'Okay, thanks. Now if you could just send a copy of your resume in Word format...'," says Abbey.

"There's no style or format to it at all," adds Jim Cichanski, president and CEO of Flex HR Inc., an Atlanta-based human resources management firm. "When you see it on the other end printed, it's not pretty. It's just a row of words sometimes."

All this means that a carefully crafted resume may never end up in a recruiter's hand unless you send it directly to the recruiter.

Specialty/vertical job boards

Savvy job seekers also utilize the specialty job board, a type of job site that gives job seekers access to a narrower pool of hiring companies. Admittedly, these sites do not surmount the challenges of garbled resumes and filtering systems, but they do target the applications better. And there's less competition on IT-specific job board sites like and, and the listings themselves are sometimes fresher.

In October 2002, had 27,000 jobs from 2,900 companies— as many as 90 percent of them in the technology job category. Though Dice's director of marketing Jason Medick couldn't say how many people applied to each job, each job listings is viewed an average of 400 times, greatly reducing the amount of potential job competition per job. Unlike the mega job boards, jobs listings on expire after 30 days, virtually ensuring that the tech jobs are in fact real and active.

Smaller specialty job site had 7,000 job listings in October 2002 from some 2,000 companies. The site has 230,000 active resumes, which expire after 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the expiration date job seekers elect. The average job listing on the site stays active for just seven days.

The boards are frustrating

While many of the mega and special job sites offer convenience tools, such as job search agents, salary calculators, and resume/cover letter builders, the sites can inadvertently expose job seekers to unwanted spam.

In their defense, representatives for the job boards interviewed for this story say they have strict privacy policies and never sell the contact information of registered members. Some of the sites, such as Monster, also go so far as to seed the resumes with undercover investigators to look for job posters who are violating Monster's privacy policies.

But those efforts don't always catch spammers disguised as representatives of HR portals or recruiters who ask job seekers to re-enter their career data.

The best protection against getting on a spammer's list is to make sure you only leave your resume at sites you know and trust, says Michael Turner, vice president of marketing at

Corporate employment sites

Another kind of job search tool is the corporate recruiting site. These sites offer a more direct route to job listings, and recruiters themselves prefer them.

According to Dan Rench, director of e-business at Community Health Network, a network of hospitals, health care centers, and nursing homes in Indianapolis, since the company's recruiting portal launched in January 2002, the company has hired more than 200 people through the site. The Community Health Network's recruiting site now takes 85 percent of all the hospital's nursing applications, cutting the application process back 20 minutes per applicant and reducing time to interview from 1.5 weeks to 28 hours, says Rench.

Another place to get direct access to job listings is the U.S. government, whose site lists some 16,000 to 17,000 federal job openings from 10 different agencies on any given day. About one-tenth of them were IT jobs on October 17, with new positions added daily, says Mike Orenstein, spokesman for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which runs the site.

Keys to making the job site work for you

Regardless of the type of job site a person uses, technology alone cannot replace the hard work of looking for a job. resumes and cover letters have to be up to snuff, and job seekers have to follow up after sending them.

Every resume should have an objective and should be free of grammatical and spelling errors.'s Medick adds that the resumes have to explain how previous work had a positive effect on a company's bottom line. In the past, technology workers in particular could get away saying "here's my name, contact information and a list of the programming languages I know." Now they have to show problem/solution scenarios and tell a story about how the solution worked for the greater good of the company.

Power networking

Job boards themselves have yet to replace old-fashioned networking, which should be at the center of every unemployed person's job search.

Because the hiring managers see so many unusable resumes and HRIS systems weed out the rest, companies now rely more on employee referrals. They're easier and more reliable than any other form of candidate sourcing. Simply put, job boards are better for mass hiring, and no one's doing that anymore, says Jim Mugnolo, president of MBA Management Inc., an engineering and IT staffing company in Chantilly, Va.

You can do the networking yourself, says Mugnolo and you can team up with a recruiting firm— one that you've interviewed and trust.

The reason why networking yields better job search results is that most job opportunities aren't even posted. Most jobs get dreamed up in an executive's mind, according to Flex HR's Cichanski. It can take anywhere from one to six weeks to get funding approved for a job and then get it advertised. "If someone with qualifications for that job happens to be networking through at the right time, guess who gets the job," says Cichanski.

The value of networking into a job is something Atlanta-based Internet project manager Dave Hemminger has discovered first-hand. In Atlanta, he's found three Yahoo Groups focused on IT job networking. "These groups are helping me find out about openings that never get posted on," he says. "It's like a free job advertisement for a company."

After spending about six months using the mega and specialty sites to little end, Hemminger shifted his focus to the corporate recruiting sites and networking. As part of his revamped job search strategy, Hemminger created a short list of five Atlanta companies where he'd like to work.

He then investigated the companies and their job offerings by way of their corporate Web site. Then he sought introductions from people in his career networking groups. "All during these activities I've made an honest attempt to contact managers at my target companies to see if I can conduct an informational interview," says Hemminger.

The strategy seems to be paying off for Hemminger. The new approach got him three live job leads within a two-week period. "In a way, you could say that I'm rebooting my career OS," says the techie.

Hemminger's approach to job seeking takes creativity. It also replaces what Abbey describes as almost a full-time job just keeping resumes updated on various career sites, which, according to both job seekers, has gotten them nowhere.

Being proactive is the best and only way to stand out from the overwhelming crowd, says Abbey. "And a personal reference for a job opening is much more likely to bear fruit than a million HotJob auto-applies."

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david southgate
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