Seven easy steps to help you get a job on the Web
June 15, 1998
by Kirk Steers
(IDG) -- I'd finished my morning latte, read the newspapers, and was easing into my desk chair when the phone rang. It was my editor, wondering where that story was I'd promised her yesterday. As I conjured up a plausible excuse, I scanned my e-mail. More editors, more projects, more headaches. Instinctively I went online and checked my bank balance: It was hovering dangerously close to room temperature. Something inside me snapped. I needed a new job. And I needed it now.
I knew I wanted to make a lateral move back into the business world. But how? My last job search--four years ago--was a full-time job in itself. I spent three months pouring over newspaper ads, writing letters, and doing informational interviews before I got my first nibble.
I didn't have time for any of that. So I turned to the Internet. Using the Web, I could scan job listings, search for jobs meeting my exact requirements, and have the sites send me e-mail when my dream job opened up. And if the stories I'd heard were true, recruiters would see my electronic resume and beat a path to my door. (Not exactly how it turned out--more on that later.)
My first impulse was to jump right in. So I dredged up an old resume, updated it with a few fresh exaggerations, and looked for a place on the Internet to post it. Then I realized I had a problem: There were literally thousands of sites that dealt with finding a job--from monstrous, ad-driven bulletin boards down to small, college-based career centers. I had no idea which sites were best.
It was starting to feel like the job searches of old. I needed a strategy. And fast.
Step 1: Research, Research, and More Research
First, I took a mental step backward. During my last job search I'd read What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles, and it had served me well. So I fired up Alta Vista and tracked down the What Color Is Your Parachute page. It was exactly what I'd been looking for: a gateway to online job hunting.
Like dozens of similar gateways, the Parachute site covers all the usual topics--resumes, career counseling, company research, contacts, and the Holy Grail of the Internet job search, free employment listings. Tempted as I was to plunge straight into the listings, I opted instead for a little online career advice. The Parachute site's counseling section linked me to the home page of JobSmart, whose "What Do I Want" section offered several personality tests. I filled out the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and learned that despite my two years of Machiavellian Business Administration training, I'm actually an "Idealist-Healer." Yeah, right. The test also revealed one of my character flaws -- impatience. I moved on.
Given my background, I decided to target two types of positions: financial or industry analyst, and software or hardware product marketing manager. Following Bolles's advice, I focused first on the "hidden job market" -- the 80 percent of openings that get filled without ever being advertised. That meant finding companies I wanted to work for and then developing contacts that would get me in the door.
Step 2: Make Contacts
The next step was to find out which companies were hot and hiring. I started by looking for background info on high-tech marketing. One great tool I found was The List of Lists. It lets you search mailing lists (e-mail-based discussion groups on all kinds of topics) and tells you how to subscribe to them. A search on the keyword marketing connected me to High Tech Marketing Communications, a mailing list of over a thousand members that provides informative discussions on industry trends, as well as the occasional job posting.
I discovered that mailing lists and newsgroups are also a mother lode of e-mail addresses for potential contacts. But I realized that you need to use this information judiciously: Blindly contacting people can do more harm than good if the recipient thinks you've obtained the address improperly -- say, from a tightly controlled newsgroup or mailing list.
Professional societies and organizations are also useful places for making contacts. Yahoo has a good list at www.yahoo.com/ Business_and_Economy/Organizations. And for researching a specific company, Yahoo's Companies Directory isn't bad either. If it's a publicly traded company, stop by the federal government's EDGAR database for a wealth of free information about a company's fiscal fitness.
Finally, don't forget about your alma mater. Some of the best job sites are associated with colleges and universities. I found a very useful alumni database at my graduate school's site. The database eventually put me in touch with two old drinking buddies who are now well-placed in different fields, one of them in marketing, the other in finance.
But I'd had it with long-term planning and research. I was itching for some immediate gratification. I popped the top on some Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia and went straight to the online job listings.
Step 3: Scan the Listings
The hardest part of looking for a job online is knowing where to start. I began my search at JobWeb, which offers a well-organized list of links to nearly a hundred other job sites, broken down by region.
Thanks to an annoying but obviously effective advertising campaign, one name caught my eye, The Monster Board. Like CareerMosaic and Online Career Center, The Monster Board offers lots of listings -- the first day I looked, it listed 37,000 positions. Yikes!
Fortunately, some of the most practical sites, including CareerBuilder and The Monster Board, let you search by location, job category, and keyword (like project manager or accountant). I started with a simple keyword search on analyst and marketing. Results varied wildly from site to site. While Monster Board and CareerMosaic returned thousands of listings for each search, Jobfinder.com returned exactly five hits. On The Monster Board and CareerMosaic, refining the search by location (San Francisco and Hawaii -- hey, I can dream, can't I?) proved extremely helpful, winnowing a few thousand job listings to a few hundred.
On the other hand, I found searching by job category too limiting. The Monster Board had the best categories: I could search listings for four different types of analyst, including the catchall other-analyst. But more than three-quarters of the analyst jobs I saw on all the sites were for technical positions that often required a "thorough knowledge" of VSAM, SQL, or other dweebish acronyms. Still, I did find four financial and business analyst listings on my first pass through Monster Board, and three more on CareerMosaic. I jotted down the contact information and kept searching.
Step 4: Think Small, Think Local
"Gold," my grandfather once told me, "is where you find it. Dig everywhere." So I decided to see how some of the smaller, more specialized sites would pan out.
First stop: regional listings close to my home. The List Foundation, a San Francisco Bay Area site informally known as Craig's List, was a real find, with lots of nontechnical jobs and a fair number of entry-level positions. Craig's List is currently expanding nationally. It's free to job seekers and charges employers a relatively cheap $25 per posting.
Job-related Usenet newsgroups are also good resources. I used Deja News, a newsgroup search engine, to sort through hundreds of postings. A few newsgroups, such as us.jobs.offered and alt.jobs, work nationally, and some cater to a specific profession like programming (prg.jobs) or biology (bionet.jobs). In general, most of the jobs listed in the newsgroups were very technical, and the most useful newsgroups were the regional ones.
I didn't want to miss any companies not yet on the Net, so I scanned online newspaper classifieds. Newspapers Online has links to publications worldwide. Even better, CareerPath.com has a search engine for the classified ads of over 50 U.S. papers. It led me to several analyst positions I hadn't seen online.
Finally, hundreds of other specialty sites cover everything from government jobs ( www.fedjobs.com) to aerospace positions ( www.spacejobs.com). And who knows what I'd be doing if I'd seen the Cool Works site four years ago. Cool Works specializes in--well, cool jobs: I'm still tempted by its listings for an Alaskan bush pilot and a trailer park manager in Roswell, New Mexico.
But searching all these sites took me hours. I couldn't see myself checking every site every day for new listings. Fortunately, for some sites I didn't have to.
Step 5: Get an (Electronic) Agent
Here, I thought, is where Internet job hunting would really shine: Some sites offer handy (and free) search agents that automatically scour new postings, save them to your personal folder on the site, and e-mail you when your ideal job appears. You simply type your desired job location, salary, and keywords, and bingo--suitable job listings will pop up in your in-box. At least, that's the idea. My results were somewhat mixed.
I signed on for The Monster Board's agent and didn't receive any listings for weeks. An e-mail message I sent the site's tech support brought an apology explaining that they were simply overwhelmed by the volume of use. But I was still able to go to the site and manually view the jobs saved for me in my personal folder. As it turned out, two weeks had brought hundreds of listings, mostly looking for technical analysts. But only five of them merited a reply. I definitely needed to narrow my search criteria. CareerBuilder's Personal Search Agent, meanwhile, worked very well from the get-go. It fed me three or four listings a day, which usually yielded one worthwhile listing per week. The 15 or more mailings I got from Craig's List each day yielded only a few openings over a four-week period--most of them for entry-level or administrative positions.
But by now, things were really starting to roll. I'd already found a number of good job possibilities, and thanks to my own personal search agents, I had more e-mail listings coming in every day. It was time to send some responses.
STEP 6: Craft That Resume
Before I could apply for any job, I needed a good resume. I found out that a good electronic record of my job history was not the same animal as its paper-bound cousin.
During my last job search, I spent many painful hours perfecting my resume: adjusting the structure, finding the perfect typefaces, even choosing a high-quality paper with colorings named after deciduous trees. But my online resume was as likely to be read by a computer as by a person. So paper with matching envelopes and 12-point Times Roman type were out. Simplicity and substance were in.
What I needed was a good ASCII text version of my current resume, one that I could easily carve into pieces or cut and paste as a whole. So I launched Microsoft Word, opened my lovingly formatted resume, and saved it as a 'Text only (*.txt)' file. What I saw on screen was not pretty: Big blocks of text were smushed together into nearly unreadable blobs. I knew I needed help.
CareerBuilder, Online Career Center, and the Parachute site offer guides--or links to guides--to writing a good online (or paper) resume. The most helpful site I found was JobSmart, which is loaded with sound advice. The EResumes 101 tutorial at Rebecca Smith's EResumes & Resources also gave lots of useful tips.
Heeding the advice of EResumes 101, I kept my resume simple. I inserted empty lines to set off paragraphs and sections, and used capital letters for job titles and company names. What I ended up with wasn't gorgeous, but it was easy to read and navigate.
I was happy with the results, but I also knew that I should test them. So I pasted my new resume into an e-mail message and applied to myself for a job. The cover letter I'd typed in the Eudora mail program looked fine (I really liked this candidate), but the resume itself was a total disaster--sentences spilled over into the next lines, making it nearly impossible to read. (No job for this doofus!)
What had happened? Saving my resume in .txt format had retained Word's word-wrap feature. I had to save the file as 'Text only with line breaks'. Also, Word kept the same small font with over 80 characters per line--too long for my e-mail. I inserted the line breaks, changed the font, and the resume looked fine.
Finally, on the advice of several Web sites, I added a keyword summary--a block of words appearing at the top of my resume. If you're sending your resume to a large company or a headhunter that receives lots of them, the first "person" to read it will likely be a computer looking for specific keywords. So you need the right ones for a particular job. Rebecca Smith's EResumes & Resources can help; it provides lists of keywords for many types of occupations.
Step 7: Post and Toast
Now I could do more than just respond to ads; I could post my resume to the online abyss and see if any employers would actually come to me. Almost all job sites offer this service for free; JobCenter charges $5 for the privilege.
Posting a resume usually involves filling out an online form or resume-building template. The Monster Board site, for instance, lets you paste each section of your resume into separate on-screen boxes. Less elaborate sites have you dump your whole resume into a single field.
The posting process can be very time-consuming. First, each of the dozen sites I used asked me to log on with a user name and password. Because I was constantly visiting sites to post, edit, and send resumes, I learned an important lesson: Use the same log-on name and password for every site. It'll save you loads of time.
And with so many sites, entering the resume data takes time too. The procedure was similar for all the sites I used: I entered my personal info and maybe some key parameters like desired salary or location, then pasted all or part of my resume into the site's template. After posting all my "analyst" resumes, I didn't relish the thought of doing it all again for a slightly different version aimed at a marketing position. Fortunately, I didn't have to.
A $50 software product called WebResume ( MySoftware Company, 800/325-3508) includes a resume-posting wizard that lets you enter all your data once and send it simultaneously to ten national sites. I fired it up, and within 10 minutes I had done what normally would have taken a couple of hours.
And the Keyword is... Unemployment
From what I'd heard, posting a resume on the Internet is like a visit to Candyland. I had loads of experience and a number of skills to offer. And I'd posted to over ten different sites. I'd just have to sit back and wait for offers to rush in. I was even a little worried I'd be flooded with phone calls and e-mail from headhunters who prowled the online bulletin boards.
I received exactly one phone call. Ouch!
I ran this humbling result by several job recruiters and received some valuable insights. Most of the recruiters I spoke with said they don't have time to scan the huge pools of posted resumes on the various job sites. Instead, they pore over the e-mail responses to their specific job listings. Those recruiters who did scan posted resumes said it was more efficient to rely on an automated keyword search to ferret out favorable candidates.
Keyword searches tend to focus on skills and experiences that can be easily defined in a single word. So technical terms like Pascal or AS400 make someone with a particular skill or experience easier to spot. But more abstract abilities like management skill and negotiation experience aren't so easily captured with a keyword.
While I had lots of technical consulting experience, knew the PC industry thoroughly, and could throw around a few techie acronyms of my own, I wanted a job that focused on the more abstract. Alas, I just wasn't "keyword desirable."
Of the 15 specific job listings I replied to, I received no responses at first. But after a few days, the messages did start coming in. Some were outright rejections, and some were the annoyingly ambiguous "we're currently evaluating our needs" song and dance. Some came via e-mail and some, surprisingly, were delivered by regular mail. A valuable lesson: Don't assume that because you sent a resume by e-mail that the company will (or even can) respond in kind. And always put a full mailing address on your electronic resume. I suspect that this omission cost me a few responses.
At the same time, I also applied to similar positions through newspaper ads. To my surprise, responses from these employers (though they were all rejections) outnumbered replies from online recruiters.
Why so few responses? Maybe it was the keyword problem again. But more likely it was because I was making a lateral move into a new type of job. Though I had no direct experience, I had the skills, and I knew I could translate them to the task.
After a month I got a call about a consulting/marketing position that matched my skills perfectly. It was a tempting offer, but a little voice in my head said that I should shop around a little more. The recruiter had found my name by searching CareerMosaic's open bank of resumes, simply by using the site's search tools. So posting an online resume brought me my only job search success.
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