Use the Web to your best advantage when looking for a job
By Dan Rafter
New Yorker Nadine Witkin got to spend part of last year in the French town of Deauville, a resort community just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Paris and home to the annual Deauville Film Festival, an event attended by scores of actors, directors and writers.
For 12 days, Witkin interviewed actors like Steve Martin and Pierce Brosnan. She composed short news pieces on such notables as Rene Russo and Lauren Bacall. She attended what she calls the funniest press conference ever, one conducted by Robin Williams.
Best of all? She got paid for all this.
Witkin attended the festival as a freelance reporter for ForeignTV.com, an Internet-based multilingual television station. She uncovered this plum assignment while sifting through the company's Internet site, a find for which she will forever be grateful to the World Wide Web.
But searching for a job through the Internet wasn't always as fruitful for Witkin, especially when it came to landing a full-time position. While studying in France during 1999, Witkin, who now works as an associate producer at CBS News in New York, sent out hundreds of resumes in response to the scores of broadcast job postings she found while searching the Web. All these mailings, though, resulted in exactly zero offers for a full-time job.
Even after her long and diligent Internet job search, Witkin returned to New York without a full-time position. The Internet, in fact, didn't play even a small role in guiding Witkin to her first post-France job. Instead, it was her dentist that pointed her in the right direction.
"When I was at my dentist for a cleaning, I complained to him about how frustrating my job search had become," Witkin said. "He told me to go to the public-relations agency that represents him. I did and I got a job. I mentioned my frustration as a last resort to my dentist and my dry cleaners. Who knew that my dentist would be the one to lead me to a job?"
Witkin's story illustrates the truth behind Internet sites designed to lead people to new jobs: The sites can be useful, and they can lead job-hunters to exciting new positions. But they should not replace such old-fashioned job-hunting skills as networking and researching.
"For a while there, I got very cynical," Witkin said of her Internet job hunt. "I thought there was this gremlin behind the computer screen that was gobbling up all the resumes I was sending out. But the Internet was helpful to me. It didn't give me a full-time job, and I did send out hundreds of resumes, but it did lead me to some fascinating freelance jobs that I never would have heard of had I not used the Internet."
Witkin's experience isn't unusual. Many job hunters consider the Internet an indispensable tool as they search for new positions. The Web, after all, is crammed with online job boards that give users the chance to post their resumes to employers across the nation or search through countless job offers. It's also home to career-advice sites, which give job seekers tips on everything from networking to selecting the right references.
But others, like Witkin, find that the Internet job search comes with its own set of frustrations. Studies have found that most people who post their resumes on online job boards receive few responses from top employers. Critics also say that the ease of roaming the Internet has encouraged many job hunters to forget the more traditional ways of finding good jobs: crafting effective resumes, researching top companies and, most important of all, networking.
The advice from career experts is clear: Online job boards and classified ads are an important tool for job hunters. But they aren't the only, or most important, tools.
"A lot of people are very excited by the tremendous amount of marketing the online job sites are doing. They simply submit their resumes and think the world is in their hands. That's certainly not true," said Greg Pettenon, a consultant with Drake Beam Morin, an international outplacement consulting and career transition service.
To prove his point, Pettenon points to a recent survey of Drake Beam Morin clients. According to the study, only 4 percent of these clients found their current positions through the Internet. But 64 percent said they found their positions through networking.
A February study released by Massachusetts-based Forrester Research echoes these figures. After interviewing 3,000 Internet users, Forrester researchers found that the Internet still plays a minor role in most people's job searches, with 40 percent of survey participants saying they found their current jobs through referrals. Only 4 percent said they found their positions through the Internet.
The biggest reason for these disheartening numbers may be that Internet job sites are doing too good a job of attracting both job seekers and their resumes.
"With a lot of sites, it becomes a big volume game. Employers really have to sift through a lot of resumes. It's hard for one particular resume to stand out," said Kevin Gage, chairman and chief executive officer with JobDirect.com, a Stamford, Conn.-based online job service for college students. "When looking for a job, you have to take advantage of all the means available to you. That includes networking with Uncle Charlie in addition to using sites like JobDirect.com."
Of course, just because the Internet doesn't guarantee that job seekers will instantly find a new position, that doesn't mean it's useless. Most online job boards not only give job hunters the chance to post resumes, they also provide them with advice on building effective resumes, tips on networking and suggestions on reaching key contacts in their fields. With all these resources available to them, job hunters would be as foolish to ignore the Internet as they would be if they relied solely on it.
"This is a good time to be a job seeker," said Jan Kelly, vice president of emerging technologies with CareerZone.com, a job placement and career-advice Internet site located at www.careerzone.com. "As much as there are some downsides to job boards, in the grand scheme of things, the job search is now a more rapid, efficient process."
The first thing job hunters should do when starting their Internet searches is determine which job board or boards are best for them.
The more well-known boards, such as Hotjobs.com and Monster.com, contain a treasure trove of job listings. And those job seekers that post their resumes on either of these two well-known sites are almost guaranteed several responses. Unfortunately, many of these offers will be inappropriate. At times, the volume of responses, particularly those that don't fit a job hunter's criteria, will prove overwhelming.
That's why Marcy Lerner, director of content with Vault.com, a New York-based online career-advice service that can be found at www.vaultreports.com, recommends that job hunters seek out smaller boards, especially those that are targeted exclusively for the industries that interest them or that post jobs in only a specific region. For example, job hunters interested in the technology field should log on to www.dice.com, a site that only posts technology jobs. Those interested in journalism jobs can check out www.ajr.org, the Web site of American Journalism Review magazine, and a site that sends matching journalism jobs to would-be reporters' email addresses.
"Bigger isn't necessarily better," Lerner said. "You'll get a lot of hits on a huge board. But you might get better responses if you find one that's a niche site, one that's more targeted to what you're looking for."
Another truth of the Internet job search is that the sites that are easiest to use aren't necessarily the most effective. Many sites allow job hunters to cut-and-paste their resumes onto their job boards. This is quick, but it's not the best way to attract the attention of employers, said CareerZone's Kelly. Those sites that force users to enter their resume in a series of steps, asking first for personal information, then for a job hunter's education and career information, usually generate better responses from employers.
"The cut-and-paste approach is usually not advantageous," Kelly said. "The searching methods that employers often use to filter out resumes is not smart enough. Some of these companies receive hundreds of responses to their jobs. They might only end up looking at 20 of these responses. If you can put more specific information in your resume, yours might bubble up to the top. For instance, don't just put that you know computer programming. Put down that you've worked with Java Plus."
Smart job seekers will not limit their Internet use to job boards. They'll also use the Internet to research companies that interest them. Most large companies today run their own websites, which often contain valuable information. Job hunters can also use the Internet to search the websites of professional associations. These sites usually list the names, numbers and email addresses of their officers. Job hunters can email these contacts and ask them for advice on the state of the industry, the best companies in their field for which to work and, of course, for referrals.
Job hunters can do the same thing by contacting, through email, college professors. Many of them serve on the boards of companies, while others count high-ranking executives among their former students. By approaching professors in much the same way they would members of professional associations, job hunters can gain valuable contacts.
"We counsel people to go the extra mile, to really research the companies that interest them," said Steve Pollock, president and co-founder of WetFeet.com (www.wetfeet.com), an online career counseling service based in San Francisco. "A lot of people today are lackadaisical in their approach to the interview process. I think a lot of this has to do with the perceived ease of finding a job online. We're constantly surprised at how unprepared people are when they go in for an interview. They forget to find out what the company does. They can't tell you why they're excited about working there."
Secrets of Success
Most people who rely solely on the Internet to find a new job meet with little success. At least that's what the experts out there say.
But don't tell that to Chicagoan Marisa Villalobos.
Last year, she relied solely on Internet job sites to find job openings in her field, public relations. Within just three months, she landed a new job. She's now happy working as manager of marketing communications with Go2Call.com, a company that allows people to make telephone calls through the Internet.
"I knew the Internet had all this information, and I just wanted to take advantage of it," Villalobos said. "I went on Monster.com every day. It just worked really well for me."
Villalobos said she knew exactly what kind of job she wanted. Because of this, she didn't waste any time reading or responding to ads that didn't fit her criteria. This, she says, is the secret to her successful Internet job search.