There was a brief period, before the last recession, when my career-services clients actually found jobs on online job boards. They’d post résumés, and interview requests and job offers quickly followed. For the past several years, though, clients have told me that they felt as if online applications led to a black hole: résumés were submitted but companies never made contact; even a rejection letter would have meant progress, indicating that a human was somehow involved in the decision-making process. Though I don’t recommend online boards as a direct path to a new position, I do find them extremely useful in a job search.
For someone launching a job search, online job boards can provide a wealth of information. I have had consistently good results with monster.com though there are many other general boards, industry niche boards, and aggregators of job listings, such as careerbuilder.com, indeed.com, and dice.com. My focus is on finding well-written, detailed job descriptions that indicate specific responsibilities and requirements. Many descriptions are vague and useless to me; others, however, seem to have been constructed to outline highly specific needs for real jobs with viable companies. A bit of fluff promoting the company and its tremendous benefits and great working environment is fine but should be accompanied by a multi-bulleted list of duties beginning with an overview and then mentioning key areas of accountability as well as position requirements.
Here's what I use these job descriptions for:
Do a reality check. One of the first things that a job seeker should do is define his ideal job or target position based not only on career goals but also on education, experiences, knowledge, and skills. Figuring out whether such a position actually exists is a natural next step, made pretty easy with a keyword search.
Pinpoint a job title. A job title is useful in conveying goals to a hiring manager in words that she’ll understand. Postings with position descriptions can be useful in matching real-world job accountabilities with a job seeker’s professional capabilities. Though organizational structures may vary among companies, there will often be enough similarities to pinpoint a job title. Job seekers can then reference this title in communications with potential employers or those who may offer referrals, and use the title in searches of the careers' sections of target employers.
Uncover obstacles to landing that perfect job. In some cases, a job seeker has most, but not all, of the qualifications. Not being a perfect candidate shouldn’t rule out searching for that type of position. But, if certain skill sets or types of experiences are requested repeatedly by a number of employers, then a job seeker could consider taking a class or learning a new technology, for example, or figuring out how to communicate why his experience is similar to the experience requested by the hiring manager.
See what companies are hiring and where the jobs are. Though I like to read articles about what industries are hot, what companies are hiring, and which geographical areas are experiencing an economic boom, I use specific job postings with real companies to make decisions about where to concentrate a search.
Refine or write the résumé. My modus operandi is to create a first draft of a résumé and then use job descriptions to make adjustments. I might add a position duty or a computer skill that seemed insignificant but appears on most job postings. For a job seeker writing her own résumé, the online job descriptions could be useful in creating or fleshing out the résumé.
Find keywords. Job seekers may be fearful that they won’t use the right keywords and their résumés will never be selected by computerized screening systems. Scrutinizing well-written, detailed job responsibilities and requirements can provide the job seeker with current keywords.
Craft a cover letter. Customizing each cover letter to match the exact requirements of each target job can be time-consuming and energy-zapping. Instead, craft the letter to meet the descriptions and requirements for a handful of similar positions, and use that letter as the base for subsequent letters.
I typically don't give unsolicited advice to individual clients, but, if asked, I will mention that putting oneself out there (posting a résumé for anyone to see, with no privacy settings) has not been particularly fruitful for many job seekers. To avoid the black hole of Internet searching, some clients have found that referrals from business associates (former co-workers, vendors, and customers), direct inquiries to targeted companies, and communications with those in industry or trade groups are more helpful than blindly posting to online job boards.
Have you used online job boards to find a job lately? Share your experiences in the comments.