Job Search in the Digital Age

The job market has gotten remarkably complicated lately, and it's not just recession, off-shoring, outsourcing and globalization. These are part of it, obviously, but it's more than that.

The internet has fundamentally changed the way employers hunt for talent, and the more companies depend on resume boards, search engines, and social networks, the more these tools become a necessary part of a job search strategy.

As it turns out, however, the online world is just part of the equation. When it comes time to craft a job search strategy, it's useful to look at the numbers and see what's actually producing results. Not surprisingly, the numbers still show referrals as the number one source of hiring - and by a fairly significant margin. According to the 11th annual "Sources of Hire Survey" by CareerXroads, referrals took the top spot for the 11th consecutive year at 28%. The online job boards collectively came in second at just over 20%, followed by company career sites, recruiters, and a hodge-podge of college recruiting, print media, rehires, temp conversion and "other."

Turns out that even in the digital age, real world recommendations carry more weight than anything that happens online. Hiring is still about people, and as a job seeker you'd have to be nuts to ignore the methods and goals of those in charge of choosing their resources. It just wouldn't make sense. But what do those numbers mean, in practical terms, to you as a job seeker? The short version is that they should help dictate where to invest your time and energy.

Personally, my top three recommendations are:
1) Focus on real world relationships
2) Build a magnetic online presence (become a Purple Squirrel), and
3) Use online information to take intelligent offline action.

As the survey shows, referrals are the highest probability path to your next job offer, and that points back to real world relationships. A great place to start is with the people who already know you best -- friends, family, past coworkers, bosses, clients, and so on. Let them know you're in a job search, ask for their help and guidance, and be thankful for whatever assistance they can give. That's option one. Beyond your immediate sphere of influence are professional networking groups, industry associations, alumni gatherings, and training or education programs, all of which offer outstanding ways to connect with potential influencers. These are usually a slower path to employment, but should be a part of your long term career strategy no matter what. Find relevant groups, contribute, and next time around you may get recruited rather than having to search for work. That's a whole lot better.

Once you're in an actual job search, the internet can be an extraordinary ally. Online job boards, search engines, and social networks create endless opportunities to connect with relevant and motivated employers. Standing out in cyberspace depends on figuring out how to differentiate yourself from the millions of others attempting to do the same thing, and understanding of how the other side searches for employees can help illuminate what it really takes to make that happen.

To effectively search online and database resources, talent hunters construct queries comprised of various role-specific parameters. These evaluate each resume in the system against criteria that includes a combination of key words, phrases, titles, past employers, locations, industries, dates, degrees, certifications, and so on. The results are then presented for review in an order determined by some proprietary ranking system or sorting algorithm.

In order to build a resume that shows up towards the top of the list, your resume has to hit the high points of that particular query -- but how to figure out what those will be? Reading job descriptions and analyzing the words, phrases, and requirements most commonly used by employers in your space is the simplest and easiest place to start. The more you can honestly and accurately build the language of your audience into your own resume, the more page views and interview requests you're likely to land - and this is a good thing.

Our last category is using online information to take intelligent offline action. The internet can be a great ally, but it can also be an enormous time-drain. Applying directly to internet job postings is a great example. The numbers vary from industry to industry and company to company, but it's not that uncommon for a given listing to receive 50 or more applications. Factor in the possibility of employee referrals, promotions, and internal transfers, and you start to get a sense of how likely it really is for that path to produce a job offer. Not stellar.

Does that mean you should give up on online search or stop applying altogether? Absolutely not. Even though submitting a resume directly to a given posting isn't a high probability exercise, the information on the listing is a good starting point for taking a more targeted and strategic approach to making contact. When you find an interesting job opening, a search on LinkedIn or request to your social networks can quickly turn up personal connections to the company. If you have one, ask that person to put your resume forward for you. The odds of a productive outcome go up dramatically if you get introduced or recommended rather than blindly submitting online.

If you don't have a direct connection, you can use a similar set of resources to identify recruiters and HR professionals in the company. From there it's relatively easy to reach out online or call the main company phone number and ask for a specific person by name. Not everyone you reach will be receptive to helping, but lots will, and that can help take you move you from being viewed as an "online applicant" to an "employee introduced applicant." This may seem like a minor thing, but it's not.

As the numbers show, having a real live human being involved can make all the difference in the world.