Avoiding common tech blunders in your job search

As an IT professional, using the latest gadgets and technologies to make life a little easier is second nature. At home, you may have installed a wireless network, for example, so you can surf the Internet and watch TV at the same time. At work, e-mail, cell phones and laptop computers keep you connected.

It's likely, then, that technology also plays an important role in your job search. From electronic resumes to online job boards, technology has greatly enhanced people's ability to find the right position. But as helpful as these tools can be, many individuals don't use them correctly, significantly hampering the search and potentially costing candidates the openings they desire.

Here are some common tech blunders job seekers make and ways you can avoid these mistakes:

Submitting resumes that aren't e-mail-friendly.

When was the last time you sent a resume to a prospective employer using snail mail? Chances are, it's been a while. In a recent survey commissioned by my company, executives polled said that 56% of the resumes they receive are submitted via e-mail. That's a 22% increase from three years ago.

With electronic applications increasing in popularity, it may shock you to learn that many resumes never make it to their intended targets. Some materials are mistaken for viruses or spam and automatically deleted. Others are simply unreadable because of compatibility issues between the candidate's and hiring manager's computer systems.

To ensure that your resume is received and read, convert it to ASCII format and paste it into the body of an e-mail. Although you won't be able to use formatting elements like boldface and bullets, you can still add emphasis with asterisks, plus signs and other keyboard symbols.

In addition, give your resume a once-over prior to submitting it. You want to catch any typos or grammatical errors before the hiring manager does. You also want to make sure you send the correct document. Believe it or not, we recently received an e-mail from a job seeker who mistakenly applied for an open position with a personal letter addressed to his girlfriend!

E-mailing every company that's hiring.

While we're on the subject of resumes, let me point out another common misstep: applying for more jobs than you should. I know that sounds like an oxymoron -- after all, the more companies you contact, the greater the chances are one will hire you, right? Not necessarily. There's little point in sending out 100 resumes labeled "To whom it may concern" if none of the positions for which you applied match your skills, experience or interest.

It's tempting to submit a resume for any and every opening because it only takes a few mouse clicks to do so. But resist the urge and instead focus your efforts on the jobs that are right for you and that you have a good chance of landing.

Then, customize your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant abilities. For example, if you're interested in a network security position, mention your extensive knowledge of intrusion-detection techniques. Including keywords is also wise. Phrases such as "local-area network," "Certified Information Systems Security Professional" or "TCP/IP" often can be found in the job description and are usually the ones companies screen for when evaluating candidates.

Forgetting about the phone.

Many job seekers are amazed that after sending out dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of resumes, they still haven't heard back from a single hiring manager. Often, the reason is simply because the candidate hasn't followed up.

Older technologies -- the phone, specifically -- can prove useful in your job search. Calling a prospective employer to inquire about the status of your application is a great way to demonstrate your enthusiasm. You'll be surprised by the results. Often, this show of initiative can help you make a positive impression and give you a leg up over other candidates.

The phone can also come in handy in other ways. Not sure to whom you should address your cover letter? Find out by calling the firm's receptionist and asking for the contact information of the IT hiring manager.

Putting too much stock in job boards.

Online job sites are terrific, especially since you can often locate open positions based on your area, experience level and other criteria. But too many job seekers put too much faith in these resources. Consider a survey conducted by my company in which only 9% of CIOs polled said they feel that posting openings on online job boards is the most effective way to find qualified IT candidates. The top answer: employee referrals, at 31%. This, combined with other factors, means that if your job search efforts are focused solely on positions advertised via the Web, you'll limit yourself to just a small sampling of the opportunities that are actually available.

Tapping your network of professional contacts is one of the best ways to learn about open positions that may not be officially posted. Your friends may know of reorganizations or hiring needs currently affecting their companies or others. Also consider joining a local professional association or user group. In addition to keeping current with trends and developments in the IT field, you'll be able to turn to a wider group of professionals for job leads and advice.

Letting your professionalism slip in cyberspace.

Some IT professionals -- developers, for instance -- may find it helpful to direct prospective employers to personal Web pages as a means of highlighting their skills. But before inviting a hiring manager to visit your site, make sure all of the content is professional. Remember, you're asking someone to examine your work with a fine-toothed comb; you don't want him unintentionally stumbling across photos from your friend's bachelor party.

By the same token, use a professional e-mail address for all job-related correspondence. With the high number of free e-mail services available, it should be no problem to establish an account that includes only your name and, if necessary, a few numbers. Don't ask hiring managers to reply to halomaster@xyz.com.

When it comes to your job search, e-mail, the Internet and other technology tools can give you a significant boost and make the entire process easier and more effective. But be sure you know how to best utilize these resources to ultimately land the position you seek.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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