Diary of an Online Job Seeker

FRAMINGHAM (07/31/2000) - Meet Brad Martin (not his real name), an insomniac whose sleep deprivation recently cost him his job at a large telecommunications company near his Pleasanton, Calif., apartment.

Not that he minded. Martin was itching to move from his senior help desk analyst position to desktop troubleshooting. But his company had pigeonholed him (and his 250 peers) into telephone support for life.

So in early May, Martin signed up for US$240 per week in unemployment wages and started hanging out at online job boards during those quiet hours when most of the world sleeps.

Martin had been pegged into help desk work for three years - far too long, he says. He needed a new start, in a job that would offer him the opportunity to move to the next level: hands-on desktop support/analysis. It couldn't be a sweatshop like the service provider he'd just left. And while he wasn't tied to working close to home, he did hope to find a job that would be forgiving of his nocturnal body clock.

So he started a passive search for entry-level desktop support jobs, which didn't pan out, he says.

"I'm capable and qualified for desktop work, but I've been answering phones for three years," he says. "When dealing with online agencies, they put a rubber stamp on your head and say you're a phone guy. When I told online headhunters I wasn't available for phone work anymore, they stopped calling me."

Martin learned some important lessons about the online job-hunting game. He learned about résumé formatting and keywords for job searches. He learned to educate disorganized recruiters. But the most important lesson he learned was that passively posting his résumé on the Web was like throwing himself to the headhunting wolves.

On June 27, Martin started a new job at an investment banking firm in San Francisco. Now he's working nights, with the promise of a promotion to desktop support at the end of three months.

Not only did he keep a diary of his job search experience, but he also saved all his e-mail.

WEEKS 1 & 2

Martin steps into the headhunter melee. In the two weeks after he posted his résumé at his favorite Web site at the end of May, Martin got only 12 responses, none of which led to interviews. But those who did call were pushy, aggravated, overwhelmed and disorganized, he says. That doesn't surprise Mark Mehler, co-author of a self-published guide to online job hunting and resources, titled CareerXroads.

"The Internet brings tremendous speed. The recruiter's been handed a job description on the back of a napkin and told to make sense of the insanity," Mehler explains.

Tuesday, May 16: Martin receives congenial e-mail from headhunter Meenal. (Last names of recruiters were withheld for this article, since they weren't interviewed directly.) "I saw your résumé on Dice and would like to run an exciting position by you," she writes. "This position is at a start-up, and they are doing some very exciting work." Martin notes the double use of the word exciting and leaves a message on Meenal's voice mail.

Friday, May 19: Martin gets a call from Sally, another headhunter. "She was jaded - told me that maybe she can put me in a purchasing position," an area in which Martin has no experience at all. "This was completely outside my field of experience and would hurt my career. She seemed to have no concern about my future. I never talked to her again."

Monday, May 22: Martin and headhunter Meenal finally hook up. "She starts pressuring me right off. ‘When can you start? Yada, yada.' She's hitting me with questions and demands, rapid-fire, like a machine gun," Martin says. "I couldn't get through to her that I wanted to do other interviews before I even thought about accepting anything. She was so impatient and so presumptuous, I nearly reported her to her manager."

WEEK 3

Thursday, June 1: Martin pulls his résumé off the Web and spends another week rewriting it. Instead of using a functional format (basically, a listing of technical skill sets only), he makes it experiential (including job history and experience).

Martin would have been better served if he'd used a site that e-mails listings for job types users specify themselves, suggests Mehler. He says that 322 of 2,000 job boards he researched offer a "push" application that asks for a skills list and an e-mail address. The application matches those skills to available jobs and pushes those jobs to a potential applicant.

"[Martin] could have selectively responded instead of becoming a bull's-eye for every headhunter surfing the Web," Mehler explains.

Also, he says, job seekers should look at the privacy statements of job boards before placing their résumés. If a job board offers no way to put the job seeker in the driver's seat (such as point-and-click options to tell the job board who's allowed to see a résumé and who isn't), it shouldn't be in business, he says.

WEEKS 4 & 5

Martin takes a new approach: He decides to go to the jobs instead of waiting for them to come to him. But the results are pretty much the same. He responds to 80 job postings between June 5 and June 13, which results in 11 calls and only one interview.

Here are the highlights:

Sunday, June 5, 1 a.m.: Martin the insomniac conducts searches on his favorite online job site using the terms not phones and not help desk. Throughout the week, he mails a snowstorm of 80 résumés (mostly to headhunter-placed postings) during his nocturnal prowlings.

Monday, June 6: Headhunter Julie responds, asking him to fill out papers even though she "doesn't have a specific job opening" for Martin. He still isn't in the driver's seat. "I told her I don't want to waste an afternoon giving out personal information when she doesn't have a specific employer lined up," he says.

Monday, June 12: Headhunter Brian calls and sets up an interview for that day for a desktop job at a nearby law firm. Before Martin leaves for the interview, headhunter Brian calls back and apologizes. The job got filled.

Thursday, June 15: Headhunter Brian e-mails Martin at 11:21 a.m. about another job. At 1:04 p.m., headhunter Brian sends another e-mail. Again, the job has been filled. "[Brian] said, ‘We're in a fast-moving industry, but it's usually not this fast,' " Martin says. Because Brian was so honest and willing to help Martin find a job that would promote him off help desk within three months, Martin decides he still has a good feeling about him. So he responds, "Thanks, I'm still here."

Monday, June 19: Martin gets a call from headhunter John, who Martin thinks sounds 12 years old. John has lost Martin's résumé, which Martin had sent the day before. And now he can't remember why he's calling Martin.

Wednesday, June 21: Headhunter Brian calls back. He's got a job opening at an investment banking firm: a 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. rotating shift four days per week - the perfect schedule for an insomniac. Martin decides that even though the job is still on a help desk, he'll go for the interview tomorrow because of Brian's promise of an eventual promotion.

Thursday, June 22: Martin finally gets some face time with a potential employer - the investment banking firm Brian called him about yesterday.

While the Internet may mitigate other elements of the job search - going to cattle calls, sending résumés and thank-you notes and making preinterview and postinterview telephone calls - the face-to-face interview is still the most important part of the job-hunt process, says Mehler.

Martin says this was the turning point in his job search. He immediately liked his prospective boss. In fact, Martin remembers interviewing with him on a previous job search (for a position as a help desk manager) a year earlier.

This prospective boss says he's all for promoting his employees and asks many questions about what Martin wants to do a year from now, two years from now and so on.

Martin decides he wants this job. So after the interview and a few follow-up calls with headhunter Brian, Martin fills out the required paperwork. He's now happily ensconced in his new job as a help desk analyst, with the promise of a promotion to desktop support in three months.

"It's been quite an adventure," he says, fresh from signing his hiring papers.

"Sixty-nine out of 80 of my résumés were ignored. And people in the recruiting business who did call are so buried in piles of résumés and positions that I found myself hand-holding them.

"Still, searching for opportunities online with a few well-chosen keywords is much easier than from newspapers," he adds. "And responding to online postings is less frustrating, since it's much easier than faxing résumés or going in person to fill out applications at a cattle call."

No Job Seeker's Paradise

Ask recruiter Susan Stewart, a senior vice president at Tacoma, Wash.-based IDmicro Inc., and she'll tell you that online job postings get her 150 percent more responses than traditional print and radio ads do.

Rose McGinnis, vice president of worldwide recruiting at Unisys Corp. in Blue Bell, Pa., says the cost per hire for Internet recruiting runs 50 percent to 80 percent lower than that for traditional media.

But both say they won't hire exclusively using the Internet anytime soon. In fact, they stress that the Internet is an adjunct to traditional hiring outlets, not a replacement.

Take employee referrals, for instance, which Forrester Research Inc. reports account for 40 percent of new information technology hires. According to Forrester, newspaper and magazine advertising still account for 23 percent of job hires, while the Internet catches only 4 percent of new hires.

"If you know someone inside the company you want to go to work for, you'll get hired faster than anyone. The Internet isn't going to change that," notes Mark Mehler, co-author of a guide to online job hunting and resources, titled CareerXroads.

"If you can't refer in, you still have to get in front of hiring managers, so you still need to send your résumé direct to get their attention," he says.

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