How the Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters and Help Employers

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the official unemployment rate is down to 3.7% for September. If that statistic is accurate, there should be a job available for everyone who wants one. What’s more, there should be enough pressure on wages that salaries should be rising sharply. But neither outcome is happening. I believe a major reason is that job boards hurt job hunters and help employers.

How the Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters and Help Employers
How the Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters and Help Employers

In fact, wages for the bottom 90% of the workforce have been largely stagnant for years. And according to an article on Vox.com, I spoke to hundreds of American men who still can’t find work, as many as 20 million men have dropped out of the workforce. There are various reasons why this is happening, but the basic one is that many can no longer compete.

On the surface, it may seem as if the job boards have become a great equalizer, giving job hunters open access to employment opportunities. But I suspect the exact opposite is happening. Instead the job boards are transferring more power to employers.

If I’m right about this, it may be one of the biggest stealth employment problems of the 21st century.

The Benefits of Job Boards and Why They’re So Popular

It’s certainly easy enough to see why millions of people turn to the job boards as a primary strategy:

1.They’re easy to use. All you need to do is download your resume, look for jobs you want to apply for, then hit the send button. Any system that easy is bound to draw people in.

2. The numbers game. Because it’s so easy to apply for a job on the job boards, you can apply for as many as you want. The theory is that if you apply for enough jobs, somebody’s got to hire you. Intuitively, that makes perfect sense.

3. You get to apply without leaving the house. Way back in the Jurassic Era, when I got out of school, the job search sometimes meant hitting the road with the file folder full of resumes. No more. The job boards mean you can apply for hundreds of jobs without even leaving home. It appeals to the deep seated “need” for convenience in all of us.

4. Everyone’s using them. This might be the most compelling reason of all. As human beings, we have a strong preference for following the herd. If the herd is applying for jobs on the job boards, that’s where we’ll go as well. Crowds represent a powerful confirmation.

5. You can be completely selective. There may be dozens of job listings in your occupation. The job boards enable you to cherry pick the ones you want to apply for, and ignore the rest.

The arrangement sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But that’s because we’re only looking at one side of the equation. If we dig a bit into how the job boards benefit employers, we can easily appreciate why the same job boards hurt job hunters.

How the Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters

Here are the ways they do:

1. Drawing a crowd. All the reasons that make using the job boards so appealing also attract other job hunters. Put another way, looking for a job on the job boards is like trying to find your soulmate in a bar. To get a job, you’ll have to out-compete the conglomeration other applicants.

The large number of applicants also gives employers the advantage of a bigger selection of candidates. This is probably an illusion however, since the typical job hunter uses the ease of the job boards to apply for multiple positions, and may not even be available to take a posted job. No matter, perception becomes reality, and the perception of more candidates may cause the employer to a) be more selective, and b) offer lower pay.

2. Filtering. Employers use algorithms to filter out candidates. They may have a list of 10 credentials for the job, and will filter out anyone who doesn’t have at least, say, eight of them. You may apply for 100 jobs, but chances are at least 95 of them will never be reviewed by human eyes. Unless you’re a glove fit, your resume or application won’t even get a response.

3. Postings may be for non-existent jobs. This could be because a job has been filled, and the employer didn’t kill the ad. But it could also be because the employer is just fishing to see who’s available. The job may already be occupied, but the employer is always looking for better candidates. If so, you won’t make the cut unless you’re the perfect candidate.

If you doubt any of this is true, please read Mike Shedlock’s account of his own failed attempt to remain employed in a STEM field job. It’s eye-opening.

The One Factor that Should Make Us Suspicious of Job Boards

It’s the revenue factor. The job boards don’t earn income from job hunters – they get to use the boards for free. It’s the employers who pay to post jobs. That means the job boards exist primarily to serve the employers, who are their real clients.

If you doubt this, you can review the Monster employer fee schedule here to see what I mean.

One of the delusions of the internet is that the many free services offered aren’t free in an absolute sense. Someone somewhere is paying the bill, otherwise the services won’t exist. “Free” may mean free to you as a user, but no service is truly free. And when you discover who’s actually paying for the service, you come to know who the real client is.

And if you’re searching for job on the job boards, it isn’t you.

The Risks of Using the Job Boards

Risks to using the job boards? Absolutely. Consider the following:

You may eventually run out of places to apply. Though the job boards can make it seem as if the number of jobs is endless, that’s never the case. There are a limited number of jobs in every occupation, as well as a finite number of employers. This is especially true if you live in a thinly populated area, or a large city with heavy traffic, or you’re unwilling to relocate.

Your current employer may discover your job search. While searching for candidates, your employer may come across your resume. If there’s any indication you’re actively searching, your job may be in jeopardy. What’s more, never assume a job search is totally confidential. One employer may share your candidacy with your employer, if only by accident.

Employers often use “blind ads” – your employer may be one of them. These are job postings that give all the details of the position, but don’t identify the employer. You may unknowingly apply for a blind ad posted by your current employer. That can get ugly.

A job board application could hurt other job hunting strategies. As one of my many careers, I did a short stint as a headhunter. A headhunter can be an excellent way to get a job. However, if you’ve already submitted applications to most or all potential employers in your area, the headhunter will be excluded from consideration. That’s because the employer will already have your information on file. That’s just one example of how having too many applications out could hurt your effort.

Just as you can apply for jobs quickly, you may become discouraged quickly. Apply for 100 jobs, hear back from none. That’s the very nearly the definition of discouragement.

The Best Use of Job Boards

Does all this mean you should completely avoid using job boards? In the normal course, probably. But it will make sense under the following circumstances:

Use them when you’re unemployed or desperate. If you fall into either category, you have absolutely nothing to lose. But just understand that neither your desperation nor the fact that you’re unemployed eliminate any of the complications we’ve discussed so far, other than the possibility of discovery by your current employer.

They tend to work best for lower level positions. One of the job board difficulties for employers is that they get a lot of applications from people who are either partially, mostly, or completely unqualified. For that reason, you’re more likely to see lower level positions advertised. For higher positions, you’ll be better off using other strategies.

Only apply for jobs where you’re a reasonable fit. The “throw enough crap at the wall and hope some of it will stick” strategy doesn’t work as well on the job boards as you might think. You’ll be far better off concentrating your search on a small number of positions you’re well-qualified for. In today’s job market, there’s no shortage of qualified applicants. Applying for a job that’s over your head is just asking for disappointment.

Finding a Job Without the Job Boards

So if the job boards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, how do you find a job? Mostly through the “backdoor”.

Here are a few suggestions.

Linked In

If Linked In qualifies as a job board, it would fall under the boutique variety. After all, everyone who’s anyone posts a profile there. It’s the one place you can do so without disturbing your current employer. And it is possible to find employment on the site. I don’t even look for jobs, but I’ve picked up a couple of writing clients from Linked In. If I can do it there without looking for a traditional job, anyone can.

The dual advantage of Linked In is that not only can you post your own qualifications on the site, but you’re also free to review those of other people. And “people” is the operative term.

When looking for a job, job hunters tend to focus on employers. But employers don’t make hiring decisions – people do. And Linked In is where you can find such people, precisely because no one there is hiding.

You can use the site filters to find perspective employers. Once you do, you can often find a list of the people who are affiliated with that company. You can then begin to build a list of valuable contacts.

Identify the decision makers in your field. That should be fairly easy with Linked In.

Search Employer Websites

As an alternative, you can also go to individual company websites. Many will not only list the decision makers, but also their contact information. Either Linked In or employer websites will provide you with the contacts you’ll need to implement some of the strategies on this list.

Write Articles in the Right Places

This is how you put your expertise on public display. You should apply your specific knowledge to a given problem in your industry, or even a related one. The idea is to position yourself as an expert. You can add a brief bio at the end of the article that will list your credentials. But of course, you should never reveal you’re looking for a job.

Look to write articles in trade publications and websites where they’re likely to be read by the decision makers in your occupational field. Or you can even post an article link on Linked In or other social media to expand your reach.

If you want to take it to a higher level, start your own blog, where you’ll dish up your expert advice on a regular basis. You can then link your articles to popular social media as you write them. If your articles offer fresh ideas, you may have potential employers contacting you. Mission accomplished!

Expand Your Social Circle

Think of this as a form of soft networking. Sure, you can network in groups that are related to your occupation, and that’s always a good strategy. But just remember that other people in the group are usually looking for the same thing you are – a job. It’s another example of trying to find a job where the traffic is heaviest.

Instead, look to expand your general social circle. The more people you know, the better. This is because everybody knows somebody, who knows somebody, who might be in a position to hire you.

You can expand your social circle by doing volunteer work, participating in your house of worship, and joining various clubs and social networks. You just have to get out and about, meeting more people. And when you’re in need of a job, you can simply ask everyone you meet, “who do you know who needs (someone with your qualifications)”.

Such informal contacts are often more effective precisely because they’re less direct, and therefore less threatening.

Work the Social Media

Nearly everyone today has a Facebook profile, and often belong to professional groups on the site. Some even list their employers, with a link to the employer’s website. And if you’re familiar with Twitter, you can make effective use of hashtags. Those are words or phrases preceded by the symbol “#”.

You can search for jobs by entering #ITjobs, #accountingjobs, #administrativejobs, etc. Just make sure you don’t leave any spaces between multiple words. You can even get more specific, like #ITjobsAtlanta. You may come across listings employers don’t want to put out on the job boards.

Head Hunters?

There are two reasons I put this category with a question mark. The first is the situation I described earlier, where head hunters are excluded because the employer already has your resume on file from the job boards. But the second is cost cutting fever. To remain profitable in a very competitive economy, companies rely on cost cutting to preserve the bottom line. Many are unwilling or unable to pay the large commissions charged by headhunters.

They typically work best for higher level positions, where the employer is looking for select candidates and is willing to pay a fee to find them. But in most-lower level and mid-level jobs, they may not be terribly effective for the reasons given above.

Peddle Your Wares Directly – But Indirectly

If you’re staying on top of developments in your industry, you’re probably aware of problems facing both the industry in general, and with specific employers. If you’ve managed to locate the name and contact information for the person who is in a position to hire you, you can get their attention by writing a letter offering a solution to the problem they’re facing.

You’re not asking for a job here, but rather displaying your knowledge. And it’s a delicate balancing act. You want to make a proposal that infers you have a solution to their problem. But at the same time, you don’t want to give away the “secret sauce”. In other words, you want to whet their appetite to get more information, without giving too many specifics.

There are two reasons for doing this. First, you should provide no more information than will be necessary to draw the recipient to make contact with you. Under optimal circumstances, you’ll get a personal meeting, such as lunch or even an interview. That’s all you want the letter to do.

The second is that the recipient could take your ideas, implement them in the company, and come up looking like a star. That’s why you don’t want to give too much information. There’s a possibility that could happen even in a face-to-face meeting. But if you can seriously impress a potential hiring manager, he or she may simply decide to hire you to do the job.

Avoid HR Any Way You Can

This is the main reason for using alternative job hunting strategies. The sole purpose of HR is to screen out candidates, to whittle a list of 100 or more prospects down to just two or three. Put another way, HR is never your ally, but an obstacle to be avoided.

Your basic strategy should be to make HR the last stop on your employment journey, never the first. Unless you have some serious background issues, if the department manager likes you, HR will like you too.

Look for Work with Small Employers

Every one of these strategies will work infinitely better when you approach small employers. That’s because they typically don’t have a long line of candidates applying for jobs. And oftentimes jobs in small companies are not well defined. Just by getting an interview with the right person, and wowing him or her, they might create a position for you.

Hire Yourself

I’ve saved this as the last resort because it’s the ultimate career solution. It’s also a route I’ve chosen for myself. After I left the mortgage business in 2008, there was nowhere for me to go. I made a deliberate move into blogging, which quickly led to my current primary occupation of freelance blog writer.

Self-employment is mostly about taking the skills that you have, and finding a way to monetize them, either by selling them to small businesses or to the general public. You can even use some of the strategies in this article to find clients and customers. While marketing can seem scary to the person who’s never done it, it’s really just a matter of reaching out to people. Most people won’t need what it is you’re offering. But sometimes you only need a few, and you’ll be on your way.

Final Thoughts on How Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters and Help Employers

I realize it sounds totally counter-intuitive to recommend avoiding the job boards if you’re looking for a job. They’re usually the first place most people go. But that’s really the problem – the competition on job boards is far too high to promise success. In most cases, pay dirt will be found going down the less traveled paths.

Those alternative paths aren’t neat and “cookie-cutter” like the job boards. But finding a job is really about isolating the small number of potential employers who might hire you. For better or worse, that’s going to take some homework, and maybe even some leg work. But the end result is likely to be more offers on fewer applications.

Can you recommend any other job hunting strategies that have worked for you? Or do you have any job board stories you feel like sharing?

( Photo by waponi )

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6 Responses to How the Job Boards Hurt Job Hunters and Help Employers

  1. Hey Kevin,

    I couldn’t agree more with the exception that LinkedIn is becoming more and more like a traditional job board (with the same dismal results). I’ve also had it with headhunters who will pitch a job to you, get your resume and are never heard from again. And if you are over 50, forget it. It doesnt matter what the law says about age discrimination, you do not exist to large employers.

    In the end, I took the same path as you and started my own accounting firm. I’m having a ball. Not only do I feel like I’ve escaped the rat race, my clients value my experience and that I can really help them in their business. I’m seeing my work have an impact and value, something I rarely experienced as a faceless cog in the giant company I used to work for. Plus I can work in my pajamas if I want. I dont miss the corporate grind at all.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. I’m completely with you on going the self-employed route and for all the same reasons. It’s interesting how clients are more appreciative of good work than employers usually are. I suspect that’s because an employer somewhat “owns” an employee, if only in the loosest sense. You’re also right about finding a job over 50. The challenges are multiplied compared to younger people, especially if you’re looking to work for large organizations.

    But getting to Linked In, part of me sees what you’re saying. Since the site has gotten so popular, you’re facing a similar crowding situation. But it still has the advantage that hiring managers do put their profiles on the site, which is the primary advantage to the job hunter. It’s really most valuable as a research resource, not so much a job board. I don’t know if there’s another single site that gives you so much information on so many people, and free of charge at that. That’s worth plenty, even if you never get a job from placing your resume there.

  3. Excellent article, simple, clear, and helpful.

    But you left out the most important and effective job search method: networking plus informational interviewing (and by networking I don’t mean going to mixers and collecting business cards). If one wants to understand this exceptionally effective path to employment, they can start by reading four books in the order shown: What Color is Your Parachute? by Bolles; Cracking the Hidden Job Market by Asher; Smart Networking by Lynch; The 20-Minute Networking Meeting – Professional Edition by Perez and Ballinger.

    Again, excellent article.

  4. I agree with you and Chris about being self-employed. It does come with its down falls, the biggest for most is health care. Thankfully, Ive a spouse who can provide me w an HSA. I felt like Chris in the rat race. It takes a braver person to stop working for someone (even if you like your job and boss) and start your own business. Until you have done it, it may be difficult to understand the liberation it can bring you, in spite of the few negative things.
    Maybe you losing your job in mortgage banking was part of your journey? Would you trade your current position to go back?

  5. In my case Ruth Ann, no I wouldn’t trade my current situation to go back into mortgages. Truth is I had wanted to get out sooner and was already experimenting with different business ideas. But I think you’ve hit on something critical with the bravery factor. It does take a healthy dose of courage to become self-employed. You have to be willing to take the risks as well as the time it takes to get your business up and running. That often means doing double duty which I did for six years before getting rid of my parachute.

    I refer to this as the self-employment wall. You have to be willing to scale it to get to the other side, and it takes a combination of courage and resourcefulness, with a big helping of “I’ll never quit”. You’re also running against the tide. The System trains us to be employees in large organizations, not go into business for ourselves. And yet earlier generations of Americans went into business in droves, and thought nothing of it. But then they didn’t have a safety net because back then most jobs were temporary, and employee benefits didn’t exist. There was less risk to being self-employed, as well as a national tradition of “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker”, as well as the farmer. the tradesman and the shopkeeper. For example, my grandmother owned a confectionery store during the Great Depression and that’s what kept the family of seven supported during a very rough time, when my grandfather couldn’t get regular employment. We no longer have that, so self-employment can look exotic and risky.

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