Quintessential Careers Reports on the State of Internet Job-Hunting
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
In 2001, as a service to our readers, the staff of Quintessential Careers began to conduct an annual review of the state of job-hunting on the Web. Because so much is written about the use of the Internet in job-searching (job boards, social media, resume posting, networking), and because job-hunting and networking online has become the norm for finding a new job, we developed these job-hunting annual reports for job-seekers. As we update our content, we intend to let these annual reports stand as historical snapshots of Internet job search at the time of publication; thus, updating is limited to removing non-functioning links and outdated advice.
The overarching finding of our first two annual reports has been that, while use of the Internet for job-hunting continues to hold significant promise, job-seekers are frustrated by many aspects of the online job search. This year some major players in the world of Internet job search have weighed in with significant studies exposing some of the seamier sides of job-hunting on the Internet. Here’s what they and others found:
The career sections of Fortune 500 Websites are often inhospitable to job-seekers.
In our first two annual reports, we have pointed to corporate Websites — as opposed to big job boards such as Monster, Hot Jobs, and CareerBuilder — as one of the more promising venues for online job searching. But for their annual Fortune 500 Job Site Analysis for 2003, Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler, publishers of CareerXroads, a guide to job and resume Websites, enlisted the assistance of 25 out-of-work human-resource executives to find and apply for a job on every one of the Fortune 500 sites that allowed them to.
These HR helpers methodically recorded and reported their experiences. The twist was that they used a phony persona, that of “Vinnie Boombotz,” under which to apply for jobs at the sites. Vinnie not only had a rather suspicious name, but also a laughable resume. However, this alter ego was portrayed as having an accounting degree, as well as expertise in credit and collections.
The participants — in the guise of Vinnie — discovered that:
- On the Websites of 28 of America’s largest 500 firms, no trace of any hiring activity can be found.
- Dozens of the responses Vinnie received after completing a company’s online profile did not reference the job title beyond a seemingly random “job requisition number” that does nothing to help a job-seeker remember what jobs he or she has applied for.
- Nearly 25 percent of the sites don’t have a “careers” button on their home page.
On the plus side, the study found that 20 percent of the corporate job sites do a fantastic job of reaching out to the job-seeker, providing a clear path to their job opportunities and giving meaningful information.
But why did Crispin and Mehler make up Vinnie Boombotz?
Here’s what they said in the study itself:
“Vinnie B was created to get past the more obvious screening questions and, hopefully, be informed when positions requiring accounting experience, education and other factors were automatically matched.”
Here’s the interpretation of Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post: “Vinnie’s resume … was meant to test whether applicants were being treated like individuals.”
Here’s what Mark Mehler said when we asked him, “What was your rationale in giving ‘Vinnie B.’ a silly name and a horrible resume? How can you be sure that his terrible resume did not skew your study results?”
“The reason for Vinnie B. was to create a resume that we felt would get past applicant tracking systems and show how the job-seeker is being treated by Fortune 500 corporations. If someone looked at the name on the resume, it should have been suspect. This was done in only a handful of cases. His resume was fine. Three years of experience in credit and collections, and we read/monitored/saved each response he received.”
OK, but we contend that his resume is not fine; it is farcical. Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal called it “patently ridiculous.” Was Vinnie handled the way he was because humans never looked at his resume? Or was it because humans did look at his resume, immediately concluded it was a hoax, and ignored it? We don’t know.
You can download the complete white paper on the Vinnie B. study, including a list of Crispin’s and Mehler’s Top 25 Corporate Staffing Sites.
Implication: Quoted in The Washington Post, Mehler said: “What’s interesting about the study is that, it seems, humans are not reading the initial resume. Machines are spitting back mechanical responses. The companies are not giving much thought to how they are treating job-seekers.”
If the Vinnie Boombotz experiment is intended to show the downside of applicant tracking systems and the lack of the human touch in recruiting, job-seekers should probably recognize that these automated systems are a necessary evil for employers. In an era when employers are inundated with resumes — sometimes thousands for a single opening and tens of thousands a month — these impersonal applicant tracking systems are a cost-effective necessity. Still, as Mehler and Crispin point out, technology can be manipulated to create a more humane experience for job-seekers, and employers should do more to promote such experiences.
It’s probably best to take Vinnie Boombotz out of the whole equation of this study and focus on Mehler’s and Crispin’s findings about which Fortune 500 companies provide a rewarding experience for job-seekers and which provide a frustrating experience. In the current job-hunting scene, posting resumes and applying for jobs through employer Websites still appears to be incrementally more effective than pursuing the same activities through the big job boards like Monster (although it should be noted that some Fortune 500 employers use Monster and other job boards as the career center on their corporate Websites). The CareerXRoads study contains a breakdown of the corporate sites that offer the best experience for the job-seeker and those that offer the worst, so let the user beware. If the firm you want to target is on the list of those with best practices, congratulations. If your targeted firm is on the list of those at the frustrating end of the spectrum, you may be more successful breaking into that company offline rather than through its corporate site.
Internet recruiting is here to stay.
The Global 500 corporate Websites that have career centers in 2003 represent 94 percent of European-based companies, 96 percent of Asia-Pacific-based companies and 96 percent of North American-based companies, reported iLogos Research in its Global 500 Website Recruiting, 2003 Survey. The near-total adoption of corporate Website recruiting by the Global 500 indicates the Internet is the accepted medium to attract new talent, iLogos reported. In certain industries, such as wholesale and transportation, 100 percent of Global 500 firms recruit online.
Implication: Whether we like it or not and whether or not big employers provide a rewarding job-search experience, the trends of the last six years indicate that online recruiting has become nearly ubiquitous. Job-seekers need to make the best of it while encouraging companies to treat them better online. As the economy picks up and we return to a job-seeker’s market, employers may start listening.
It pays to know employers’ typical recruiting process and where online recruiting falls in that process.
Experts affirm the value of job-hunting through company Websites. Citing Scott Biggerstaff, program manager of electronic sourcing at Sprint Corp., Overland Park, KS, The Wall Street Journal’s Maher reports that it’s customary for many companies to post an opening on an internal Website available only to employees so that staffers can see it for about a week before posting it on the external corporate Website, where outsiders can spot it.
“After the first week,” Maher writes, “some job postings may be sent to job boards as well. After about two weeks, company recruiters are more apt to place a newspaper ad or hire a recruiter to locate candidates. Ideally, you want to apply for a position soon after employees become aware of it, before it’s posted beyond the corporate Website.”
Implication: Heed Maher when she cautions that “job-seekers who stick to big commercial job boards, such as Monster.com, HotJobs.com and CareerBuilder.com, are sure to miss many openings that are posted only on corporate Websites.” Consider our Quintessential Directory of Company Career Centers. The recruiting process also affirms the value of networking. If you are a good networker, you will know of openings during that critical period when vacancies are posted only on an employer’s internal Website, available exclusively to employees, because your network contacts at a given firm will inform you when they become aware of such internal job postings.
Some job boards appear to be engaged in conflicts of interest.
In a lengthy and scathing investigative report, Nick Corcodilos of Ask The Headhunter revealed a phenomenon he dubs “Job-Board Journalism.” Corcodilos’s assertions in his well-documented, footnoted report include:
- Employers appear to be making precious few hires from job boards, which do not routinely divulge hiring success rates.
- Highly reputed publishers, such as Gannett, Inc. (which owns USA Today and dozens of other newspapers), Knight Ridder (another huge newspaper chain), and Tribune Company (yet another big chain) own the CareerBuilder site and use it to publish editorial content, career advice, and advertorials produced by CareerBuilder under their newspaper logos, to encourage job-seekers to use the CareerBuilder service.
- The editorial content of these sites and their counterparts in the print editions of participating newspapers tends to encourage users to spend a great deal of time on these job-board sites posting and updating resumes, as well as applying for jobs — despite the boards’ low success rate in yielding interview offers. Corcodilos particularly cites a CareerJournal article that encourages readers to update their resume every day when posting resumes on job boards.
Corcodilos writes: “While they deliver articles exhorting readers to use their site on a daily basis, they don’t divulge the service’s success rate…. But they have no qualms about egging you on to spend precious hours applying for jobs that employers are unlikely to hire you to fill… The problem lies not just in the piss-poor success of these services at getting you hired, but in their directing you to devote inordinate amounts of precious time and resources to a job hunting method that isn’t at all likely to land you a job…The problem lies in turning a blind editorial eye to the naked truth: The job boards are a lousy way to hire or to get hired.”
Read the report, Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter.
Implication: Read with an extremely critical eye any article that encourages you to spend huge amounts of time posting your resume on job boards. Don’t get us wrong, we think the and CareerBuilder site has some excellent content that can be extremely helpful to you in your job search. Just maintain a healthy skepticism about spending time posting your resume on those job boards and responding to their job postings — especially at the expense of more fruitful activities such as networking. And do be aware of the relatively low success rate of using these job boards to find a job and the boards’ unwillingness to divulge figures about their effectiveness.
The burgeoning numbers of Internet job-seekers have made online job searching less effective than it once was.
Demonstrating the shortcomings of academic research that takes a long time to get published, a study by Christine Fountain, a University of Washington doctoral student, asserted that the Internet may not improve a person’s chances of finding a job. Fountain compared Internet job-seekers from 1998 with their counterparts in 2000. In the first group who reported being unemployed in August 1998, those who utilized the Internet were 3 percent more likely to have found a job within three months than those who did not use it. Back then, 13 percent used the Internet as part of their job search.
However, as the Internet has become one of the dominant modes of job-hunting, Fountain observed that the flood of resumes that has made it more difficult and time-consuming for employers to sort through job applicants.
In fact, among the second group who reported being out of work in December 2000, those individuals who used the Internet were 4 percent less likely to have found a job in three months than non-users. By that time, 25 percent were using the Internet as a component of their search.
In a stunning statement of the obvious, Fountain concluded that when increasing numbers of people participate in a competitive pursuit, that enterprise becomes even more competitive. While her research was already nearly three years old by the time it was published, we can safely assume that Internet job-hunting has become even more competitive in the ensuing years, especially after the turn-of-the-century bursting of the tech bubble.
Implication: Would you rather compete on a playing field where employers are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of resume submissions — or in less competitive venues, such as networking situations, where you have more chance of standing out and impressing a prospective employer? The best advice is to use all the job-hunting tools and techniques at your disposal. People do get jobs through the Internet, and certainly increasing numbers of companies recruit on the Web. Just don’t depend on the Internet or spend all your job-hunting time with online job-hunting.
You can read the full story in ScienceDaily Magazine.
Networking is hard; posting resumes on job boards is relatively easy.
Whether or not Fountain’s research is timely or ground-breaking, she does astutely note that “while the Internet makes it very easy to find job postings, employers are becoming overwhelmed by a glut of resumes from applicants. They have to balance the ease of applications against the cost of screening all the applicants. And as the number of applications increase, the more employers may need to rely on recommendations from people who know applicants.”
Similarly, a reader responding to Corcodilos’s report noted, “In my years of being on both sides of the hiring fence, I have yet to see one person fail to get a job when they had a personal referral.”
In an article by Bill Broderick of ema lresume.com, “