Why Job Searches Should Start—But Not End—On the Web

Job sites can be beneficial, but they have limitations.

A woman interviewing with a business school dean. She is interested in getting an MBA degree.
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Simmi Singh, a public-relations veteran, joined the mushrooming ranks of the unemployed in January 2009. Armed with nearly a decade of experience in her field, Singh was confident that finding a new job would be as simple as a few clicks of a mouse. She devoted nearly all of her time and energy to scouring online job boards, but after a year of trolling seemingly every crevice of the Web and applying for more than 400 PR and marketing jobs, she remained jobless. "I know we're in a downturn, but good people usually find a good job," Singh laments. "To find out that no one will even talk to you is really frustrating."

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Singh's year of disappointment gave way to celebration in February when she landed a PR position at Oregon-based EthicsPoint after applying via Craigslist. Although she eventually found a job, some in the industry caution against such a Web-heavy approach to a job search. "People have this mistaken impression that the job board they're using is magic," says Steven Rothberg, CEO of job board CollegeRecruiter.com. "They apply to 200 jobs and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring."

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Site sorting. Not all online job seekers endure an odyssey like Singh's, but career counselors agree that job sites should be a small part of anyone's employment hunt. Only 13.2 percent of external hires in 2009 were made via job boards, according to a corporate study done by staffing consultancy CareerXroads. Frank Tortorello Jr., executive director of career services at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, notes that the industry's largest players, ­CareerBuilder and Monster, are good places to start a job search but not to consummate one. He suggests job seekers use listings on each site to identify the qualifications needed for a given position, but he says the sites offer little beyond that.

In an effort to improve the experience for users, CareerBuilder has created a job recommendation engine that analyzes its users' job-search habits and recommends jobs to them based on that analysis. The firm notes that 50 percent of all job applications submitted through its site originate from this process.

Career experts say that the big job boards are best for job seekers in professions that are typified by high turnaround—like sales—but that they are less effective for highly qualified applicants or those looking for work in smaller industries. But Jason Ferrara, CareerBuilder's vice president of corporate marketing, maintains that the company's site is well suited for nearly every field and position. "We have jobs of all different types of titles, all different types of levels," he says.

Industry insiders claim that job hunters would have much better luck if they invested time filling out detailed profiles on sites like Jobfox, which filter the best job matches to users based on their profiles. While a job hunter may be able to apply to 20 jobs in the time it takes to fill out a comprehensive profile, such a résumé blast is most likely a wasted effort. If people used matching technology more frequently, "the industry would be transformed overnight," notes Rothberg. "There would be much less dissatisfaction."

Job seekers may have more success at smaller boards that are broken down by job category or even geographic region. According to Peter Weddle, executive director of the International Association of Employment Web Sites, there are more than 50,000 job boards in the United States alone. "You name it, there's a job board for it," he says.

Michael Young, an out-of-work teacher in Utah who has been looking for a new position since December, says he has had more success generating leads on the niche site Teachers-Teachers.com than on the larger boards. Ultimately, career advisers feel there's no substitute for phone calls and handshakes. "[Job boards] can be effective, but it's not the only thing someone should have in their arsenal," says Art Taguding, executive director of career services at Stevenson University in Maryland. "Networking is key."