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Job Hunting Is, and Isn’t, What It Used to Be

Published: September 26, 2008, New York Times

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Sep 26, 2008: NY Times Features PracticeMatch in Job Hunting Article

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Job Hunting Is, and Isn’t, What It Used to Be

Published: September 26, 2008, New York Times

WHEN I think back to my job-hunting days, my methods seem as quaint as comparing a Victrola to an iPod.

First, there was no Internet. I perused trade journals for job possibilities. I painstakingly typed my résumé on a typewriter (electric) and had to retype — and retype and retype — when I made a mistake. I cut and pasted my newspaper clips, which I needed to send along with the résumé, onto letter-size paper, which was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing.

Then, because self-service copying was in its infancy, I had copies of my clips made. Then, I stuffed them into manila envelopes and took them to the post office to mail.

I followed up with telephone calls, because, of course, there was no e-mail. In fact, voice mail also barely existed. (I’m not that ancient. We’re talking less than three decades ago.)  So either I never got past the switchboard or I was shunted off to a bored secretary, who I’m sure never bothered writing down my message.

With all the innovations since then, what hasn’t changed is how frustrating it can be to get the right job. Or even a personal response to a résumé.

And while many of the tools available through the Internet can help searches, they can also become obstacles to actually finding employment.

“Online sites tend to overwhelm people,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a firm that helps place people in jobs and does business consulting. “The key for most people to realize is that you can’t conduct your search from your computer. You have to get in front of prospective bosses to get an offer.”

It is too easy, Mr. Challenger said, to spend hours trolling job sites instead of doing the harder work of calling and meeting people.

“You have to do a performance check on yourself,” he said. “I’ve spent so much time on the computer, and how many times did I get to the person I’d be working for, not just H.R. or a recruiter?”

But it’s no wonder that people become addicted to the online searches. The Conference Board, a business research organization, estimated that 4,833,700 job vacancies were posted online last month.

The big three sites are, and Yahoo Craigslist is also a popular option, as are those like and, which aggregate big and small jobs sites.

Niche sites are also growing. Doctors can check out; those seeking nonprofit work can go to is popular for job seekers looking for executive positions that pay more than $100,000 a year.

And I made a note of Because you never know.

Most of these sites are free for those looking for work. It’s the employers who pay to post the positions. But the cost of using a site like TheLadders ranges from nothing for limited access to as much as $180 for a year of unlimited job hunting and a weekly newsletter.

But the trouble with many of these sites, especially the bigger ones, job hunters say, is that they have become an indiscriminate morass.

Prescott Perez-Fox, of Brooklyn, who describes himself as “underemployed” as a graphic designer since finishing graduate school three years ago, said that he assumes when he applies for a job online that “I’ll be up against at least 100 other candidates.”

With mainstream sites like and, “the numbers can be in the thousands,” he said, adding: “It took me a long time to realize that I would never find a job from a job board, especially a larger, mainstream site. I still apply for jobs at the rate of about three per week, but my expectations are almost nil.”

In addition, many job seekers have applied for what they thought was the perfect post, only to end up on the receiving end of a bait and switch.

Jessica McKenzie of Salt Lake City, for example, said she perused all the big and small job boards when looking for a job in public relations. She applied for one post that seemed like a good possibility, and even went for two interviews.

“The second interview turned out to be a ride along with a door-to-door salesman of discount coupons to places like amusement parks and ballgames,” she said.

The job sites do try to monitor such misleading ads. Ms. McKenzie said that when she reported her experience to CareerBuilder, where she found the post, it responded.

Because of these concerns, many job hunters are abandoning the job sites, or using them much less frequently, in favor of what are called social networking sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo and Facebook.

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