How to work the Web to find work

Companies use software to weed out candidates, but here are five strategies that help job-seekers get noticed.

In recent years, some tough new bouncers have begun to stand watch outside the door to corporate personnel offices. If you want to get your résumé into the hands of a recruiter, you have to get it by them first.

These guardians are sophisticated computer programs that use "conceptual matching" and other artificial intelligence to weed out candidates who don't fit the job profile. While they usually leave the final hiring decision to a human, these programs can whittle down hundreds of applications to just a handful that will be seen by human eyes.

These tireless assistants are needed as the Internet revs up the other side of the equation: Internet job banks and company websites that make submitting résumés faster and easier than ever.

Millions of résumés are now floating around on the Net, experts say. "Résumés today are basically a commodity on the Internet. There are so many of them," says Brad Fredericks, cofounder of RésuméDoctor.com, a South Burlington, Vt., company that helps job seekers prepare effective résumés.

Online job hunting passed a milestone recently when Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology consultancy, concluded in a study that more than half of new hires (51 per cent) were found through the Internet. Job seekers applied directly to companies at their websites or were discovered on job websites such as Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com. They also used social-networking sites, some of which specifically focus on making business connections. Newspaper classified ads, a traditional resource, now account for only 5 percent of new hires, the study said.

"Today, everything is done online. The days of faxing your résumé or mailing it in and getting a mailed response back, those days are gone," Mr. Fredericks says.

Recruiting software can help firms handle huge hiring situations, says Bertrand Dussert, managing director of research for Vurv Technology in Jacksonville, Fla., a supplier of such technology. He estimates that roughly three-quarters of American employers do some kind of computerized screening of applicants.

One of them is Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas resort developer who recently needed to hire 10,000 people within three months. His company used Vurv software to screen 125,000 applicants, including 27,000 on the first day that applications were accepted.

These systems can use answers to questions, such as "Are you willing to travel or relocate?" as "knockouts" - a wrong answer knocks the résumé into the discard pile. Answers also can be "weighted" in favor of or against a candidate.

While a computerized system might cut off some job hunters from talking to a real person, it's still likely to keep them much better informed than back when most résumés were faxed or mailed, Mr. Dussert says. Companies can design automated replies that let applicants know where they stand. "With this kind of technology, there's no excuse for [a company] not to give you a reply," he says.

Corporations have also turned their websites into recruiting tools, attracting job seekers by making sites friendly and easy to use. For example, at T-Mobile, a cartoon dog named "Fetch" searches for jobs of interest to you and will even e-mail you if a position matching your résumé opens up. Coca-Cola's website feels like an online retailer. Job hunters can "Add this job to my cart," "E-mail this job to a friend," or "Submit my profile" with a single click. If you don't have a résumé, some company sites will help you build one. And if there's no opening that matches your skills or interests, the site will send an e-mail if it finds a match later.

Large corporations can have hundreds or even thousands of jobs listed, and sometimes job titles can be obscure. "You can have 10 jobs that are called 'analyst 2' as a title," Dussert says, and they could be anywhere within an organization. At a well-run website, "You can paste your résumé in, and [the software] will find those jobs, even if they're hidden in a different department," he says.

Vurv's system, used by about 300 companies, will let applicants enter a description of their "dream job" into a search box on a company's website. The software will then look for the closest match within that company.

For those about to begin an online job hunt, experts offer some other recommendations to make the process easier and more successful:

1. Keep résumé formats simple.

It's OK to use bold or centering, but don't worry about fancy fonts. One common mistake job hunters make, experts say, is submitting a heavily formatted résumé online meant to be printed out on paper. "Nobody's going to print it out," Fredericks says. "Basically, it can render your résumé unreadable on the computer screen." (The résumé format found in many versions of Microsoft Word is a major culprit, he says.)

2. Match your résumé to the job.

To get past job software filters, a résumé must closely meet the requirement in the job description. "Just filling your résumé with keywords isn't going to help you out," Fredericks says. "You need to put it in context." Don't just plop "Microsoft C++" on your résumé, but explain how you have been using the software, for how long, and on what projects. "You have to spell it out for them," he says. "Don't make them play Sherlock Holmes to figure out if you're a match for the job. If you know what they want to see, make sure you put it out there in the top quarter of that résumé."

Using "assertive" and "success-driven" language like "managed," "succeeded," and "developed" to explain what you've done, can help, too, says Marc Karasu, vice president and career expert for Yahoo HotJobs (hotjobs.yahoo.com).

3. Consider an end run - or not.

Those not happy with having their job candidacy determined by a machine need to make human contact with the company, some experts say. End runs around a computerized bouncer can be productive, Fredericks says. "Get on the phone and speak with a hiring manager or the actual person you'd be working for," he says. "Anytime you can find out more about that job description than what is listed on the website or the job board, the better off you'll be."

Dussert disagrees. Do not try to subvert the company's computerized hiring process, he advises. "If you try to get around the system or manipulate it, it's going to be visible to people on the other end, and they're going to say, 'Do we really want this person working for us?' " he says.

4. It's still 'who you know.'

"The No. 1 method for getting a job is still networking," says Frank Fox, executive director of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches in St. Petersburg, Fla. That means joining professional associations and staying in touch with former clients, vendors, and employees. The biggest mistake, he says, is "using a job board and putting a résumé on one source, and thinking that that's enough to get a job."

What's the best kind of networking? When you find a friend who works for the company where you want to be hired. "Even with all this technology, the high-quality source for hiring to this day is still employer referrals," Dussert says. Vurv's software gives preference to résumés that have been recommended by a company employee. "That helps your cause," he says.

Of course, "social networking" can be done on the Web, too. Some job hunters can gain an edge by searching through blogs written by workers of potential employers, looking for background on what topics are hot; names, titles, and interests of key personnel; and even specific chat about job openings.

5. Always be honest.

Job hunters may be tempted to lie on their résumés to better fit a job description. Even top executives can fall prey. Recently, the president and CEO of RadioShack Corp. was forced to resign following questions about his résumé's accuracy.

When an applicant is close to being hired, Vurv's recruitment technology notifies a background-checking company, feeding it the prospective employee's data. The fact-checker must clear the applicant before an offer is extended.

Finally, remember to have references ready. Companies often ask applicants to list two or more on résumés. Job hunters should always ask their references what they will say, says Mr. Karasu of Yahoo HotJobs.

References should also be asked who they'd mention if recruiters asked for the names of two more people who know you. Check with these "second-degree references" too, he says, to make sure they're prepared for a call.

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