UNEMPLOYMENT is down. Help-wanted signs and ads are seen more often. And there's a new way to find a job.
Thanks to database systems, CD-ROMs, fax machines, Internet computer services, E-mail, and, in some cases, video-conferencing, finding a job is becoming a game of electronic prowess.
Now the job seeker can float a resume on the electronic superhighway, fill out an electronic job application, or try to get employment referrals.
Forget the days of pecking out a resume on a typewriter and mailing it to a prospective employer. While that still happens more often than not, the ``job search is increasingly going electronic,'' says Eric Hemeon, a financial administrator with Job Bank USA, an employment-services database company in McLean, Va. ``Everyone's moving into the use of computers.''
When an individual seeking employment signs up with Job Bank USA, the information is stored in a computer base. High-tech computers then match resumes with job openings. Potential matchings of jobs and individuals are relayed by phone or fax between the parties and companies involved. And Job Bank USA is researching ways to hook into the Internet, thus, directly linking its database with prospective on-line companies.
``The trend [in employment placement] is definitely towards electronic systems,'' says David Shadovitz, editor in chief of Human Resource Executive, a monthly magazine for human- resource personnel published in Philadelphia.
``The most common form'' of electronic processing is ``through the use of CD-Rom discs,'' Mr. Shadovitz says, but some companies are also hooking into the Internet.
For $99, a graduating college student can put his or her resume on a new CD-Rom database disc, called Career/NET, that can be sent to 10,000 businesses, including virtually all Fortune 500 companies, says James Knapp, chairman of I/NET Inc., a research/computer applications company in Kalamazoo, Mich.
``While a number of reemployment [job referral] firms are now doing electronic resumes, we are the first company to market our system directly to the nation's 8 million college students,'' Mr. Knapp says.
The resume can be transmitted electronically to I/Net by modem, or a disc copy can be sent to I/NET. Resumes are then matched with company specifications for potential employees.
According to Knapp, I/NET plans to eventually introduce additional CD-Rom programs for people seeking reemployment or better jobs.
One important question raised by the rush toward electronic job searches is whether the approach excludes minorities, recent immigrants, or those without access to computers to tap into electronic placement systems. The Clinton administration, particularly Vice President Al Gore Jr., has spoken out on this issue, noting that the ``information superhighway'' systems of the future, which would presumably include job-search systems, could inadvertently exclude the disadvantaged.
``About the only `electronic system' that we use right now is the fax machine,'' says Hyder Houston, manager of the Jobs Search Center for the Urban League of Greater Washington D.C. Ms. Houston's office processes some 800 applicants a year seeking work; the center places about 400 in jobs.
``We're a nonprofit organization, so we just don't have the money to buy into an electronic system,'' Houston explains.
While she says an electronic jobs-search system could reduce some paperwork, she doubts it would speed up hiring or placement.
``Very few organizations hire people the same day that they receive a resume,'' she says. ``The review process [for a new job] takes two to three days or more, no matter how fast you get all the background information about a person.''
And the most important element, she says, is still ``the relationship,'' the trust between the company seeking the employee and the person referring an applicant.