Few people would argue that big jobs boards like indeed.com or monster.com provide a better opportunity for landing a job than a personal referral from an advocate in an influential position, but does that mean you should ignore these job boards if you are actively seeking a new job?
In a word: No.
While I regularly encourage people to avoid starting their job search on a big job board and I never encourage people to use job boards and their only channel for job opportunities, I do think there is a role for job boards in many job searches. The unavoidable reality is that job boards do work. Companies would not continue to use them if they were not regularly finding the people they need to hire. However, as a candidate, it is easy to unintentionally use job boards in a way that leads to more frustration than opportunity.
Job boards are simultaneously powerful and dangerous because of the number of postings accumulated in one spot. You can easily spend a nearly limitless amount of time on a board searching for new opportunities and applying to them. While it is hard to say more opportunities is a bad thing, the abundance of opportunities often leads people to do things that unintentionally hurt their chances of landing the job they seek:
- Not customizing each submission – If you are not customizing your resume and cover letter to EVERY opportunity you apply to, then you are holding yourself back. No two opportunities are the same so why would you describe yourself in exactly the same way for each? You are the same person, but you don’t need to describe yourself the same way every time. Take the time to understand the context and needs of the company and then describe yourself in a way that caters to the interests of that specific opportunity to maximize your attractiveness. When applying through job boards, the bar is set much higher for resume quality than with other channels. You simply cannot have a mediocre or unfocused resume and expect to capture the attention and interest of an employer.
- Chasing jobs you don’t really want – If you have to talk yourself into thinking a job could be “good enough”, then you’re probably wasting your time. Pursuing a job that you would ultimately not be happy with wastes both your time and the time of the employer. There are times when the offer you receive may not be what you expected and may not be acceptable and in those situations your time should be seen as time well spent. But there are also times where you could anticipate being unhappy in a role even if you received a compelling offer. Spending time on such opportunities is generally not the best use of your valuable time (even as a “backup” plan).
- Not doing ample research – If you treat recruiting like a numbers game and pursue as many jobs as you can in the hopes that one works out, you can be caught unprepared when a company takes interest in you and wants to move quickly. Job searches are not like raffles where more tickets necessarily mean a greater chance of the outcome you want. Instead, a few well-handled opportunities is much more likely to generate a positive outcome than many ill-handled opportunities. If you opt to skip researching companies before applying, you might find yourself unprepared when a company calls you back unexpectedly and then fail to present yourself in the best way possible.
- Getting frustrated and losing hope – If your time is focused on job boards where you receive little feedback from your process and have limited visibility to the overall process for employers, then it is easy to become disenchanted and stressed by the situation. You need to have some way to feel like you are making progress in your search and job boards are often poor sources for that reassurance.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to make your use of job boards a more positive experience:
- Have a clear set of rules to qualify a job for your career before looking for opportunities. We call this your “North Star” in the book and it helps you to comfortably say “no” to opportunities before spending significant time researching or pursuing jobs that you could predict would be a poor fit for your objectives.
- Plan to spend a set amount of time per week on the job board and put a boundary on the number of jobs to pursue per week. For example, if you plan to pursue up to five opportunities and spend 10 hours per week, once you have identified the five opportunities, you should spend the rest of your time researching the opportunities and customizing your resume, cover letter and messaging for each opportunity. If you find yourself with extra time, don’t search for other opportunities. Instead go deeper into your research in the companies and begin preparing for interviews (even before you are invited to interview). This will keep you from overextending yourself and under-performing on your submissions. If you find yourself spending more time searching the boards for opportunities than researching companies and preparing your submissions, you are likely not presenting yourself as effectively as you could.
- Find ways to get feedback. Because of the volume of submissions that most employers receive from job boards, it is rare for them to provide feedback to all applicants. This is not only frustrating to you as an applicant because you don’t know where you stand with them, but it also doesn’t help you improve. You can’t change this, but you can find ways to get feedback so you do get better. Use friends, mentors and family to give you feedback. Even better is finding somebody else who is in the job search process so you can give each other feedback. While you may not get the same feedback the companies you are pursuing would give you, you should get helpful ideas that empower you to continue improving.
- Don’t let job boards be your only channel. In general, job boards should be a secondary priority to opportunities you source through your network and relationships. However, if you have exhausted those opportunities or have extra bandwidth, job boards can be a way for you to continue to make progress.
Finally, if you find that job boards are creating more stress than excitement, don’t be afraid to take a short break. If you are disheartened and frustrated, you are less likely to be able to present yourself at the level of your maximum potential. A brief pause or a shift of focus to another channel can be a good thing.