Most of us have, at some point or other, applied for a job using a job board, or posted a resume online. Recently, I had the opportunity to put a large number of job opening posts (as an employer) on well-traveled job boards and in job search venues. During the next 30 days, I carried away a series of observations on how people look for and apply for employment.
1. Job boards are like singles bars – some people never keep that promised date. Ever realize that it was just a tease, that he or she is never going to call, or return your call? It’s amazing how many applications are filled out and quickly responded to, only to find that the applicant doesn’t really want the job after all. Why’d they bother? you might ask. Exactly – that fake phone number handed out in the hotel’s evening lounge might have been just to be polite, but hanging out verifiable contact information and then treating the contact like a call from a bill collector is just weird. Still, if Twitter has taught us anything, it’s that large numbers of people will do the weird thing, and the savvy – the businesses that thrive will figure out why, and respond to it. Personally, I think there needs to be a “no, I’m serious, I really want to have your children” feature on online job applications – something that specifically motivates people NOT to just check the box to be thorough. Are there any job boards that charge you for putting in an application? What about peer review – the same kind of effect you get from mistreating bidders and sellers on Ebay – a series of questions and answers after the engagement for both parties – yes, this employer contacted me in a timely manner (hold those corporations accountable for collecting resumes for months before they actually intend to hire) and indeed, this applicant responded to our response. You could even automate response tracking, so there is no chance of missed connections. But as things are, it’s like people who google for hair stylists. My wife is a hair stylist, and half the people that find her on Google and make an appointment don’t show, don’t call, and don’t return a call asking if they’re running late. Crass, trash people, in my book – worthless slobs who deserve to have their time disrespected by waiting with lousy magazines in Supercuts. But job applicants… you’d think… nope. Same people. The exact same people. Hi, I’d like to work for your company, I’ll be right back (and you never hear from them again). The truth is that an overwhelming number of job seekers in the US believe, even in a down job market with significant unemployment, that jobs will always be limitless – that you can burn contacts, blow off appointments, and still be in pretty good shape when you go looking again. Jobs, in the US, are effectively commoditized. So how do we adjust? I think the only answer, until electronic mechanisms for tracking get better, is to not take applications seriously until they show up at an initial screening. Most office places do that with a phone call anyway, these days. If you don’t make the screening appointment, it’s like you never applied. We give you one freebie – the application is tease – the screening is put up or get lost time.
2. A lot of people are trolling the bottom, pitching anything that moves. Blanket cut and paste responses from India (yes, most of them are from India) “Hello, I’m confident that I can do any task if you select me for your position.” Not reading the posting (it says apply on the website, and they e-mail you an attached resume). The shotgun approach (getting the same resume that every posting got today).You can’t really avoid this, of course, but I think the answer is the same as for people that read the posting and apply correctly, and then vanish. Except that instead of screening (do you really want to risk that people who clone their efforts for everyone will actually move forward with an application?), you do pre-screening. Make every applicant do something unique, like sum up the position you’ve outlined – a kind of employment CAPTCHA (the place on most forms where you type in the letters/numbers you see to make sure you’re not a spammer).
3. Conventionality limits vision – the paradox of the jaded. Dinner and a movie? You have nice hair. That just doesn’t work for us. Our particular posting is for a unique kind of working arrangement, but we’re open to almost any position in any industry. The job boards, though, are rife with scams and gimmicks – attempts to rope people into sales gigs they won’t like, “business opportunities”, recruiters, and resume services aimed at separating out of work people from their last savings. Job seekers are understandably reticent to respond to anything new. The drawback of being jaded, of course, is that opportunities are missed. There’s no substitute for actually understanding what you’re rejecting or pursuing, but it’s easier to stay in the middle of the aisle and go down the well plowed path. In short, most job seekers aren’t bulls, ready to find new pastures – they’re cows who won’t do it until the pastures aren’t new – until the bull does it, and they seem him do it. This is good for bulls – they get to fill their bellies with the best, first – bulls always do that – they’re never scrounging, because they’re constantly exploring. So that’s great for employers if we’re targeting bulls – differentiate ourselves properly from the scam artists, and give them the things bulls need to hear (like we’re not going to charge you anything or pitch you – call us and we’ll explain – ditch us if you don’t like it). If you want the cows, they’ll eventually follow the bulls anyway. If you want the cows now, though, at the start, you have to come up with creative ways to get the message across right when they encounter that posting. A link to a Youtube video can do wonders. We did webinars, and they were great, but going forward I see the instantaneous value of videos being the first point of contact – the webinar is for those who want to go forward after that. Most job boards haven’t wised up yet to letting you embed videos in a posting.
4. Get beyond job boards alone. The singles bar may be part of the repertoire, but the search pattern has to be wider. Along these lines, job boards, on the whole, haven’t caught on to a lot of things. One marked us as spam right away – why? We didn’t fit a pattern they understood. That was Ebay’s jobs. You’re not conventional? End of discussion. Job posting options are inflexible, as well. There’s no way to list something like our openings – any job, any industry – nope, you’re required to pick one (accountant, project manager, IT professional). Sure, there’s often an ‘other’, but that gets you slotted into the oblivion that people check last. Why isn’t there a category like “any/all” – because it doesn’t account for how most people are working these days. Likewise, there’s often a selection of traditional employer, recruiter, staffing agency – but what if you’re none of these? A simple fill-in-the-blank option would correct these deficiencies in any pulldown. This seems to mean that, to really get sufficient airplay to attract job seekers, unconventional employers still need their own job openings page (as antiquated as that setup is), coupled with effective use of other media, including social media and PR to get their message out.
5. Unconventional seekers ARE reading between the lines. Be genuine and exceptional, and you’ll attract genuine and exceptional people. Despite all of the above problems, people get through, genuine people seeking genuine work relationships. What was interesting to me was not so much the number of false positives, nor even the size of the response (we’d like a lot more – or at least more that at least keep up the back and forth from application to interview request), but it’s that the ones that did get through were exactly the kind of people we were seeking – meaning we did it, basically, right. We gave the correct impression, said the correct things, and got a response from the correct audience. And out of those who responded, we learned that there are a lot of unconventional job seekers, in unconventional positions, who are interested in working outside the lines. Some want flexible work situations – in terms of hours. Some want a different pay arrangement. Some want to moonlight. Some want a different way to work in their current capacity. And these folks are looking, listening, and responding precisely to people like us who are trying to connect with them. Free Agent Source is a company seeking people interested in contract work in any field, any industry – or to adjust their work relationship, or their employment offerings (for companies), to reap the benefits of contract positions.
I’m pretty sure we’ll be using job boards again, and we’ll continue using the other media sources that work for us, especially as we grow. In the meantime, it’s the processes of first contact, screening, and next steps that need to be refined. As job boards get smarter, which I hope our company will help inspire, we’ll get more mileage out of them. In the meantime, we adjust. The perfect match(es) are out there.