Applying for Jobs Online: Convenient but Ineffective

Finding a job using the Internet is kind of like playing the lottery. I say this because after five years of consistently playing the game, I still haven’t won anything. The process goes something like this:

  1. You search for job postings using online classifieds websites.
  2. You submit a cover letter and resume in response to a job that interests you.
  3. You never hear back from anyone.

I’m exaggerating, of course. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have successfully found a job using the Internet. Maybe they’ll read this and simply tell me I’m “doing it wrong.” Though that might be true, my point is that the majority of people who apply for jobs online must experience the same frustration that I do.

When I actually take a moment to think about it, I recognize how incredibly unsuccessful this process has been:

  • I’ve used the Internet to apply for jobs — often casually, sometimes relentlessly — for at least five years.
  • I’ve probably submitted my resume to over 1000 different employers in that time.
  • I estimate that I received callbacks at a ratio of 1 phone-screening per 20 submitted resumes.
  • I estimate that I received in-person interviews at a ratio of 1 interview per 5 callbacks.
  • I’ve never actually been hired using this process.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like I’ve never been hired before. It’s just that I’ve always been hired as a result of some other process, such as:

  • Using my college’s Career Services department. They put me in touch with a business that “hired” me for an unpaid internship. At the end of the internship, the business offered me a part time position. Once I finished college, the business hired me full time.
  • Taking advantage of People Networking. I met a lot of people while working as a computer consultant. Some clients liked working with me so much that they preferred to call my cell phone directly instead of phoning the main office. When I continued receiving these direct calls after I was no longer employed at the consulting firm, I had to explain I was no longer working with “Big Consulting.” In most cases, the former client asked if I’d be interested in contract work.
  • Doing something Spontaneous and/or Unorthodox. I once got a job just by walking into a restaurant between the lunch and dinner rushes and asking if I could work there. I had no idea if they were hiring. I had not prepared a copy of my resume to give to them. Most importantly, I had no experience working in restaurants. When the manager asked why I wanted to work there, I said “Because every time I drive past here, the parking lot is PACKED.” He liked my response so much he offered me a job.

So if I’ve had success using the above processes, why do I always end up returning to the online classifieds? Considering the fact that they’ve consistently demonstrated a 0% effectiveness rate for me, you’d think that I’d have the sense to explore other options.

The truth is, I gravitate towards online classifieds because even though they’re ineffective, they’re incredibly appealing. Here’s why:

Applying for jobs online is convenient. You search for a job using keywords. You find one that sounds promising. You attach your resume to an email message, type a corresponding cover letter, and click “Send.” The entire process involves maybe five minutes of effort. If you’re like me, you’re easily able to apply to two or three jobs during your lunch break.

It makes me feel like I have options. Job Category, Job Title, Job Description. Keywords, Salary Range, the number of miles from your zip code… When you apply for jobs online, you feel like the master of your own destiny. You’re selecting a future career on your own terms.

The more jobs I apply for, the better my chances. Applying for a job online is like fishing. Once you’ve cast your lure out into the water, the next step requires a biting fish. Since you don’t know when or where the fish will bite, you cast another lure in a different direction. You do this again and again and end up with dozens of potential chances to reel in an interested employer.

It helps me keep up appearances. In some social settings, you may be asked “What do you do for a living?” or “Are you still looking for a job?” or “Are you still (doing some job where your talents are obviously being wasted)?” If you’re applying for jobs online, then you can honestly respond with “I’ve applied to a few positions, but I’m still waiting to hear back from them.” It’s something you say to reassure yourself that it’s not like you haven’t been trying.

It gives me hope. I believe the main reason people browse through online classifieds is because they imagine that someday they’ll stumble upon their perfect career opportunity. You have a job — and although it’s not awful, it’s not wonderful either. So you spend a fraction of every workday secretly visiting sites for job seekers, always hoping that today will be the day that your perfect job listing appears: A job where you can do what you’ve always dreamed of doing. A job where you’re finally being paid what you’re worth. A job where life’s better.

In other words, the process of applying for jobs online is comforting. It convinces me that I haven’t settled for life as is, and that I’m striving for something better. It would be nice, though, if the process resulted in employment (for a change).

Until now, I’ve only discussed the application process from the perspective of a hopeful job seeker. While writing this article, I had an idea that would allow me to experience an alternate perspective. Namely, the perspective of a Hiring Manager.

In order to get a taste of what a Hiring Manager sees, I did something that is admittedly unethical: Using a popular online classifieds website, I created a job posting for a job that didn’t actually exist.

Creating a believable-yet-fictional job posting was easier than I imagined. I simply typed up a job title, job description, and required qualifications for a job that I myself might apply for. To help aid my anonymity, the site automatically hid my newly-created Yahoo! email address in the posting.

It read something like:

Computer Position Immediately Available

Office in (city) seeks knowledgeable Computer Expert to join our experienced team. Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or Technical Degree required. 3-years relevant experience required. Certifications preferred. $45,000 annually with advancement opportunities to $70,000.

I mentioned that applicants should indicate their salary requirements in the subject of the message. Within a few hours, my inbox looked like this:

Inbox Screenshot 1 - Click to Enlarge

I was amazed at the amount of people who applied to the position so quickly. I was even more amazed at the amount of people who were willing to undercut the starting salary of $45,000/year.

By the next morning, my inbox looked like this:

Inbox Screenshot 2 - Click to Enlarge

At this point, I felt extremely guilty about the number of people I was misleading. I removed the job posting from the website before it got any worse.

50 inquiries in less than 24 hours, all of them roughly the same:

To Whom It May Concern: Dear Sir/Madame: Hello:

I am writing you in response to the Computer Position.

I would be a generous asset to your organization. Please see my attached resume.

Please contact me so we can arrange a mutually convenient time to meet.

Sincerely,

Cookie-Cutter Applicant

Faced with an inbox of 50 such inquiries, what would you expect a Hiring Manager to do? Since most businesses are only interested in one thing — The Bottom Line — I’d wager the first person they’d call would be whoever is cheapest. In my small sample of applicants, that was the guy who wanted $16/hour for his salary.

From a business standpoint, even if this applicant could only do the job half as well as some of the other applicants, it’s still a good deal. The business would be paying diddlysquat for a person to take on the responsibilities of the position. At the very least, the business has hired a scapegoat to point a finger at if something goes wrong.

I had always heard that employers often spend less than 30 seconds per resume — and now I understand why. When you provide such a convenient way for people to apply for jobs, you get an overwhelming response. My posting was available for less than a day and I received 50 inquiries. Most postings are available for much longer, and Hiring Managers most certainly have more than one job opening posted at any time.

Consequently, Hiring Managers receive hundreds (if not thousands) of inquiries each day. It’s unrealistic to believe that every applicant can be considered for the position, even if they’re qualified for it. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of applicants are qualified for the positions they apply to, making it difficult to differentiate between applicants.

It’s interesting because I used to believe that applying to as many jobs as possible truly increased your chances of landing a job. Now I understand that would only be true if you were the only person doing it. The thing is, applying for jobs online is so simple that nearly every job hunter does it. As a result, you’re not only competing with people who are unemployed, but you’re also competing against people who are working jobs they’re unhappy with. The overwhelming competition is a consequence of convenience.

Most interestingly, employers generally don’t even like resumes. The 2007 Edition of “What Color is Your Parachute?” says that employers often prefer to find new hires based on recommendations from existing employees. Not only does it save them time, employers also experience a higher rate of success when trying to match potential candidates with their business. Statistically speaking, the needle-in-a-haystack process of sifting through resumes is often a “last resort” for most employers.

After having done the research, I’m no longer surprised that I’ve never gotten a job using this process. It all depends on whether or not you can manage to impress a stranger in 30 seconds or less. If you manage to do that, they’ll call you to immediately ask about your salary expectations.

This fascinates me because in all of the “mock interviews” I had in high school, it was emphasized that you should save salary discussions until the second in-person interview. My classmates and I were taught tactful responses such as “Until we’ve determined that I’m a good match for this position, I believe that any discussion regarding salary would be premature.” If the interviewer persisted, then we were to turn the tables by saying “Well since you’re the ones who created the position, certainly you had some figure in mind?” My teacher relentlessly reminded us that whoever mentions a figure first will almost always “lose” the negotiation.

It appears as if all of that preparation has gone to waste. The information we were taught is no longer valid. In today’s competitive job market, you can’t hold out until a second interview before discussing salary. Employers don’t have the time or interest in playing games, which is why they often ask about salary requirements in phone interviews.

Which brings me to my last point. There’s a lot of information about what the “right strategy” is when it comes to job-hunting. There are countless numbers of recommendations regarding “How To Ace an Interview,” “How To Spruce Up Your Resume,” or whatever else. The only advice that seemed 100% honest was given to me by a Hiring Manager.

I was invited to be interviewed for a position with her organization, but a different candidate was hired. I followed up with a message thanking her for her time, and asking if she had any recommendations that might assist me in my job search. All she said was:

“Every recruiter and company has their own take on things.”

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20 Responses to “Applying for Jobs Online: Convenient but Ineffective”

#1 Linda on 07, Mar, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Hi Shaun,

I am a college senior and found great advice about job hunting in this book “Getting from College to Career” by Lindsey Pollak. It’s really for Gen Y’ers like me, but I think anyone job hunting can get excellent tips from it.

It’s a must read as far as I’m concerned b/c it starts way before you get to the “write a resume” or “how to interview” stages of a job hunt — never thought of many of the steps I could have taken before now, when I’m graduating in 2 months and am freaking out a little bit. This book calmed my fears, but I wish I’d known about it two years ago.

Best of luck with your blog!

Cheers,
Linda

#2 Stephan on 07, Mar, 2008 at 7:05 pm

It’s been weird what I have learned about job hunting. In 2001 I put my resume on the top 3 resume sites of the time, on Monday morning, I pulled it that evening because the response was too great. got so many responses recruiters were yelling at me because they were seeing my resume from many different sources, by the end of the week I had 300 emails or phone calls in my log. Now with over 1000 resumes sent out I’ve had one interview and he never saw my resume until I gave it to him at the interview.

At an employment center I’ve gone to they mentioned that large companies get a stack of resumes 4 feet tall every week and that is after they have removed them from the envelope. The job market is insane.

#3 Jonathan Atkins on 08, Mar, 2008 at 12:57 am

I’ve never had any success pursuing jobs through Monster or CareerBuilder; however, every job I have had in the last seven years I have received because of these services. I post my resume and keep my profile updated, regularly tweaking my profiles and adding appropriate buzzwords, from there staffing agencies/headhunters find me. I screen jobs via email or phone, they pass my resume on to their clients (my future employers), and if they are interested an interview is scheduled. This is awesome because they found me, completely passive, all of my jobs have been found while pleasantly employed and have all resulted in progressively more money. Network, join all the sites you can, LinkedIn is great, do as many interviews as you can, talk to all the recruiters you can. Find your strengths and market them! Start low and work your way up, experience really matters more than your education. Best of luck.

#4 MaxBro on 08, Mar, 2008 at 6:14 am

One time a health insurance company recruiter emailed me unsolicited, asking for me to come in for an interview. I deleted the email right then and figured that would be the end. But the next week I got the same email. And the week after.

Before long, every other day, and sometimes twice in one day, I’d get spammed with the same email. Finally, I called the recruiter on the phone and asked how they acquired my email address. She told me Career Builder. I’d completely forgotten about setting up an account years back with a resume, contact info and everything. At the time I wasn’t sure if even setting up a CB account was worth it, but decided to do it anyway. Well, it took three years, but some employer out there did finally find my resume through a search and actually contact me for an appointment.

I guess job hunting online “works” if you’re willing to wait a few years, and don’t care if you get any response one way or the other. It seems to be the same method you always hear about getting someone to like you: Act like you’re not interested. Well, maybe not. But even after I requested the insurance company stop spamming me, I kept getting emails. Then I finally clicked the link on the bottom of their email to Opt Out. That worked for a little while, but the spam eventually returned. Maybe someone thought the way my resume read in Traditional MS Resume Wizard format looked cute.

#5 Naveen on 10, Mar, 2008 at 7:35 am

hai i need an online job…

that will be of data entry jobs…

#6 Hunter Nuttall on 10, Mar, 2008 at 9:47 am

You’re right, posting the fake job listing was a bit unethical, but it was very interesting! I’ve recently seen the opposite happen though. I just posted my resume and within a few hours had to take it down because I was getting too many calls and emails from people who clearly hadn’t even read my objective. I don’t understand why there are so many jobs to fill at the same time there are so many people looking for a job.

#7 Shadewolf on 10, Mar, 2008 at 10:18 am

I use the internet as an integral tool for jobhunting, but online classifieds I agree will bear little fruit. I approach it with a different tact. First I get to know my own skills profile inside and out, then I map those skills to concrete achievements I’ve accomplished and know those inside and out. Then I decide what sort of company a) could use my skills and pay well for them, and b) waht sort of company I would like to look for, and c) decide what my career major goals for the next 10-15 years will be. At this point, I get a list of all the companies that fit my requirements and search to see if any have current advertised openings. I would search, of course, the major places like Monster and Workopolis as well as local job boards. I would also go and checkout their websites. I would apply online to -only- the jobs I was really interested in. Any place I applied to, I would do my homework on the company and learn all I could, including the names of key people employed there (like the recruiting HR person or manager) and figure out if I already knew anyone who worked there who could give me a good referral in. If they had an online application process, I would certainly make sure to do that, but also to email/fax my resume directly to the hiring manager and follow up with a phone call to ensure they received the application.

This process I recently completed, and I applied at 30 different firms, and got 20 callbacks for interviews. I went to interviews in the order of the positions that interested me most, and interviewed with 5 firms. One place I was very interested in I interviewed 5 times and was going back for the 6th interview, but the place I actually chose to sign with took me 2 interviews to decide to sign on with them instead.

For me it’s very much not a game of volume anymore, but more of a target-your-market approach with a hefty dose of forward-planning involved. I show the company I want to be very involved with them, and if they will help me develop myself towards those achieving goals, then that’s the place for me! They key is to have your interests
aligned with where the business is going, be passionate about your work, and work hard and achieve your goals!

#8 Pat R on 13, Mar, 2008 at 11:44 am

Shaun – your post is interesting in that is just what I’ve been doing for the past year without much success – applying for jobs online. I would get e-mails that they saw my resume and if I’m interested to click on a hyperlink and complete the process. After I complete the process, it would say someone would contact me in 1-3 business days. I’ve never had anyone call me.

For me, I think applying online is easy and convenient but it also gives you a false sense of having done something about looking for a job. I think I agree with Shadewolf with first identifying your skills and pursuing where you want to work is what will bring the success in finding a job.

#9 Chalis on 04, Apr, 2008 at 12:59 pm

I just got a job from an online posting, but I had to go in the back door to do it. I have found when it says “no calls,” that if you do call and ask a mundane question that clearly MUST be answered in order for you to proceed, you sometimes are put through directly to the hiring manager. I can always, always sell myself over the phone. Paper is a bit more difficult, as I have a varied training background. Bottom line – find someone to talk to at the company no matter what!

#10 James Devlin on 27, Apr, 2008 at 2:18 am

Shaun – in over a decade commercial software development, I’ve never gotten a job any other way than over the Internet. I never submit directly for positions found over the Internet. I post my resume on the major job boards, participate in forums, and try to maintain an online version of my resume. I don’t usually submit directly for specific openings as the signal to noise ratio is abysmal. And most job openings (I would guess at least 50% if not more) are never posted publically.

Good luck, whichever way you decide to go.

#11 Rashi on 01, Jul, 2008 at 1:45 am

Is it best to apply in person? For the last few months Ive applied online for jobs thru Monster, Snag-ajob.com, Yahoo Hot Jobs, and going directly to the companies websites. I received one callback, the position is filled.

#12 Scarlet on 20, Aug, 2009 at 8:38 pm

I receieved no call backs from anywhere, I applied to 4 places online. Most sites say that this application will be sent to the nearest store location within the next 24 hours but in the end, all you get is some false sense of hope. Let’s see if I get any call within the next week, or else I might just decide to walk in myself and ask for an application, maybe mention I’ve applied in the past as well.

Good luck with everything!

#13 Karintha on 28, Aug, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I was looking for a step-by-step outline on how to effectively apply for jobs online. Coming across this article has really opened my eyes because I’m having the same experience the poster had for those 5 years. I find dozens of wonderful opportunities that I know I’m qualified for and wonder why I haven’t been getting calls for interviews.

Relaying the story about the false job posting really put things into perspective. Thanks for posting, VERY helpful.

#14 Aja on 04, Mar, 2010 at 10:44 am

I feel this was me writing because I am in the exact same boat. Online job search= not one job. Lol I am a dancer with a finance background wtf? Anywho what I did was get certified for medical transportation got the job making 15/hr with a raise at the end of the year. I stepped in the medical direction because it is recession proof. All with the help of a friend person to person networking works the best! Thank you and happy hunting to you all!

#15 Janice on 10, Mar, 2010 at 10:10 am

I have a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters degree in Biology and I have been applying for jobs I know I am more than qualified for and I NEVER get a call back. It is frustrating to know that I put so much effort, so much time and money on an education that I feel is getting me no where. I have so little money left and I am so desperate to work that I’ll probably work a meaningless job just to get by in this dire economy.

#16 Sammy on 30, Apr, 2010 at 7:14 pm

I have applied to hundreds of positions online. My one really big frustration is that when I see the postings, I try to find someone I know who may know someone at that company. The problem is when you finally make contact with an actual person, first thing they say is apply online! What is one to do? Most of the companies I am looking at are not headquarted in my area. How do people find these jobs. I am an educated executive that has done everything to network and still nothing. Any help would be appreciated

#17 Job Hunter on 01, Aug, 2010 at 11:52 pm

More and more companies are forcing people to go to their websites. That is why so many people apply online!
For example, I have attended numerous job fairs at my university. I talked to many recruiters and hiring managers that kept pushing candidates to apply for positions via their website. I mean what the heck?!! Wouldn’t common sense dictate that a job fair would be the BEST place to network and make contacts with actual people working within the company? So you attend a job fair with the hopes of networking with actual people working at a company only for them to push you to apply online! I talked to one company and I wanted them to have my resume. But they told me, “Sorry, but we’re not taking resumes at this time. Go to our website…” I was livid. I told myself “then why exactly are you here at a job fair if you’re telling every candidate to ‘go to our website.’”
Job hunting has changed so much. With the way the economy is, things aren’t exactly the best either. I’ve talked to a lot of “older people” and they say the economy was never this bad when they were younger. They told me that they would directly hand their resume in to a company, get a call back in a couple of days for an interview, and get a job within a week. Simple as that. Now companies tell you “go to our website” when you directly go to them. It’s ridiculous.

#18 Tim McLeer on 05, Nov, 2010 at 9:45 pm

What has happened is——companies are relying on their computers
to filter out what they do not want. 1. criminal record. 2. no experience in field. 3. age-(look at too much experience or when graduated from
high school/college).Now this part is (legally) touchy but if you do not show year graduated the computer will flag you over another candidate who put year graduated (that is legal). 4. current salary or wage (too high). These 4 reasons are why companies will not pursue an interview
until you are filtered in or out. Sad, but it is a fact!!!

#19 quadeer on 04, Jun, 2011 at 12:30 pm

a very nice article .I enjoyed a lot while reading it.The way you explained was very nice .I believe this has shown to a lot extent the reality of online job hunting .That just by sitting on your chair pushing some buttons and looking at a monitor you don’t get job for a job you need to move the muscle.So what shall we do for the Job Believe it is important for the employer or the person to meet you personally because there is something in this that cannot be explained in words …

#20 Henry Lehman on 26, Mar, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I think the whole internet thing is going to go belly up. Most companies hire people they know or they know someone in the company that recomends them. Either way it is lose, lose, lose. Thousands are left wondering if they will be picked. The College’s that they recieved their degree from are of no help. It is “we gots yo money so good luck wit de job” Oh they help who they know. It is a mixed bag of tricks that doesn’t work. One pound of “butt Kissing” is worth more than any degree. Too bad all of the great minds to be are sitting on the sidlines while daddies little boy or neighbor little girl have a great job but stuck as a DA. We call them “free riders” a do nothing, contribute nothing, and normaly just considered a zero. No education at all. My wife has a BA in Music a BA in English and a Master’s degree in Business and can’t find a job as of yet. I think it is a bunch of crap from the top of companies on down. Most of HR these days are uneducated themselves. That is like having a horse jockey hire the airline pilot! That mix don’t work. By the way, don’t take it personal if you are HR. Everybody has to work

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