The job market is good, the Internet is buzzing, and optimism is high. Still, the best jobs require talent before you walk in the door — you need to know how to search. Here are seven tips to help you:

1. Big job sites cater to keyword-focused applicants.
Only three to five percent of job seekers find employment through online job sites. In order to be one of this small percent, you need to tailor your resume to keyword searches. “Sending a resume to a big company’s web site is like sending your resume into a black hole,” says John Sullivan, human resources consultant and professor of management at San Francisco State University. “In a big company, your resume is sorted by an applicant tracking system.”

These companies receive thousands of resumes a month and the tracking system sorts them by skill. Sullivan tells of a study where researchers took a job opening and wrote 100 perfect resumes for that opening. Then the researchers added 10% more information to the resumes. Of those resumes, only 12% were picked up by the tracking system as qualified. This means that even if you are the perfect candidate, if you submit your resume blindly to a large company, there is almost a 90% chance that no human will ever see your resume.

But you can increase your chances by knowing how to use keywords in your resume. “Recruiters locate individuals based on a certain skill set of the job they are looking to fill,” says recruiting advisor Matt Millunchick. So try to imagine how someone else would use a search box to find you, and be very specific about your skills.

These rules remain true if you post your resume to an online database also. The mass of resumes on job sites is so unruly that human resource staffs are paying people in India $20 an hour to sort through resumes to find the good ones, according to David Hanley, owner of So, even in this case, keywords are your best friend.

2. Don’t depend on your resume.
The typical resume is linear which makes people without linear careers look like a mess. The resume highlights work gaps in a negative way and leaves little space for achievements and experiences that did not somehow contribute to corporate life.

“The marketplace is changing and the life experience that informs the work that people do is changing,” says Anne Burdick, information designer and professor at Art Center College of Design. The static, linear resume is not an effective way to convey this new experience, so don’t lead with it.

Dana Zemack, a publicist, got an agency job by abandoning the conventional resume: She wrote a letter to the agency about how she had been throwing large, elaborate chocolate tasting parties and charging admission. Zemack explained that at first, she publicized the parties to make sure she’d make enough money to pay for the party. But then she realized that she had talent as both a party planner and a publicist, so she started planning bigger and bigger parties. “I used my own endeavors as an experiment to see how far I could go as a publicist,” she wrote. On a second page, she listed the publicity she was able to generate for the parties.

It worked. She got the job. Which leads to tip number three:

3. Go local. Smaller companies posting on smaller job sites look for employees who may not have a resume optimized for a computer screening. This is how Zemack found her job.

Another way to go small is to join professional groups on MySpace. These are people who will know where jobs are. Also, Millunchick says recruiters search through these groups for marketing and technical people.

4. Focus on the referral.
Eighty percent of available jobs are not posted on job boards. But people who work at companies know what positions are available. And employers love referrals, because referral employees have such low turnover.

In fact, many companies pay employees tens of thousands of dollars for a successful referral. Pander to that carrot system by offering yourself up to an employee at one of those companies.

Find people to refer you by looking on sites such as MySpace, Friendster and LinkedIn. Do keyword searches to see if your friends of friends have jobs at companies that interest you.

Offline networking works, too. It’s just slower. There is no keyword search when you walk into a party. But once you’ve made the acquaintance, you can Google the person to find their connections.

5. Stalk your dream job. If you know your dream job but you have no connections, identify someone you want to talk to within a company and use the Internet to get in touch with them: Find an email address, phone number, a conference your target is speaking at. Then ask for an informational interview.

You are far more likely to get a job from an informational interview than from blindly sending resumes. Most people will be flattered by your request and will give you some of their time. Remember an informational interview is not when you ask for a job. But often, if you make a good impression, the person will help you get a job.

6. Make your own job.
Zemack’s career really took off when she created a job for herself: throwing chocolate tasting parties. She is still genuinely touched by each person who turned out for those early parties where she bet her credit rating on herself. And in the end, she discovered something that is not a new rule at all: That believing in yourself and creating avenues for your own success attracts a magnificent network of supporters.

14 replies
  1. Resume Writer
    Resume Writer says:

    It is true that the online search (or at least every aspect of it) isn’t for everyone. My company offers access to a resume posting engine ( but I recommend against its use for some of my clients as it may be a waste of money. Now, if posting is going to be part of someone’s job search strategy, it’s a no-brainer because of the time it saves. But other than that, I like to get a read on their situation first.

    William Mitchell

  2. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    Just as with your investments, you must diversify when it comes to your job search. Put everything you can into play:

    – Large and niche job boards
    – Recruiters
    – Corporate websites (those with published and unpublished openings)
    – Your personal network
    – LinkedIn/FaceBook/MySpace
    – Shoe Leather Strategy (walk right in)

    Also, follow-up with an employer whenever you can and track your contacts. Years and years ago when I was job searching, I tracked every conversation and its details, which helped me when it came to building a relationship with the potential hiring managers.

    William Mitchell, CPRW
    The Resume Clinic

  3. Nick Smith
    Nick Smith says:

    Wow, that information about the low success rate of online job applications is very alarming. As a senior in my last semester of college right now, I am currently applying for a lot of jobs, mostly through online methods. That is pretty nerve racking to know that most of the people that I apply to won’t even see my resume. If that is the case, then what do you recommend I do as a graduating student with little professional experience and zero connections? The only experience that I have had thus far is at a few internships, and there is no opportunity for employment with those companies. This worries me…

  4. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    Here’s a tip for people using LinkedIn and Facebook. Put common misspellings of your name, and put your maiden name, into the Summary field of your profile in LinkedIn, and the About Me section in Facebook.

    That way, if someone is searching for you with that spelling, they still find you. This is actually one of the “The Missing LinkedIn Tips” from my new blog at

    LinkedIn Expert Blog

    where I actually have a video that shows how to do it.

  5. Job_Seeker_Extraordinaire
    Job_Seeker_Extraordinaire says:

    I have just called one of the biggest global HR firms only to be hung up on 3 times. Talk about incompetence.

    Ah! Maybe because I was calling their India office.

    By the by, I am Indian and no, nobody gets paid $20 unless they are high school dropouts who can use a search engine. There wouldn’t be a need to outsource if Westerners were that qualified weren’t they? Newsflash – It’s not just the bottom of the barrel work that gets outsourced – India’s IT/ITES sector speaks of American competence.

    Have yourself a great day ahead.

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