15 ways to improve online job search

If you’re like many (most?) job seekers, you spend more time than you should searching for jobs online. And if you’re like almost all job seekers, you hate every minute of it. There’s very little in the world of job search that can absorb energy and motivation the way a job board can. It’s like something from a Stephen King novel, drawing you in only to drain the life force from you.

Oddly enough, hearing that most jobs are not secured online does nothing to stem the tide of hopeful job seekers who return to the computer over and over for their job search. The worse the statistics are, and the more discouraging the experience is, the more job seekers want to be online.

OK, I give up.

After years of trying to tell you not to spend your time this way, I’ve finally decided to tell you how to not utterly waste your time if you insist on being online. After all, even if most jobs are not secured this way, some are. You might as well learn how to increase your odds of winning this lottery. Read on for 15 ways to improve your online job search.

1. Set a time limit for each session and focus on only one or two sites per session.

2. Understand the different sites. Major job boards, such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com, are national and multi-vocational and will hold the greatest variety of jobs -- as well as the most jobs that don’t pertain to you.

Specialty boards -- such as Dice.com, which specializes in technology openings -- will focus on jobs in one location or vocation.

Finally, company-specific job boards, which can be found by hitting the “Careers” button on a particular company’s Web site, will announce opportunities for that company only.

3. Register your profile when possible. By providing your job preferences, you can trigger sites to send you leads in certain categories each day.

4. Create an application profile when possible. The larger companies and government sites may allow you to save your online application. In some cases, their system will search the applications automatically to match with openings; in other cases, the saved application will simply be a convenience for you, so you don’t have to re-enter data for new opportunities.

5. Post your resume with care. Many job boards invite you to advertise yourself by posting your resume -- which seems to attract a lot of spammers. Consider using a different e-mail account on your resume (but check it often) and stripping off your phone and home address.

6. Keep a pen and paper handy to note your passwords for various sites, and to keep an action list for your next steps.

7. Use the Bookmarks feature on your computer or hand-held device to mark the sites you use the most.

8. Stay focused. Are you a marketing professional? Then why are you browsing office management openings? Communications jobs might make sense, but HR? Why browse jobs that you don’t want and for which you can’t compete?

9. Remember my rule of nine: If you won’t look like one of the top nine candidates, then don’t apply online. Only a handful of applicants will be moved forward, and the decision will be made according to how closely you fit the stated criteria: years of experience, related degree, etc. In many cases, a computer will make this first cut, so it won’t matter how persuasively you write the cover letter.

10. Make templated cover letters to shorten your process. Exquisitely written letters are not likely to be appreciated, as any human in the process will be slogging through several dozen or hundred letters. Be clear, friendly and quick.

11. Print or download completed applications to your computer, to help you complete other applications, and to help you prepare for the interview later.

12. Follow up by contacting the company directly a few days after the closing date. Explain that you are interested in the job and ask if you can be included in the interviews.

13. For jobs you really want, mail a paper resume and more customized letter to a department manager. Explain that you applied online, but want to ensure they know of your interest in the position.

14. For jobs you really, really want, ask your network for contacts at the company who can talk with the hiring manager, in hopes of getting you onto the interview list.

15. When your online session is done, shut off the computer and take a walk. Then move on to a networking call or other human-centered activity, to keep yourself (and your job search) balanced.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.