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Myths of online job search

Part 1 of 3 in an Independence Day series on gaining freedom from unproductive job search processes

Independence Day is coming, putting me in mind of freedom and the ways we tend to enslave ourselves in our daily lives. Much of the entanglement starts out as something enjoyable (think large lawns that we come to resent with each mowing).

Other forms of self-caging are more sinister, such as the large debt loads many of us carry. If you take an inventory of your life, you might be surprised at how many ways you have willingly tied yourself down. Everything from excessive clutter to pets to season tickets is a way of narrowing future choices.

For the most part, the loss of freedom comes with tradeoffs that we accept and even enjoy. Just about every parent has noticed the loss of personal freedom inherent in raising children – but not many would say they’d rather have the freedom.

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Unfortunately, job search isn’t one of those situations where the tradeoffs balance. Job seekers who engage in miserable processes generally assume the reward will be a good job. But frequently it seems as if one miserable process simply begets another.

Of all the job search strategies that promise freedom but deliver the opposite, online processes are the worst.

What starts out looking like freedom – freedom from having to pound the pavement, from facing rejection in person, from needing to complete a job application on site – soon reveals itself for the cage that it is. Applicants learn that everything has to be “just so” or they won’t be considered; that not disclosing certain information such as salary will be a disqualifier; and that other information, such as employment gaps, will be used against them in the selection process.

So why do they continue on this frustrating journey? Two reasons dominate: because they’ve been told repeatedly that this is the way a job search is done these days, and because they hope that it’s true. This is one of those situations where (irrational) hope springs eternal, along with the illusion of control: If I can only change my resume to match the posting, or if I can only apply to enough positions, I can break through.

Well, if that’s been working for you, then keep going. After all these years of hearing the most unlikely stories of job search success, I’ve learned not to mess with what seems to be working for a particular individual. But when it comes to online searching, it doesn’t work for the majority of people, the majority of the time.

Following are some of the myths about online job searching that provide an argument for abandoning this ship.

Myth 1: Online is the fastest way to get hired. No, as both experience and some studies have shown, posting a job online extends the hiring process substantially.

Myth 2: Online applications are time-savers for candidates. How did this myth even get started? When you account for the application, a cover letter and likely revisions to the resume, it’s easy to spend two to four hours on just the initial package.

Myth 3: Online job boards are like a lottery – you need to buy a ticket to win. Maybe, but if this were a true lottery it would be a terrible investment, as your odds of success actually decrease over time. In a regular lottery your chances of winning improve slightly with each ticket you buy. But in the online world, your chances might only improve if each job was a good fit for your skills – the reality is that people also apply for jobs they aren’t well-suited for. Hence, applying for more positions actually worsens their odds.

Myth 4: The more openings you see, the better the market. Sadly, no. Sometimes the employers who advertise the most are the ones whose workers keep quitting. Other times the job is posted but it’s already been promised to someone. And sometimes there’s no opening at all behind the posting – it’s just an exercise to test the market for candidates.

Myth 5: Companies won’t consider candidates outside the posting process. How can that be true when we all know workers who didn’t get their jobs from a posting? The truth is that very few employers stick to a posting-only process. Most would gladly hire outside the process if they had a viable candidate; others would ask their preferred candidate to respond online to preserve the illusion of an open process.

In next week’s column I’m going to give the same treatment to networking – yes, that’s another of the great enslavers when it comes to job search – and in the final column in this three-part series, I’ll review alternate job search processes that will provide the freedom job hunters truly seek: Freedom from unemployment.

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 Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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