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Technology Won't Solve Your Job-Search Problems

The best way to use the Internet in a job hunt is still a matter of debate. New Web tools to help your search are always cropping up, but many old misconceptions about technology persist and these could hamper your search.


For example, many job hunters believe that the computer programs that job boards use to match resumes with posted jobs are better than they are. The result: Job hunters hope and wait in vain for these programs to match their qualifications to the requirements of an ideal job. These programs may produce matches for specific skills, such as proficiency in a particular computer language, but they can't grasp the totality of your professional expertise and experience.

A 33-year-old marketing professional at a law firm learned this lesson the hard way. He was looking for a new position and posted his resume on a well-known job site. He used the most up-do-date lingo and cited his professional achievements, using appropriate key words. But weeks went by without a response from any law firm. Why? Most law firms still place a premium on personality and organizational "fit." The professional found that to secure interviews he had to reach out to prospective employers individually. He soon got the kind of position he wanted. But it didn't fall into his lap without a serious effort on his part. The moral of his story: Don't expect the computer to do your talking for you.

Similarly, Internet tools can't compensate for your shyness. Some professionals seem to think their whole job search can be conducted online without ever having to make a phone call or have a personal interview.

Last spring, a 36-year-old information-technology executive in Chicago was laid off from a financial-services company, and he promptly launched an aggressive job hunt using his technology expertise. He gained access to the best employer databases and career-services support, and in due course his resume was perfected, marketing plan expertly targeted, and job search virtually automated. His job hunt was a technological tour de force. But he neglected to reach out to friends and acquaintances or to build his network. Only recently did he begin to secure encouraging interviews, but mostly as a result of referrals by his former colleagues.

In your job search, you should determine at the outset what technology can realistically do or not do and take steps to overcome any shyness or anxiety that prevents you from engaging directly with prospective employers.

"The power of the Internet as a job-seeking tool depends, in part, on the skill and creativity of the user," says Judith Harrison, senior vice president of human resources for public-relations firm Ruder Finn in New York. Don't let misconceptions about job-search technology derail your chances for success. The following are more common mistaken beliefs that could be stalling your re-employment campaign.

The Internet makes available, for free, all the information a job seeker could possibly use. Indeed, the amount of information available online for free is astonishing. But it's a fallacy that all the resources a job seeker could want are readily available to you and at no cost. For example, some of the top job-search tools (such as certain career-interest assessments and resume-writing services) and proprietary databases (of employers or recruiters, for example) charge fees or are accessible at no charge only through groups such as alumni or professional organizations, business-school libraries and career-services firms.

Further, job hunters also tend to rely too heavily on general search engines, such as Google, which don't filter material for reliability and often produce an overwhelming number of matches. Even with such widely used tools, the job seeker would be wise to ask a librarian for expert help. Your local public or college library has information professionals on staff who can help you best use sophisticated search engines, access certain databases and find valuable information in print media.

Online technology enables job seekers to reach more potential employers. Indeed, such innovations as personal Web pages, e-mail lists and online forums make this possible. But many job seekers use online technology solely to blast resumes. Unfortunately, resume blasting seems only to contribute to the exponential increase in spam. Fearing computer viruses, more employers and recruiters don't open unsolicited resumes when they arrive as e-mail attachments. Instead, many job seekers now provide a link to their personal Web pages where prospective employers can find their resumes as well as other background information.

Mass-mailing resumes to employers, moreover, is more complicated than in the past. A growing number of major employers accept resumes only in a specific format that feeds into a PeopleSoft or similar software package and becomes the start of an HR file if the applicant is hired. Be aware of and conform to the communications style employers use, including specific types of online personal profiles, resume formats and applicant-tracking systems.

Technology shouldn't become an end in itself, because it can become an obstacle for the job seeker, not a useful tool. This kind of behavior predates the Internet. Many job seekers would like to put all their trust and energy into processes -- endlessly perfecting their resumes, sending batches of mass mail, answering ads, applying to temp agencies or even hiring career marketers. Technology now provides new and more sophisticated ways to avoid networking. Technology can be a powerful addition to one's job-search toolkit, but it can never make old-fashioned person-to-person connections a thing of the past.

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Ms. Kenny is executive vice president of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career-management services company.

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