One of the most common pieces of good advice offered to job-seekers is to find a positive way to stand out from the crowd – something that distinguishes your resume from the stack of similar ones on the hiring manager’s desk and makes your name stand out in his mind.
The reason for this is clearly illustrated in any of the nature documentaries you may have seen chronicling the relationship between predator and prey. When confronted with a herd of identical-looking zebra, a lion often has a difficult time picking out a single individual from the group; the odds that any particular zebra will be the one that the lion eventually succeeds at singling out are low.
Blending in with the herd:
Blending in with the group is an asset when the consequences of standing out are being eaten by a lion. However, when the hiring manager for a position you want is the one doing the hunting, it’s no longer an asset to be just one of the group.
And the larger the group is, the more difficulty that HR manager will have in identifying the most qualified candidates. When a hiring manager has to sift through piles of resumes, on paper or online, to find the few qualified applicants mixed in among scores of unsuitable candidates, his eyes glaze over and he isn’t able to give the task the time or attention it deserves.
That’s exactly the problem with massive job board websites like Monster and CareerBuilder. Due to the nature of their business model, they open the doors to all comers, leading job-seekers to respond to any posting that looks even vaguely like something they might be able to do. Obviously this is a disadvantage for the companies posting the job listings, since they have to invest their HR personnel’s time into separating the wheat from the chaff, but it also hurts qualified job-seekers who have invested a great deal of time and effort into their career search. It’s much harder to stand out among the mob of applicants responding to postings on huge job board sites, so even the most highly qualified candidates have little guarantee that their application will receive more than a cursory glance from a hiring manager – if it even gets looked at in the first place.
Career position credibility:
HR department managers, knowing the problems inherent in these enormous online career databases, may choose to avoid posting available positions to these websites at all – or they may only post less desirable, entry-level jobs for which it is less critical that they find highly skilled, well-qualified applicants. The screening process for responses to the jobs they do post may not be as rigorous as a candidate might expect; in an effort to avoid wasting a disproportionate amount of time on the selection process, the hiring manager may simply contact the first qualified applicant in the stack of responses they receive. Regardless of the details of the selection process that goes on behind the scenes, you may have the (completely justified) suspicion that your application is not getting a fair shake.
So what can you do about it?
Finding ways to stand out from the herd on massive career database websites is harder than it sounds, since you need to be careful that you’re distinguishing yourself in a positive way. For the zebra in the nature documentary, any obvious marking that makes it look different from its fellows is enough to allow the lion to zero in on it – if researchers spray-paint a fluorescent blotch on a single zebra in the herd, guess which one the lion can keep track of most easily? But for a job-seeker, it’s not enough simply to be memorable; if it were that easy, career advice websites would tell you to type your resume in 20-point bright orange Comic Sans. Unfortunately, that sort of strategy won’t get your application the kind of attention you want – you might give the hiring manager a funny story to tell his coworkers later, but your resume will end up deleted.
The better strategy is to avoid being part of that huge herd of zebras to begin with. For job-seekers who are serious about their career search, massive job board websites may not be the best approach to finding the best fit for their qualifications. Rather than competing with a broad spectrum of candidates ranging from recent high school grads to underemployed professionals with decades of experience, it can be more advantageous to seek out targeted, field-specific job websites that use sophisticated matching programs to find the best fit for each applicant, rather than casting an overly wide net using search terms and hoping for the best.
The professional candidate:
Employers are more likely to use sites like this for more specialized professional positions that command higher salaries, because they can be confident of finding a suitable selection of candidates without having to do a lot of weeding from their applicant pool. Hiring managers using these services can take the time to give each candidate’s resume due consideration because they haven’t wasted their time and energy on dozens of useless applications from job-seekers without the appropriate qualifications. From your perspective as a candidate, applying to positions with which you’ve been expertly matched may help you feel less like you’re shouting into the void, because you can be confident that the HR manager responsible for the position knows that you are qualified for the job and will seriously consider your application. Because the hiring managers are wasting less of their time rejecting unsuitable candidates, you will waste less of your time submitting your resume to overworked HR employees who can’t give it the consideration it merits.
There’s another advantage to focusing your career advancement efforts on specialized career websites that match candidates to positions that meet their qualifications. Many job-seekers find themselves in the position of working at a job with unsatisfying advancement prospects or working conditions, and begin quietly looking for something else while trying not to make waves at their current place of employment. They may not want their present employer to know that they’re unhappy and are searching for other options – so think about how awkward things could become when their boss notices their resume plastered all over Monster and other major career websites. With a more targeted, specialized career site that matches applicants with suitable positions, you can avoid that sticky situation entirely.
Expanding your career options:
The huge job board websites have their place, especially for entry-level positions or those that don’t require a great deal of advanced qualifications. But for qualified professionals looking to expand their career options or to start moving forward again, those massive sites are unlikely to yield the kind of success you may expect. The signal-to-noise ratio that job postings on those sites elicit is poor enough that your application is unlikely to receive any sort of real attention, and you could find yourself applying to dozens of jobs without hearing a single word back from a recruiter. Don’t waste your time and energy sending out applications that just disappear into the depths of the internet – focus your efforts on specialized career websites that carefully match applicants to positions where they will receive due consideration.
Author: Still in college, Clarissa Brooks is currently an intern at www.pharmstorm.com, a pharma career resource. In her free time she can often be found reading, writing or playing with her two dogs.