The strategy of an online job search is very different from searching for employment in the 1980s or even in the low unemployment era of the 1990s. Recently, I talked with my former colleague & good friend Connie Savage, SPHR, LinkedIn LION-- an independent recruiter and job search coach about what makes a successful online search today and how can experienced workers position themselves competitively. If you haven’t looked for a job in three years, everything’s changed.
Brenda: Are there any jobs out there for workers over 40?
Connie: There are plenty of specific jobs out there for qualified people, but the employers are trying to find everything on their “wish list” in one person. With so many people looking for work, employers are very picky about experience and still may not pay what people made in the 1990s when unemployment was 5%. Now unemployment is nearly double that and it is very competitive. Job seekers have to be realistic.
Brenda: Why do some people apply for hundreds of jobs online and never receive more than an automated response?
Connie: Generally, people don’t understand how online job search works. First, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of responses for a single job listing. Many of them are not remotely qualified, which is why online is so efficient for the staffing department. The applicant tracking system and recruiters will search for keywords, so you want to have those in your resume or online application. You can usually find keywords in the job posting. The tracking system then ranks the resumes based on “relevance” or how closely they match the job description. The staffing specialist may only consider the top 25; maybe the best candidate is #438. Their resume may never be seen. Staffing departments have a lot fewer people than they have in the past.
Brenda: Would online applications make it a more equal playing field for mature workers that meet the specific qualifications?
Connie: I wouldn’t assume that age doesn’t matter. An employer can determine how long you’ve worked because many of the online systems require dates. Some employers are looking for someone with 5-7 years experience or 10 years experience, so they may not plan on bringing in someone with thirty years of experience.
Brenda: What can a 40+ worker do to stand out and have their online application reach the top?
Connie: #1: The best way to be sure your resume is seen is to tweak your resume to reflect the job description EXACTLY. You must create different resumes for different jobs. Use keywords contained in the job description and you can even list keywords along the bottom of your resume. Also keep your resume “refreshed” on the website. Each time you “refresh” your resume it moves up on the list the recruiter sees, since most are listed in either date order, or relevance order. This will give your resume a better chance of reaching higher relevance in the candidate database when the recruiter is working on that opening.
#2: keep graduation dates and any other non relevant dates off the resume and don’t list jobs over ten or fifteen years ago unless they are relevant.
#3: with some online applicant systems if you enter “99/99” it will over-ride the date for graduations
#4: always apply at the company website. Applicants don’t realize that it is extremely expensive for companies to utilize the mega job boards, and, as the staffing department budgets are cut, they are relying more and more on other means to attract candidates like employee referral programs, their own company websites, and networking sites like LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Craigs List and many other “free” resources.
#5: If there is a place to add an objective or statement—don’t leave it blank! Put something clever related to the job and keywords to more perfectly match the listing.
#5 Consider having a professional assist you with your resume and coach you when you do get that precious interview. It could well be worth the investment.
Other online job search tips to remember--- some of the more sophisticated online applicant systems have a second step that asks specific questions to rule out people without their “must have” qualifications. Once you make it through the first hurdle, you may get a follow-up e-mail. Use all of your online resources including alumni listings, professional associations, career specific sites. If you know people who work for the company see if there is an employee referral program. Before using this source, however, be certain that the individual referring you is in good standing and well respected in the company, otherwise this one could backfire on you. Generally, the employee receives a finders fee if you are hired. Employers are going to LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Juju, Indeed even Twitter & Facebook and getting away from just the mega job sites—so use social media wisely. Put your name, city and state in a search engine to see if the search results are what you want a future employer to see. Please don’t forget to network with your contacts at the company. The hiring manager may ask the staffing department to search for you by name. Never stop networking!
Connie is the President of CSS Recruiting and Consulting and can be reached via LinkedIn.