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In Search of Work

Author: Michael E. Duffy
March, 2016 Issue

Michael E. Duffy
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Columnist's Blog
Author: Michael E. Duffy
March, 2016 Issue

It would be nice to believe your cover letter and résumé are carefully read by the person who will hire you.

As you may recall from last month’s column, I’m out of work and (at deadline for this column), I’ve yet to receive a job offer. So, let me tell you about the process of searching for a job in the 21st century, something with which I’ve become intimately familiar.
I laugh when I see movies from the 1980s, when characters open up the classified ads section in a newspaper and look for work, scanning the columns for an appropriate job listing (which were usually tiny because you paid by the word or column-inch), crossing them out one by one after making a phone call. When I was a high-school freshman, one teacher assigned us the task of finding a job in the newspaper that we’d be qualified to hold when we graduated from high school (a subtle way of encouraging us to continue on to college). I fondly remember looking at the jobs section in the Sunday edition Los Angeles Times—it was enormous—because that was the way businesses hired employees. Then came the Internet.
Now, you visit job sites online. But there’s not just one. There’s,,,,,,,, and dozens of others, listing literally thousands of jobs from all over the world. (If you’re an employer, you might want to check out Glassdoor to see what past and present employees are saying about you, one of the distinctive features of the site).
Plus, many (most?) companies now have a section of their website devoted to open positions. A search for the word “software” on the General Electric “careers” page yielded 1,378 possible jobs. The sheer number of job sites and jobs can be overwhelming at first.
The first issue for a modern job seeker, then, is figuring out which job sites to use (and you’ll want to use more than one). This is complicated by the fact that some sites are not primary sources (primary sites get listings directly from employers). Instead, they crawl other job sites and aggregate the listings on their site, which can make them more useful for a job seeker (everything in one place). But this results in seeing some jobs in several places, which can be confusing. And some jobs will show up days after being posted on the original site(s).
The next task on each site is to find appropriate jobs. You can’t just search on a job title, because you have no idea how an employer titles jobs that may be right for you. For example, I’m a former CTO, but an employer may title a position CTO, chief technical officer, chief technology officer or even senior vice president for technology. The good news is that many sites let you set up a job alert based on keywords, distance, date of posting and other criteria. Tuning these automated alerts is key to job-finding success. For example, I started out with a job alert for CTO, but quickly limited it to “United States,” since I don’t intend to work in the UK or India (which, apparently, have a shortage of CTOs).
Automated alerts result in several emails (from various searches on various job sites) arriving in your email inbox each morning, each with a list of potential jobs. You scan through the list, perhaps clicking to read a job listing (time consuming, particularly on a slow connection) or hoping that a job title catches your interest. Some sites even rate how good a match you are for a job. How do they do that? They ask you to upload a résumé when you join the site, scan it for keywords and match (in some undisclosed fashion) the keywords in your résumé with keywords obtained from the job listing itself. Helpful, but not foolproof.
So, job seekers face several problems, including which job sites to use, an overwhelming number of job listings (perhaps made more tractable by good use of automated alerts) and, finally, an unprecedented number of potential competitors for the same job. When all jobs are aggregated in a few places, you lose the advantage of seeing a job that no one else knows about (unless you’re using your network, which, I believe, remains the best way to find a new job). And, of course, you still face the age-old issue of crafting a targeted résumé and cover letter. I have two basic résumés (one for management, one for developer), which I further tailor based on whether, for instance, I need to emphasize my experience in regulated environments, calling out HIPAA and FDA-related items.
Employers face the same problem in reverse: They receive a staggering number of applicants for any given job. There are a number of application tracking services ( and are two) that handle the online application process for employers. And here’s where it gets tricky for the job seeker. You have no idea how your application is processed. It would be nice to believe your cover letter and résumé are carefully read by the person who will hire you. But it’s more likely they’re first processed by the application tracking system, based on keywords. CIO magazine states that, “these systems...kill 75 percent of candidates' chances of landing an interview as soon as they submit their résumés.”
Make no mistake, the entire online job system is optimized for employers, since they’re the ones who pay the bills (listing fees for open positions paid to primary sites). And a false negative (pursuing an unqualified candidate) is more expensive (dollar-wise) that a false positive (missing a qualified candidate), at least in the short term.



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