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How to Conduct a Job Search: What You Need to Know Today

When IT Director Henry Hirschel started his job search in June 2011, his first move wasn't to hit a job board looking for ads for IT leadership positions. His first step was to connect with his network.

Using Microsoft Publisher, Hirschel created a one-page "marketing brochure" that he emailed to 400 contacts over four weeks. The simple brochure explained that he was on the market, described the kind of job he was seeking, and linked to his Website, LinkedIn profile and online résumé.

Hirschel says he focused on marketing himself and connecting with his network as "a way of making people aware in a positive way that I was transitioning out [of my job] and at the same time notifying them of what I was looking for."

Hirschel's decision to initiate his job search by networking represents a significant change in the way savvy IT job seekers look for work today. Rather than spending the bulk of their time trying to find their next job via a job board, sophisticated IT job seekers have made face-to-face networking, online social networking (using LinkedIn in particular) and personal branding as the cornerstones of their job searches. Their focused efforts are bearing better results.

Hirschel, for example, says he goes on several interviews each week, and that's not just because the market for IT jobs is better than it was two years ago. He adds that most of these interviews are a result of his networking efforts. Daniel Bobke, an IT director based in Orange County, Calif., says he's been on seven job interviews since he started his job search in July, four of which stemmed directly from networking.

"The number of positive hits [responses] I got from that [marketing brochure] certainly outweighed anything I'd get off a job board," says Hirschel.

How the Recession Changed Corporate Hiring and Recruiting

Job seekers and career experts alike say that today's job search requires more focus, more networking and more personal branding than ever because the recession changed the way employers recruit new employees. Consider the following numbers:

Between January 2008 and December 2010, 6.9 million people were laid off from their jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, 14 million people are unemployed. Add the people who are working part-time either because their hours have been cut or they can't find a full-time job, and you have 22.8 million Americans looking for work. Of course, that number doesn't include all the professionals who are employed but who'd like to find a new job.

How many jobs are these tens of millions of Americans chasing? According to Rob McGovern, founder of job search Websites CareerBuilder and Jobfox, there are 3 million jobs currently available. That means at least seven times as many people are searching for work as there are jobs.

All of these people are overwhelming corporate recruiting and HR departments with résumés and applications. "Companies receive more than 200 résumés per job per month," says McGovern. "If you're only going to hire one of them, you're wasting time on 199 people. It's a massive destruction of time on both the job seeker's and employer's parts."

Further complicating recruitment matters is the fact that because employers also downsized their HR departments during the recession, there are fewer people available to process all of the résumés hitting them today.

Employers are reacting by looking for talent in a much more focused manner than they did two years ago, says Shane Bernstein, managing partner of Q, an IT staffing firm based in Los Angeles. "Instead of posting a job online and getting a thousand résumés, they're going on LinkedIn and Plaxo and seeking out the people they want to talk to," he says.

Hiring managers are also increasingly looking to referrals from current employees or colleagues in their networks, as well as using staffing agencies, adds Bernstein.

A recent survey of 800 hiring decision-makers conducted by Jobvite, a maker of social recruiting software, corroborates Bernstein's observations. According to Jobvite's findings:

Hiring managers say their best hires come from referrals, followed by direct sourcing and social networks.

80 percent of survey respondents use social networks to recruit new employees. Of that 80 percent, 86 percent use LinkedIn.

63 percent have successfully hired candidates through social networks; 94 percent through LinkedIn.

54 percent of survey respondents say they plan to increase their investment in recruiting through social media, compared with 16.4 percent who plan to increase their investment in recruiting through job boards.

45 percent of survey respondents say they always search candidate's online profiles.

Jobvite's findings combined with Bernstein, McGovern, Hirschel, Bobke and other job seekers' observations demonstrate the importance of using social media to network and catch the attention of recruiters and hiring managers, who themselves are taking a much more direct and targeted approach to hiring.

Success Strategies for Today's Job Search

The last time Bobke, the IT director in southern California, looked for a job was 2005. Today's job search, he says, is "definitely different" from the one he conducted six years ago.

Back then, he says, more director- and senior-level IT leadership positions were posted online. Today, he adds, those positions are more difficult to find. "They're not necessarily advertised, not generally posted on a company's Website or a job search site," he says, adding that he thinks companies looking for senior IT leaders are using executive search firms "to get a narrow set of candidates quickly," rather than posting a job online and having to slog through 200 résumés.

Bobke uses LinkedIn to unearth job opportunities. He searches for the profiles of employees, particularly in HR or those who would make hiring decisions, at companies he's targeting in his job search. He also uses LinkedIn to track IT leadership and personnel changes at his target companies. Someone leaving a target company could mean a position will open. A new executive coming on board may want to hire his own team.

Bobke says his LinkedIn strategy has been "quite successful" in connecting him with people at his target employers, obtaining feedback from them, giving him an individual to whom he can submit a résumé, and finding out whether open positions exist.

Bobke has also joined several groups on LinkedIn to expand his network and make himself more visible online. One of the groups, the Laguna Niguel Connectors, meets in person, and Bobke takes advantage of those events to get to know even more people.

"I didn't spend a whole lot of time networking in the past," he says. "I've really come to learn the value of networking in these two-and-a-half months or so that I've been looking."

Bobke regrets not having kept up with a network over the last six years. "It probably would have made my transition [into a new job] faster," he says.

Connect with Reputable Staffing Agencies

Gary Richard began looking for a new job in January. At the time, he was working as a vice president of operations with document management company Anacomp, in Virginia, and he wanted to relocate to southern California to be closer to his immediate and extended family: his wife, one of his two grown sons, a grandson (and another grandchild on the way, his parents, his two brothers, four of his five sisters, and 28 nieces and nephews.

"My wife was already out there, and one of my boys, who are older," says Richard.

By July, all Richard's job search had yielded was a few opportunities for three-month consulting positions. He realized he couldn't find a new job on his own.

He connected with Modis, an IT staffing firm that he found through job boards, at the end of July. By mid-August, Modis had lined up a job interview for Richard with a hospital in San Diego. By Labor Day, Richard had left Anacomp and began working for the hospital as a senior project manager in an 18-month contract. (Due to Modis's confidentiality agreement with its clients, Richard could not disclose the name of his employer.)

Richard says taking a contract position was not his first choice, but he did it because of the market and because the position was in an industry he was looking to move into.

"What I was finding in talking with different folks was that more companies are apt to start you off as a contractor," says Richard. "If you work out, they'll bring you on. I would have loved to have been hired full-time, but the reality is, companies are cautious. My long-term goal is to become a full-time employee again."

The Marginalization of Job Boards

Hirschel, Bobke and other IT job seekers interviewed for this article haven't completely abandoned job boards. They mainly use them to see who's hiring, then they try to find people in their networks who work at those companies (or who know other people who work at those companies) and make contact that way, rather than sending their résumé into the job board's black hole. Hirschel says he only checks the job boards once a week. The rest of the week, he's networking.

"The trick about the job search is that it has an awful lot to do with the experiences you had prior to starting a job search," says Hirschel. "The job search is all about the relationships you had that you're now relying on. You determine your future in the present and the past."


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