TOPICS > Economy

Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work?

September 25, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
With a bad economy and nearly everyone on the internet, one job opening promoted online can receive thousands of applications. So with competition fierce and many firms using software rather than human beings to hire, Paul Solman explores whether it is worth it to apply online or if there are better strategies to get employed.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, a new dispatch from the difficult job market.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has long chronicled just how tough it is to get hired. Tonight, he looks at how one of the big changes in recent years, applying online, is not working for many seeking a job.

It’s part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: At McLean Bible, a megachurch in Vienna, Va., the appropriately mega career network ministry. In a labor market increasingly dominated by online job search, this weekly event features sessions on taking psychological tests, selling yourself to interviewers.

MAN: And I have been working in the consulting industry for the last 15 years. And, quite frankly, I love it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Marketing the brand that is you.

MAN: Your resume is going to tell me what you have done in the past. Your marketing plan is going to tell what you want to do in the future.

PAUL SOLMAN: Ministry volunteer John Franklin practices what he preaches. Whether he’s employed, as he was at the time of this July taping, running training sessions for the State Department, or unemployed, as he was soon after, he is always looking for a job.

JOHN FRANKLIN, volunteer: Because that’s the nature of the job market today. If you get laid off today from a position, it could take you anywhere from nine months to two years to find another job.

And those layoffs can come at any time. Your phone could ring and someone could say on the end of the other line, we’re very sorry. Please pack up your things. Someone will be up to walk you out the door.

PAUL SOLMAN: And you have gone through that?

JOHN FRANKLIN: Yes, I have. And 30 minutes later, I was out on the streets. It’s just like you see in the movies.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, you would think that, with help wanted ads migrating from print to the Internet, job search would be easier these days.

But no, says John Franklin. It’s making things harder.

JOHN FRANKLIN: We have talked to a lot of people who come in here and they have binders full of all of the online ads that they have applied for and they have printed out. And they have put dates on them and notes.

And they are as crushed as can be because they haven’t heard anything back.

I honestly think if you’re going to be spending the bulk of your time at home doing nothing but answering job ads for eight hours a day, you are not going to find a job.

PAUL SOLMAN: Eight hours a day? That’s for pikers, said Ed Ezekian of Valley Forge, Pa.

ED EZEKIAN, Valley Forge, Pa.: I check the e-mail and the job sites hourly.

PAUL SOLMAN: Hourly?

ED EZEKIAN: From 7:00 in the morning until midnight.

PAUL SOLMAN: Monster.com has 55 openings for this longtime I.T. sales executive. Unfortunately…

ED EZEKIAN: Eighteen of them are basically straight commission selling lighting product jobs. They’re not I.T. jobs. They’re not high-paying jobs.

PAUL SOLMAN: OK. So there must be something on here out of 55.

ED EZEKIAN: Well, here’s a job for selling mattresses at Sleepy’s on straight commission.

PAUL SOLMAN: Over at CareerBuilder.com, 25 openings supposedly tailored to Ezekian’s experience.

ED EZEKIAN: Here’s a job, the Welcome Wagon.

You know what the Welcome Wagon is? When somebody new moves into the neighborhood, they come out and they give you a bottle of wine and some free coupons.

PAUL SOLMAN: Would you take a job with Welcome Wagon?

ED EZEKIAN: No, because it would be a part-time, no-benefits, no-salary job.

PAUL SOLMAN: Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Entry level sales manager trainee.

ED EZEKIAN: Yes. At my age and based on my experience, the reality is that even if I wanted an entry-level job, I wouldn’t be considered. I have tried that. It’s resulted in zero responses.

PAUL SOLMAN: And yet, after two years without a single job offer, Ezekian keeps plugging away.

ED EZEKIAN: As a salesman, you get a lot of no’s before you get yes’. But if you haven’t been an outside salesman and you’re trying to find a job in this marketplace, I honestly don’t know what people do.

PAUL SOLMAN: Some just give up, as did Sharon Moore, unemployed for two years, when we interviewed a group of the long-term unemployed last spring in Bridgeport, Conn.

SHARON MOORE, Bridgeport, Conn.: I wanted to apply for a state of Connecticut job. And it’s daunting. And if you don’t get through it in a certain amount of time, it just kicks your resume out.

PAUL SOLMAN: Really? You mean there’s a time limit?

SHARON MOORE: Yes. Sorry. You have taken too long. We’re timing you out. Start again.

PAUL SOLMAN: Did you start again?

SHARON MOORE: No.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL SOLMAN: Because you were too annoyed or…

SHARON MOORE: It was 23 pages of stuff that you have to go through. And it was just like — I felt like I need a Ph.D. just to get through the application process.

PAUL SOLMAN: Joyce Hirsch has a Ph.D. from Cornell and a law degree and 10 years’ experience as a biotech patent attorney. But credentials don’t seem to impress the software.

JOYCE HIRSCH, job-Seeker: I do a lot of networking. And I meet a lot of other professionals in related fields, accounting, finance, regulatory, all kinds of things.

And there are a huge number of really amazing people out there who are in a similar situation. They can’t get past the online software. They just can’t seem to get an interview.

PAUL SOLMAN: So what’s going on? Are these frustrated job applicants overqualified, underexperienced? Is it their age, their gender, their race?

None of the above, says Wharton Professor Peter Cappelli.

PETER CAPPELLI, author of “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs”: So, from this point on, the companies decide, you know what, we can’t just have people coming in off the street to do these jobs.

PAUL SOLMAN: He thinks the problem is that firms, big and small, have eliminated human beings from the hiring process.

PETER CAPPELLI: They’re trying to do things cheaply and efficiently. But, most of them, I think, don’t have the historical memory to even know that they didn’t used to do things this way.

PAUL SOLMAN: Cappelli’s Wall Street Journal article last year about job recruitment prompted a flood of responses and his latest book, “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.”

PETER CAPPELLI: I got 500 emails from the first article, people who have applied for jobs in their own company, for example, and couldn’t get hired.

They pretended to be an applicant with the same abilities and resumes they have and they got kicked out of the process.

Somebody told me that they had 29,000 people apply for a reasonably standard engineering position, and nobody made it through the screening process. The software told them nobody was qualified.

NICK CORCODILOS, AsktheHeadHunter.com: In my view, it is absolutely insane.

PAUL SOLMAN: Executive recruiter Nick Corcodilos runs an alternative website for job seekers, AsktheHeadHunter.com.

NICK CORCODILOS: You have hiring managers who have a certain kind of work they need to have done. They write a simple description. They give it to H.R.

This gets reduced down to a bunch of key words. You now have people who are trying to meet the key words in the job description.

PAUL SOLMAN: Or game the whole process.

NICK CORCODILOS: There are people I have known who have taken the entire job description verbatim and plugged it into a part of the resume, not necessarily the top, so it’s not too obvious.

They plug it right in. And they submit it. And they make it through the first few rounds.

PAUL SOLMAN: But don’t companies know this? And why would they still post ads online when surveys suggest that no more than a few percent of all jobs are filled this way?

NICK CORCODILOS: Whenever I do a presentation, I almost always ask the question, raise of hands, who found a job through a major job board? And virtually no one.

PAUL SOLMAN: None of the Internet job sites, including Monster and CareerBuilder, would grant us an interview.

But back at McLean Bible Church, our anecdata suggested that they do have some reason for being.

How many of you have gotten a job through an Internet job board?

More than just a few percent.

How? What job?

MAN: It was a vice president position, education training with an association.

PAUL SOLMAN: And when was this?

MAN: 2003.

MARY MIHALIK, McLean Bible Church: In the past 20 years, all the positions I have obtained have been through Internet job boards.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is it as effective today as it was in the beginning, do you think?

MARY MIHALIK: No. Compared to 1990, there’s lot more competition.

PAUL SOLMAN: And as we and others have often reported, companies are in the driver’s seat these days, which is why networking groups have proliferated.

MAN: Several people are going to pop up, which is perfect first-level contacts in your own field of work.

JOHN FRANKLIN: Pound the pavement. Make phone calls. Contact alumni organizations, go to job fairs and build those kinds of networks that enable you to make the contacts that will get you the job.

PETER CAPPELLI: Get around the system.

PAUL SOLMAN: Peter Cappelli takes it a step further.

PETER CAPPELLI: Get to somebody who knows the person who is doing the hiring and can make case to them.

You know, that’s best way around this conundrum of the applicant tracking systems and the software not being smart enough to process everybody correctly.

PAUL SOLMAN: And perhaps you shouldn’t even bother with online applications, says Nick Corcodilos.

NICK CORCODILOS: The whole secret is think carefully about where you would like to work.

Even if you’re young, life is short. You’re going to have very few good jobs in your life. So, ask yourself, who are the shining light companies you would love to work for? Pick those companies out and go pursue them like a mad dog.

PAUL SOLMAN: Not the most encouraging advice for a rational human.

ED EZEKIAN: They keep saying there’s thousands of jobs out there. I only one want.

PAUL SOLMAN: But perhaps more practical than relying on cyberspace in 2012.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On our website, we profile two people who have been burned by the complexities and frustration of job hunting online.

And we’re taking your job search questions for expert headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Submit those on Paul’s Making Sense page.