Ask the Headhunter: Niche Job Boards and Job Fairs

BY Paul Solman  January 1, 2013 at 11:08 AM EDT


This photo from 1938, pictures a transitory cooking course for unemployed men who used to work in mines, shipyards and factories in Kent, England. Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos is an expert on how to get a job. We ran into him while doing a story on the relative futility of Internet job boards and asked him to post his own job search secrets. It became a palpable hit, so we asked Nick if he wouldn’t mind taking some questions from our readers. It turns out that in addition to giving interviews to PBS, Nick hosts a website called asktheheadhunter.com, and publishes a free weekly — the Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter.

Peter Bro — Portland, Ore.: I just watched your piece on finding a job online. I am an owner of two restaurants in Portland, Ore., and I rely on hiring from online resources. As a result, I ended up creating a site specifically for hiring in the service industry: Poachedjobs.com. I realize the restaurant industry is perceived as transitory by nature, but for those who are struggling to find work, the service industry can be a good interim position that can teach skills that are transferable to the corporate world.

Nick Corcodilos: Everyone who reads my columns knows I’m not a fan of job boards. But like most things, there’s a spectrum of players in the job board world. Surveys suggest that two kinds of online jobs sources seem to do a better job than the big job boards: niche job boards that cater to specific fields or industries, and employers’ own websites.

Your food-industry *job board *, is an example of what a niche board can offer. It’s nicely broken down into categories of jobs so that a user doesn’t have to rely only on a search function, and the application page is very simple.

Another niche board, in the software development industry, is actually run by a software development company called 37signals that piggybacks the board on top of its own business. It’s highly focused on a particular set of employers, job hunters, and jobs.

(Neither NewsHour nor I can vouch for these job boards. Use your good own judgment when visiting job boards.)

A niche board is unlikely to attract tire-kickers, either from the job hunter or employer side, so the competition is bearable. The employers that post are more likely to respond faster and with more enthusiasm to job hunters.

Employers’ own websites tend to be kept more up-to-date with their listings because, well, it’s their own turf! They want to look good. Elsewhere in these columns, I’ve mentioned LinkUp before. (LinkUp is not connected to LinkedIn.) It’s a job search engine, which is different from a job board. It works like Google, and lets you search employers’ own websites for jobs.

For more about this topic, check this audio program I did with WNYC public radio on this topic: The Work Search: Job Boards.

Nina Sherman — San Francisco, Calif.: I’ve been unemployed for 2 years. I’m looking for an administrative or reception position. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in interior design but I’ve never worked in the industry. Should I have it on my resume? Is it disqualifying me for some of the more basic opportunities? Another question: I go to job fairs and I never get any results. The people at the stalls direct you to their websites.

Nick Corcodilos: Any college degree is an advantage on your resume. I would include it, even if it’s not relevant to the field you want to work in. There’s nothing wrong with listing your degree as “B.A., Lovely State College, 1999.” There’s no need to mention that your degree is in interior design. But trust me, you learned things in college that you will use in any job you do. Analytical thinking, research skills, writing and communication skills are benefits of a college education that you will apply to your job.

Job fairs are largely a waste of time. Employers use them partly to fulfill equal opportunity hiring obligations, but they usually deploy only personnel clerks, not hiring managers. That is, they’re doing nothing but paying lip service to the law. As you note, when you walk up to an employer’s booth, they have laptop computers at the ready, so you can submit your application online. So, what’s the point of going to the fair when you can do this at home?

Job fairs will accomplish little but give you a headache from personnel-jockey overload, and remind you that there are a lot of unemployed people in the world. I think the federal government should require employers that conduct job fairs to disclose how many applications they gathered, and how many jobs they filled at the fair. Job fairs would quickly vanish, and rightly so.

The only exception might be job fairs conducted by colleges for their students. Because the success of these fairs is more closely scrutinized by both students and faculty, I believe colleges work pretty hard to ensure that employers that attend actually hire people! Maybe that’s why colleges call these events “on-campus recruiting” because that’s what they really are.

For more advice about what to actually put on your resume, please see Resume Blasphemy, a contrarian approach to that age-old document.

Ann Cartier — Berkeley, Calif.: If software is such a roadblock, and I don’t know anyone in Philadelphia (being on the West Coast), how do I go about networking on the other side of the country?

Nick Corcodilos: You can network anywhere, and even make it worth your while to buy your own airline tickets to go interview across the country.

Much networking is done online nowadays, and you can be very successful at it. Most job boards don’t let you network. LinkedIn, which has turned into a job board, can help you network if you look up the people you want to meet, so take advantage of that. My caution to you is, don’t rely only on LinkedIn’s job listings. They’re no better than a job board. All you’re doing is diving into a sea of competition, because tons of people are responding to these.

Instead, decide which companies in Philadelphia you’d like to work for. That’s right: Decide. Don’t take “what comes along.” Research the industries you’re interested in, and focus on specific companies. Then search for people connected to those companies on LinkedIn, and join relevant discussion groups. You can do this on other forums, too, by using Google to find people and relevant online communities. Then, participate actively. This takes time and effort, and you must establish your credibility with these folks. The next step is to casually ask for advice about their companies, either online or via e-mail. Don’t ask for job leads; people tend to react negatively to that. Instead, engage in discussions about their work. This is how referrals and introductions get made. This is how healthy networking develops.

As for the distance issue, if you can establish connections with a few companies in the Philadelphia area, it may be worth a trip. Let each one know that you will be in town on business — and you will be, though you don’t need to disclose that you’re exploring job opportunities. I’ve found that when a company in a distant city knows you’ll be in town anyway, they’re more likely to schedule an exploratory meeting with you, because it’s costing them nothing. Check this article for more about Long-distance Job Search.


Nick Corcodilos: I started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and I’ve answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade — and I’m glad to share what I know with you. I offer no guarantees — but I’ll do my best to offer you useful advice — so please feel free to post your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. I am the author of three “how to” PDF books, available on my website: How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you, How Can I Change Careers?, and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps

Questions will be collected from here and we’ll post my advice on a series of Ask The Headhunter columns here on Making Sen$e. You’ll also find my comments sprinkled throughout this discussion forum about various topics. Thanks for participating!

Copyright© 2012 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask The Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.