Stop Wasting Your Time on Job Boards, with Susan Joyce

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 237:

Stop Wasting Your Time on Job Boards, with Susan Joyce

Air date: April 1, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Many people think the best way to find a great job is to spend all day, every day answering ads on job boards like the one we run at Mac’s List.

But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re only making your job search harder.

Here to talk about how to stop wasting time and get the most out of job boards is Susan Joyce.

She’s the publisher and editor of JobHunt.org. With more than one million visitors a month, it’s one of the most popular job-search advice sites in the world.

Susan joins us today from outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Susan, let’s jump right into it. What’s the biggest mistake you see people make with job boards?

Susan Joyce:

Well, just exactly as you were describing, Mac, it’s spending too much time sitting at the computer and clicking on the apply button. It feels productive, it feels like you’re making progress, but really what you’re doing is you’re not being very careful and you’re turning yourself into what I’ve heard so many recruiters call, “a resume spammer.” You’re just clicking that apply button without being too careful or without being careful enough.

Mac Prichard:

Why do people do that, Susan?

Susan Joyce:

Well, it feels productive, it really does. You know, here’s a job and, click, I’ve applied for it. So you feel like you’re making progress when in fact, most of the time, you’re not. I saw some data recently that said something like, “15% to as low as 10% of jobs are filled through job boards.” Unfortunately.

Mac Prichard:

Well, shouldn’t people apply for positions on job boards though? Isn’t there some value in doing that?

Susan Joyce:

There absolutely is but the application needs to be careful. It needs to be for a job you’re qualified for and the application needs to be customized to the job. And preferably, you’ve got a list of target employers where you know you want to work, so that makes it even easier to customize your response to it. Because you know, in general, what they’re looking for, and you know the kind of qualifications that they want, and you know how to appeal to them when you’re paying close attention.

Mac Prichard:

That sounds like a lot of work. If you’re doing that, how much time does it take to put an application together like that?

Susan Joyce:

Well, once you’ve got it rolling and you’ve got a process for customizing your application, it won’t take that long. Particularly, as I said, if you’ve got some target employers. But, you know, it can take 10, 15 minutes, 20 minutes to complete an online application, and on some sites, it can take even longer. But that’s why it’s a good idea to focus on the ones that you really want and to apply really carefully for them.

Mac Prichard:

How does taking the steps that you just described, as in customizing a cover letter, resume, thinking thoughtfully about the online form and your answers, how does that help you as a candidate when you do those things?

Susan Joyce:

Well, it’s definitely noticed on the other end, and if a recruiter sees your resume or your application, they’ll notice you’re using the right terminology. But even more importantly, it enables your application to be seen by a human being. I saw some data a year or two ago about an average of 250 applications per job. That’s why we have these evil things called applicant tracking systems and that’s where the applications are stored, and if you don’t have the right terminology in your application or resume, nobody is going to see it because what they do to find applicants to interview is they search through the applicant tracking system and if you aren’t using the right terminology, you won’t be found.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got to, not only customize your materials and pick your target employers, you’ve got to research the words and phrases that matter to an employer.

Susan Joyce:

You do, and most of the time, those are the terms that you’re going to find on the job description. The most important ones are the job title and the location. Believe it or not, the location is very important to the employer because most of the time, they don’t want to pay you to move, even 500 miles. They want you to be local so that you can start right away.

The job title of the job you want, the location, and then the specific requirements for the job, say, certifications or experience with specific kinds of tools or doing specific tasks. Whatever’s been specified in the job description is usually what the person doing the searches of the applicant tracking system will use for their searches.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about the elements that go into a successful online application, let’s step back, Susan, because there really is an embarrassment of riches on job boards, jobs that are posted online, there are just thousands of them. How do you recommend a listener pick the jobs that they do apply for?

Susan Joyce:

Well, I think really the best way to do this process is to start with some specific employers in mind. And maybe you start with Google and Apple, whatever appeals to you, or hopefully, you know someone who works at one of these employers and they really like their job. That’s a very good indicator that this could be a good place for you to work. And also, having a friend who works at a target employer can often be really the fast track to a new job.

Mac Prichard:

Why does that make a difference, to know somebody on the inside of a company? I mean, obviously, you want to know if they like working there but what else is happening when you have someone inside?

Susan Joyce:

Well, hopefully, you’ll get an employee referral. They’ll find out when a job is open that you might be a good fit for and they’ll let you know. And if you’re interested they can hand your resume to the hiring manager, to the HR manager, and employers really appreciate employee referrals. They actually, most of them reward employee referrals with at least a thousand dollar bonus, so that it pays off for the employee too, but this is a way for the employer to get, sort of, an inside track on understanding the person.

I mean, too often people can be really very dazzling in a job interview and do a terrible job, or they’re not honest, they’re not easy to work with. A whole bunch of things can go wrong but if somebody is known by a current employee, that’s a good indicator. And if someone is recommended by a current employee, that’s a good indicator that this person might be a really good hire. Even if they don’t exactly fit all of the requirements.

Mac Prichard:

Talk more about that. Why does that matter so much to a hiring manager?

Susan Joyce:

Well, it’s…somebody knows the person better than the stranger that’s being interviewed, and also, then when you have a friend who works there, usually they can help you be more successful. They can tell you, “Be sure to show up on time in the morning and don’t leave early, and watch out for this person, and be sure to read your email every morning before you go to the first meeting.” Or whatever.

They can coach you on being more successful inside the organization, and they can also introduce you to other members of the organization so that you can become a functional part of the team a lot more quickly.

Mac Prichard:

What if somebody has followed your advice: they’ve made a list of companies that interest them, they’re prepared to customize their materials, but they don’t know anyone inside the organization? What do you recommend they do, Susan? Should they apply anyway or is there some other step that they should take first?

Susan Joyce:

Well, I would say the thing to do before you apply is take a quick look at LinkedIn and see if there’s anybody in your LinkedIn connections who works there or who knows someone who works there. If you do a company search on LinkedIn, LinkedIn will show you that you know this person who knows 2 people who work at that company, or you know this person who worked at that company before and they know 5 people who work at that company or whatever.

LinkedIn is a really good way to identify those kinds of opportunities for you.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about the number of mistakes you see people make when looking at postings on job boards and applying, that ultimately are wasting their time. Things like, spray and pray, sending out lots of applications, not customizing materials, not finding a contact inside a company.

What are some other mistakes that, ultimately, are wasting people’s time when they’re working on job boards, that you see people make?

Susan Joyce:

Well, one of the big mistakes I see is people ignoring the opportunity to post a resume. And there’s a lot of places you don’t have to necessarily apply for a job to post your resume, and if you’re employed, I would be really careful about this whole process because your employer’s not going to be happy to find out that you’re in a job search. So, post your resume privately but you can post your resume, and another thing that is very helpful is to use job boards for research.

How often is an employer hiring? What jobs are they filling? What are they looking for?

Mac Prichard:

Alright, I want to talk about positive ways people can use job boards but we’re going to take a break in a moment.

I want to just close this segment though, Susan, with asking a question that, I know, is on the minds of some listeners, who might think, “Well, it’s a numbers game in the end. If I apply for X number of jobs, eventually I will get an interview and an offer.” Do you think that’s a good strategy, Susan?

Susan Joyce:

No, no, it’s not roulette. It’s not a random chance occurrence that you end up with a job offer. The numbers game theory, I understand the theory, I’ve even been to Las Vegas, but it doesn’t work when an employer is filling a job. A job is too important. A bad employee costs an employer a lot of money and time, and sometimes they can do a tremendous amount of damage.

It’s not a game of roulette, it’s not a numbers game.

Mac Prichard:

Alright, well, let’s take a break. When we come back I want to talk more about things like research that people can do on job boards that might not normally occur to them and other ways to use your time effectively on job boards.

Stay with us. We’ll be back in a moment.

We run a job board at Mac’s List.

But you’ll not only see hundreds of job listings on our site. You’ll also find free articles, guides, and courses about job hunting.

That’s because applying for a job is just one step. And after you hit the send button, your work isn’t done.

You also need to be ready when you get an interview.

And when you sit down in the hot seat, you can count on hiring managers asking you behavioral questions.

Do you know what to do next?

Go to macslist.org/questions.

You’ll get our free guide, 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

You’ll learn how to recognize behavioral questions, why managers ask them, and what kinds of answers can make you stand out from other candidates.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Don’t make up your answers on the spot. Use our four-part system to tackle any behavioral question.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Susan Joyce.

She’s the publisher and editor of JobHunt.org.

She joins us today from outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Susan, before the break, we were talking about ways to use job boards effectively by customizing your resume, identifying context inside a company, and above all, not treating the job search process as a kind of roulette game.

One thing that you brought up in our first segment is the idea that you can use job boards for research in addition to applying for positions. Tell us more about that.

Susan Joyce:

Well, there’s a lot of information that you can collect when you look at a job board or when you look at an employer’s job board.

You might want to set up a spreadsheet to see, every Monday, how many jobs does this employer have posted, and what job do they have posted, and how long do the jobs stay posted? Sometimes jobs get filled very quickly, sometimes they take a long time. So, you learn how the employer’s process works. And sometimes you’ll see an employer posting a lot of jobs because they have opened a new office, or they’re expanding a department, or they’re growing in some way, and sometimes you can learn that maybe this is not such a great place to work.

They always have a lot of jobs open because they have a lot of people leaving. People accept jobs there, they don’t like it, and they leave. Some employers accept that and just consider it a cost of doing business; other employers realize that that’s bad for them because they’re always in the process of training people and the expensive process of hiring.

It’s a good way to just pick up information about what’s going on with that employer, by paying attention to the jobs they have posted and what they seem to be looking for, where they seem to be growing, or maybe if there are some problems there.

Mac Prichard:

As you say that, I’m reminded of your point earlier on the show about the importance of picking the companies where you want to work, because when you do that, as you were speaking a moment ago, Susan, you do begin to see patterns, as you pay attention to openings at an organization that interests you. So, if a job is opened, closes, and reopens 6 months ago, that’s probably a sign of churn and somebody who didn’t work out, isn’t it?

Susan Joyce:

It well could be, it definitely could be and that’s one of the things that you want to pay attention to.

Mac Prichard:

What are some other ways of using job boards in a smarter way, in addition to research and paying attention to things like frequent turnover or on the positive side, growth and the addition of staff? What other things do you recommend people do?

Susan Joyce:

Well, you can use job boards to identify new employers that are hiring. You can get an idea of what salaries are available, which employers are paying better than others. I kind of take the salary data that we have publicly with a little grain of salt but I know that they’re trying very hard to make it more accurate and it’s…that can be a good indicator. It isn’t something that I would necessarily hang my future on but do some research into kinds of jobs that seem to pay well and consider whether or not maybe that could be your next job or your next career. Look into what’s going on and what other opportunities might be available.

Mac Prichard:

Can you rely on the public salary data that you see published in postings? Aren’t in some instances, salaries negotiable and even the public ranges can get increased if the right candidate comes along?

Susan Joyce:

Oh, absolutely, salaries can always be negotiated. Especially if you’re prepared and you know what a given employer seems to be paying for a specific job. There are sites like salary.com and payscale.com that seem to do a pretty good job of interacting with employers and finding out what the employers pay, and I know that Indeed used to do that very well too. I don’t know if they still are but they did in the past.

You can get some insight into what the range might be, and, you know, compare the range. Maybe you’re looking for an administrative job that pays $30-50,000 and maybe there’s a senior administrative job that pays $40-60,000. Well, do you qualify for that? Can you qualify for that? What do you need to do to qualify for that?

You can learn a lot observing that. I do agree that you need to take that data with a bit of a grain of salt. Especially when it’s self-reported because I’m not sure when people report their salaries, are they reporting the net salary or the gross salary? Do they have really fabulous benefits even though they don’t have a big salary? It’s a little bit of a…it’s a little foggy information but it’s there and I think it’s getting better every year. It seems to be.

Mac Prichard:

I would imagine if you do a fair amount of research as you’re going through your search, that that can help you in negotiations when you have a job offer. You can actually point to other employers and cite data that’s been posted online about what they’re paying for a similar position, can’t you?

Susan Joyce:

Absolutely, and that’s a very good way to use it.

Mac Prichard:

Now, many job seekers get frustrated because they want to actually talk to the hiring manager, and sometimes with online postings, it can seem like there’s just a wall between the job seeker and the company. But I know that you think there are ways to actually use job board postings to identify recruiters and hiring managers, people who make hiring decisions. Can you talk more about that?

Susan Joyce:

I can and it’s something that I’ve been studying for quite a while. It used to be, a long time ago, and we’re probably talking like 10 years ago, you could see the hiring manager’s or the HR manager’s name on the job description, on the bottom of it, and you don’t anymore very often. But what you can do is you can analyze the job and I was just this afternoon looking at a couple. There’s an Admin. Assistant job at a local college in the Biology department. Okay, so go to the local college website and see if you can find the name of the head of the Biology department.

Or there’s an assistant manager job at a local bank branch. Well, I bet you can go to the bank website and find out the name of the bank manager. You can, with a lot of jobs, figure out who the manager might be.

The other thing that you can do is, you can go to LinkedIn and you can do some research and you can go to Google and do some research.

Mac Prichard:

I love that advice. Now, once you get that name, Susan, what’s your best tip for how to follow up with that person?

Susan Joyce:

Well, I would try sending them an email or even, if you’re feeling really brave and you’re really careful, calling and saying, “I applied for this job. I’m very interested in working here. I’ve got this much experience that you’re looking for and I’m really excited at the thought of working for this bank.”

And come across as sincere but enthusiastic, and ask if there’s a way that you can stay in touch, if they have any questions about your application, or if there’s any other information that they would like to have. Maybe you can send them a copy of something you wrote, or a link to your LinkedIn profile is a very good idea, too.

Mac Prichard:

Great tips.

Well, we’ve talked a lot about how to use job boards but I want to step back from that and ask you this, how much time do you think people should spend looking at job boards during a job search? Do you have a recommended ratio or percentage?

Susan Joyce:

Well, it depends on whether or not you’re employed. If you’re unemployed, I would say an hour a day or an hour and a half. Using it for research, not just applying. And then spend time on LinkedIn, spend time networking, go to the local Chamber of Commerce meeting, or the local PTA meeting, or whatever is going on locally for you.

There was a, I’ll never forget, a friend connected…I watched this happen in front of me, I was at the wake of another former colleague and there were several of us who worked for that company together. We were all laid off and one of the people in the group of us who were former employees at this wake mentioned that she was looking for a job and one of the other people in the group, from this former employer, was hiring, so she connected with a great new job in line at a wake.

You just never know when networking opportunities are going to happen, so step away from the computer and get out of the house. Maybe it’s a little bit riskier now, with the Coronavirus going on, but I would say try to make a personal connection with someone offline or at least not on a job board, some other way.

People connect on FaceBook, employers love to be followed on LinkedIn, Twitter, and FaceBook. If you have a target employer you’ve got in mind, or reach out to people you went to school with, or people who you worked at the same employer a few years ago, or people you went to college with.

Stay connected.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, great advice. Get those referrals.

I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Susan. What’s next for you?

Susan Joyce:

Well, I’m writing a book on how to do modern job search. I’m probably ⅔ of the way done and I’m also, of course, trying to keep up to date with everything going on in job search on Job Hunt so that it can help people be successful with their job searching today.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a terrific site. You have so many great contributors and I know visitors can benefit now only from your advice but those of your contributing editors by visiting Job Hunt website, job-hunt.org

Well, Susan, given all of the advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember about how they can stop wasting time and make the most of job boards?

Susan Joyce:

I think one of the best things to do is to try to connect with an employee referral. It’s the fastest way to get hired. 40% of jobs are filled by employee referrals versus 7% via job application. So, it’s amazing and I think that is at least 30% more than the jobs that are filled via job boards, so an employee referral is absolutely the fast track to a new job.

The other thing I highly recommend people do is something I call defensive Googling. Google you name every week, set up a Google Alert on your name and see what employers find when they search for your name because there might be somebody else who was…a job seeker I talked with a few years ago, there was someone who had robbed a bank who had the same name, and that person’s Google visibility was ruining this guy’s job opportunities. He added his middle initial to his name and he was employed in a month.

You have to pay attention to that. It’s very important today.

Mac Prichard:

Whether you apply via a job board or through a referral, you will still need to wow your interviewer.

And almost every employer today uses behavioral questions. Do you know what you’ll say when you’re in the hot seat?

Get your free copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

On our next show, our guest will be Ashley Watkins.  She’s a certified resume writer, job search coach, and former corporate recruiter.

Looking for work can be discouraging, especially if your job hunt is a long one. Ashley and I will talk about how to cope with depression during a job search.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Using a job board may seem like a productive way to spend your time, but is it? According to Find Your Dream Job guest Susan Joyce, the answer is “maybe.” Susan says job boards work best when you identify your target employers and customize your resume for those employers. She also recommends using job boards to do research on the companies you’ve chosen to target. And remember, 40% of jobs are filled by employee referrals, so if you know someone at one of your targeted employers, be sure to ask them to introduce you to the hiring manager.

About Our Guest:

Susan Joyce is the publisher and editor of Job-Hunt.org. With more than one million visitors a month, it’s one of the most popular job-search advice sites in the world.

Resources in This Episode:

  • For more advice from Susan and her contributing editors, visit job-hunt.org