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By Nick Corcodilos

Part II:
Are You The Fish
Or The Fisherman?

In Part I we discussed the sorry state of "online recruiting". Now we learn how to use the Net as a powerful job hunting tool.

Set Your Own Standards
What do you want from a job search? The right job, of course. That includes things like interesting work, the freedom to do what you do best, good compensation, good people to work with, good growth potential and as much security as you want. Maybe even a little equity. When that much is at stake, playing the ads is playing the odds. If you want a good life and a good job, take an active approach and pursue what you want, not what's shoveled down your Net wire.

Can you use the Net to search for a job or to fill a job? Absolutely -- but only if you keep your standards high. Here are some tips to keep your efforts profitable.

Don't Be Passive
Passive employees get laid off, and passive job hunters get passed over.

Job-netting can render you as passive as a TV couch potato. It's the old garbage-in, garbage-out problem; it just looks better because the transmission channel is wider. The job boards don't enhance your chances of winning a job; they just let you increase the volume of your output. They also increase the "noise" of your competition. Where's the net gain in that?

It takes as much smart, solid research and preparation to win the job you want as it takes to do the job itself. There's no way around it; don't let Net advertising convince you otherwise. Zinging out resumes to people you don't know who don't know you is as passive as it gets. Instead, take Margaret Riley's advice: use the Net as a powerful research tool. Use it to gather information that will have a material effect on your choice of which companies or candidates to pursue. Be active about your search. When you do send a resume over the wire, establish your own odds for success by knowing who it's going to and why, and be sure he's expecting it.

As an employer, you just can't get more passive about hiring than advertising the jobs you want to fill. Everyone and his brother will apply -- and you're stuck sorting out the turkeys. Don't count on job postings that sit there waiting for job-netters to take potshots at them with their resumes.

The term for this practice is an oxymoron: "recruitment advertising." Recruiting is an active approach to filling jobs. Waiting to receive resumes in response to your advertising is entirely passive. When a company's internal recruiters start going blind reading resumes, that's when the company brings in the headhunters. And headhunters are doing a land-office business nowadays.

If you want the right candidate, go find, entice, recruit and steal him. That's what you'd pay a headhunter to do. With the help of the Net, you can be your own headhunter. Think about how you could twist some of the job-hunting suggestions below into tools that will help you hunt for the right people.

Raise The Standards
Have you found a particularly tasty job posting that you just can't pass up?

Don't accept the ad as the only channel to the job. Raise the employer's standards. He needs to identify the one candidate who can demonstrate how he's going to make the employer more profitable.

Help the employer. Use the Net to root out the manager who owns the position. Sure, it'll take some work. But remember that there are just four to six degrees of separation between any two people. E-mail can make it easier for you to stimulate your network of contacts to get you to the manager. Use it.

Don't ask, "who is advertising this job?". That's lame, and it makes you sound like a job-netter. Ask who manages "XYZ department" at the company. E-mail the manager and explain that you don't reply to ads because you don't believe in mindless job hunting. You do in-depth research to determine how you can contribute to a project's bottom line, and you've done that in this case. Provide a very brief example. Does he have a few minutes to talk? Act like you're a cut above and you'll ratchet his attitude up a notch or two as well.

If you're a manager and this advice bothers you, take another look at job hunters who try to beat down your door. Create a new standard by opening the door. Rather than apply for a job through the human resources department, like they're supposed to, some uppity people will call you -- the manager -- directly, and call again and again. They raise a ruckus trying to get your attention. Guess what? These people are motivated, and they're possibly the best qualified. Compared to the drones waiting in line outside the HR office, these job hunters are the ones most interested in working for you. And they're doing something about it.

If you're a manager and a job hunter goes to great measures to get in touch with you, take advantage of his or her motivation. Talk to him. Invite him in. Test him. Prod him. Poke him. Most important, invite him to prove himself to you. He's likely to be more prepared than the passive candidates.

People, Not Numbers
Never pursue a job blindly. Want ads are blind because the employer doesn't know you, and you don't know him. No matter how detailed the ad, it will never tell you much about the work you're applying for. You learn these things from people who are associated with the company. Twenty resumes in reply to 20 job postings aren't as useful as five minutes talking (or e-mailing, for that matter) with one employee at the company where you want to work. A little good, inside information can be used to produce the marginal difference you need to win the job.

"Most of the people we hired -- and I was involved at all levels, from production line to senior executive -- were identified through our personal contacts, not through ads," says Brennan. "I'd call other company managers and employees and ask them who they recommended."

Use the Net to get known, not to amplify your ability to reply to more blind ads. Why waste time filling out Web forms when you can find the right people to talk to? You can use the Net to:

  • Find technical articles written by (or about) a target company's employees. These are people you can e-mail personally without getting screened by a receptionist. One Yahoo! search can net you enough names to yield at least one or two good contacts. When you call or e-mail, don't ask for a job. Share your thoughts and knowledge about the subject of the article. Make a contact and become a contact. Stay in touch.
  • Track down vendors who deal with the company. I got a job once when I convinced a company's vendor to introduce me to the right manager. Vendors are people whose work is related to yours. Talk to them about things that matter to you both. Remember what George Carlin once said: "Suppose you could have everything in the world. Where would you put it?" Those millions of  jobs listed on the Net: if you could download and read them all, what good would it do you? Give me one human contact any time.

Accuracy Counts
If you're going to use the Net to apply for jobs, sit down and make a list of the next 20 jobs you want to apply for. Then try to explain why you should be hired by each of these companies. Not in 25 words or less, but in enough detail that your explanation would wash with the board of directors. How are you going to do the job, and how much more profitable would you make their company?

How far down would you have to whittle that list of 20 jobs so you could prepare that kind of presentation? Pretty far, huh?

Don't pursue a lot of opportunities at once, because you can't. Pursue no more than you can handle accurately. Don't be one of 5,000 essentially random resumes arriving in the e-mail queue. Raise your standards, and be accurate, too.

Be the one right candidate, and be prepared to offer value.

  • Use the Net to gather detailed information about the company's business, technology and products. Hit the company's own Web site. Search the online data bases. Check the company out on financial services like The Motley Fool. This will help you judge whether a job is really for you. You can't be a good candidate if you aren't an expert in the company's business.
  • Learn what problems and challenges a company is facing. These are the "hiring triggers" you can pull in a phone discussion - or in an e-mail -- to get attention. You can't offer value if you don't understand the company's needs.

Study the analyses you find online and in professional publications and follow up on the references listed in them. It was never so easy to do this before the Net came along. That's what the Net is for.

Smarts Matter
Contrary to the message HR departments deliver when they scan your resume like a soup can at the grocery checkout, who you are matters.

Resumes cannot capture or communicate your intelligence, your motivation or your cognitive style (the way you approach and solve problems). When you rely on buzzwords and paper to represent you, the employer misses out on the best you have to offer, and you can miss out on a great job.

When Jill says to her boss, "John would be able to tweak that system to improve performance by about a third," her boss is ready to interview Jill's buddy John. No resume changed hands; no buzzwords were mentioned. What produces interest in this kind of situation is the conjunction of a specific problem, the talent to tackle it, and a personal reference that confirms the talent. When you job-net, you can't help the manager bring those three factors together to make him want to talk to you.

If you use the Net to identify the problem and to develop a contact who can communicate your smarts, you're not playing the odds any more. You're an insider.

You Can Be A Fish...
The power and limitations of the Internet are becoming more and more evident. At best, the job boards and recruitment sites are little more than mock-ups of an idea that hasn't yet crystallized. At worst, they're hundred-year-old advertising tricks wrapped in new technology.

The Internet can be a great tool that will help you find your next job or your next employee. But don't waste its power and get caught up in it the way people get caught up in the want ads. The recruitment advertising firms are using the Net to catch you; you're the fish and they're the fisherman. They produce and control the information that leads you into a narrow pool of restricted options and fierce competition. You're part of a feeding frenzy, and your level of control is as negligible as that of the poor sucker who believes his career is limited by what's listed in the classifieds.

...Or You Can Be A Fisherman
The Net is as much your tool as anyone else's. You can be the fisherman. You can use the power of the Net to create new options on the fly; to find new tools; and to fish in waters that weren't even open to you a few years ago. You're not restricted to the paradigm Madison Avenue would like you to use. Nothing can restrict your search for opportunities, information, jobs or people. That's the real power of the Net.

You can use the Net the way everyone else uses it: employers try to scoop up the easy resumes, while job hunters swipe at the job postings.

Or, you can use the Net to learn about the businesses you want to work for; to identify and meet the people who can help you; and to hand-craft a compelling presentation that will make the company you want to work for want to hire you. Employers don't have to settle for workers who've announced they're available any more than job hunters have to settle for one of those 28 million posted jobs. The more you customize your use of the Net, the more you can avoid the competition and the better you can navigate the deepest waters of opportunity.

The Net makes it all possible, if you use it.

The Net will become more, not less, of a do-it-yourself resource. Madison Avenue stocks its job pools, but they're crowded and restrictive. Headhunters prove that the best workers are not to be found amidst the frenzy of job hunters; and the best jobs aren't where you can see them in the shallow waters. The freedom the Net gives us to explore forces us to use our noggins. And when people start using their noggins, there's no keeping them down by the tide pools. So grab the Net and hit the open seas. The fishing's great.

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