The average job search for support analysts could last eight months or more, according to Jim Stroud, author of How do I Find a Job When the Economy Sucks. But job seekers could find work quicker if they exercised more creativity in their search methods on the Internet and elsewhere.
"Ironically enough people keep doing the same thing, but they're expecting different results," said Stroud, an Atlanta-based strategic staffing consultant. "They all go to Monster, they all check the want ads, they all talk to recruiters and leave it at that. It's definitely a good start, but it's not the finish."
But there are fresh ideas out there on how to conduct an online job search. Some of them include taking a different approach to using job boards. Here are some tips gleaned from Stroud and other support workers I interviewed.
Verify it's a bona fide job
Grant Nakatani of Concord, CA, presently works as a senior tech support worker. In his job search he hit job boards such as Dice, Monster, and Craigslist. He applied for about 50 jobs using those sites—actions that got him nowhere, he said.
"Some companies have an auto response, but I rarely get a response, even when I send a personalized cover letter," Nakatani said.
So he decided to do something different. He started using the Web sites as lead generators.
"[Now] I always do research before pursuing a position," Nakatani said.
During his job search, when Nakatani found an interesting-looking job announcement on the Internet or elsewhere, he then called the hiring company directly. If he couldn't connect by phone, he e-mailed questions about the position to the company's human resources department to see if the job had real potential.
"More often than not, I find the job description is better than the job itself," Nakatani said.
This kind of diligence also helps people identify bogus job listings, a common complaint about job boards among TechRepublic members. But there are additional strategies help desk analysts and tech support workers can use to scrutinize listings.
Some job boards, such as DirectEmployers, sends job seekers directly to the hiring company's Web site, helping people avoid blind ads—ads in which the hiring company is unknown to the job seeker until late in the interview process. This further increases the likelihood that the job is real instead of a posting from a recruiting consultant who's trolling for prospects.
Other more traditionally modeled job boards, such as Des Moines, IA-based job board Dice, have safeguards in place to ensure that phony job listings don't get posted on the boards, said Dice director of marketing Jason Medick. Dice has a small quality assurance group that investigates postings that look dubious. If the company spots a suspicious-looking job listing, Medick said, "We get involved quickly and pull it."
Job seekers can use the same clues that Dice's QA people use to spot the fake job posting. Here are some of the telltale signs:
- The job looks too good to be true.
- The listing offers an unrealistic number of benefits.
- The salary seems too high.
- The skills seem too vague or broad.
Medick said to also note the date of the job posting. Jobs on Dice expire after 30 days and recruiters are supposed to pull listings as soon as a position is filled. But Dice has no way of making sure companies remove listed positions after they've made a hire.
"All we can do is hope that the posting companies adhere to the agreement they sign," said Medick. So the fresher the job listing, the more likely the position is still open.
Make sure it's the right job for you
Few job seekers—support pros included—research job postings or study the listings. Some don't even bother to read the job description before applying for the position, said Stroud, who has been on the receiving end of many resumes that simply don't match the job requirements as listed. All too often people simply see an enticing job title and submit their resume. Instead of taking this losing approach, Stroud recommended that job seekers take the obvious step and read the listings carefully.
Further, if the job description matches a support analyst's expertise, Stroud said the candidate should add keywords to their resume that match the job they're applying for. Recruiters may never actually see a resume when it gets submitted via the Internet, as they often receive 500 resumes or more for a single job. So, recruiters use filtering technology to whittle down the applicant pool. According to Stroud, a keyword match will improve the odds that a recruiter will actually see the candidate's resume.
Include specialty sites in the mix
Another way recruiters cut down the applicant pool is by posting on specialty sites. Job sites such as TechSupportCareers.com, SupportAnalyst.com, CallCenterJobs.com, and Help Desk Institute's Career Center attract specialized applicants, reducing the amount of time recruiters have to sift resumes, said Stroud. Because the sites are smaller and more focused on particular career niches, the competition might be less fierce, as well.
Look for smoke, not fires
Nakatani said job hunters should also look beyond the listings. The ads themselves can provide valuable insight into the job market, such as common skills requirements or certifications, said Nakatani. They can also be a clue to future hiring activity within a corporation
For example, if a company is seeking a director- or managerial-level person to head a new support department, it might indicate that the company plans to staff up the department in the future. Most job seekers fail to see this kind of hint at future corporate growth. Their job search is too narrowly focused on jobs that get advertised, said Stroud.
"The job seeker is looking for fires and they should be looking for smoke," Stroud said. "I tell people don't just look for the job itself, but look for what would be around that job."
If job seekers can see the signs that a job might be created, they're going to get there first before others—possibly even before a company ever posts a job on a Web site, he said.
Other clues about future jobs may come from lists of newly granted business licenses, which are publicly available from municipal, county, or state government offices, Stroud said. The clues are everywhere if people are willing to look. Even recently filled vacancies in office buildings can point the way to future job opportunities, Stroud said.
Remember, networking is still number one
In addition to using a little intuition in the job search, Nakatani recommended employing many methods at the same time.
"Not all jobs make it to the boards and it's always good to have parallel searches going on at once," he said. "I can have lunch with an old friend while I'm waiting for an interview or a phone call. At the same time my resume is available on the boards."
This brings up a crucial truism about job searches: Despite all the technology hype about job search agents, resume posting services, and filtering technologies, person-to-person networking is still the number one way to find a real job lead, said the sources for this article.
For example, Roswell, GA-based Gary Kaplin, who worked with customers in a tier-one-level support capacity, lost his job in September of 2002 and was unemployed for six months. After applying for 50 or so jobs on the Internet, Kaplin found his current position through a colleague.
Keep an open mind about your next position
But, Kaplin's new job involved leaving IT altogether. He now works a call center job where he helps people with their 401k plans. The decision to discontinue a technology career is a difficult reality for many help desk workers in this challenging job market. If people don't have the passion or are relatively low skilled, they have to consider every possibility, including the need to make a career change to be more marketable, Stroud said.
"In desperate times, you've got to do something different," Stroud said. "You can't keep doing the same thing [in your job search]."
And sometimes, it's not a matter of what you want to do but what you have to do.
"Don't wait for the perfect job," Nakatani said. "Get a job, almost any job, to keep the money flowing in and to stay busy. Otherwise you risk getting stuck at home and accomplishing nothing."