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Networking is Key to the Electronic Job Hunt

Networking is Key to the Electronic Job Hunt

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For decades, the career fair has been a trusty tool for students hoping to learn about job opportunities after graduation. But with the economy suffering last fall, South University — Columbia joined with other schools in the region to offer a new twist on that old theme: The virtual career fair.

For a one-week period, students could log onto the virtual career fair and see more than 160 current job postings from a group of 96 employers. The online format spared students the traditional anxieties about how to dress and what to say, says Aimeé Carter, director of career services at South’s campus in Columbia. But more importantly, the event went beyond the typical online job board, Carter says, by giving students contact information with companies that allowed for easy follow-up. 

The virtual career fair is just one example of how the internet and computer technology have transformed the trappings of job hunts. But while the days of fussing over watermarks on resume stationery are pretty much over, career counseling experts say that job seekers shouldn’t be fooled by the latest technology. Applicants can spend so much time looking at electronic job postings that they ignore the personal follow-up that’s still key to actually finding work.

“At the end of the day, the number way to get a job is still networking,” says Carter. “It’s still about what resources do you have, and who you know. … That direct connection is what sets the really motivated applicants apart from the candidates that are just applying the way they’ve been taught over the last five years.”

There was a time when looking for a job often started with scanning classified ads in the local newspapers.  But a 2009 survey of students about job-search strategies and attitudes by the Pennsylvania-based National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that those days are gone. More than 90% of student applicants were looking for information about jobs on company websites, the survey found. Conversely, about 83% of employers say they have an online system for taking applications, says Edwin W. Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. There’s a degree of anonymity to the online process that many applicants find frustrating.

“In many cases, there is no response outside of an automated message saying: ‘We received your application,’” Koc says.

Still, even with the pronounced shift from paper to electronic job listings, Koc argues the substance of those initial stages of the career searches really hasn’t changed much. The electronic job hunt could start to look fundamentally different if more students started using social media tools, Koc says. But it hasn’t really happened yet.

Last year’s survey, for example, found that while 86% of seniors said they had accounts on Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn; but preliminary results from this year’s survey show that just 6% of seniors reported they had been contacted through those accounts by an employer or an employer’s representative about a job. And only 16% of respondents to the current survey said they had used the social network to contact friends, associates, or potential employers as part of their pursuit of a full-time job. Part of the problem, Koc says, is that students are very familiar with Facebook, but not so much with LinkedIn — a tool for professional networking.

“They’re overwhelmingly still on Facebook,” Koc says. “Their ability to use LinkedIn seems very limited.”

When people join LinkedIn, users create a profile that summarizes their professional background. Then, they start inviting contacts to join their networks. That’s a key step because users can see the connections of their contacts, and request invitations from contacts to the people they know, says Lindsey Pollak, career and workplace consultant with LinkedIn. Finally, users can expand their networks by joining groups related to their interests, such as their alma matter or industry.

LinkedIn was officially founded in 2003 when the company’s five founders invited about 350 of their most important contacts to join the social networking site. By May 2009, it had 40 million members. Pollak says her company is focused on building users among the ranks of college students. LinkedIn offers a “grads guide” for students to get started, and plans to launch in spring 2010 a series of training videos especially for students, Pollak says.

“Building a LinkedIn profile is a great way to build a professional online presence, and using LinkedIn to make networking connections and research potential employers can help students land internships and jobs,” she says.

But with all the new electronic tools, applicants also need to be mindful of electronic traps, says Carter of South University. For starters, more employers are using the internet to learn about applicants before offering a job. That means an applicant could be in trouble, Carter says, if a Google search on the person’s name leads to photos of keg party antics.

“If a job descriptions says the ideal candidate will present themselves in a professional manner … is that professional?” Carter asks. “No.”

It doesn’t matter, of course, that students might like it to be otherwise. The survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers noted that only 27% of students felt employers should view a student’s profile on a social networking site.

Among other caveats for the electronic job hunt, Carter says applicants must recognize they are marketing themselves even with the very first steps of an electronic application process.  So students should be very thorough in filling out forms, even if much of the information is redundant with the attached resume. Also, online application programs are designed to screen some candidates in and others out. So Carter says that students with questions about how to answer certain required questions – like what sort of salary they hope to make — should seek guidance from career service staff at South.

Having said all this, Carter stresses that getting a job usually takes a lot more than operating a computer.

“The fruit’s in the follow-up,” Carter says. “The internet makes it easier to find information about jobs and to apply, but you can’t forget all the old job search methods either.”

Written by freelance talent for South Source.

© South University