How Job Boards Are Helpful (but first, how they aren't)

It’s time.

You’ve decided you need a new job.

If you’re like many people, you go directly to a job board and start looking at the positions posted there. Let’s try looking for a job in marketing and communications in the Washington DC area, shall we?

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Wow, more than 8,800 jobs, that’s fantastic! Or is it?

That huge number of openings may make you think you’ll be able to get an interview with no problem. It’s a bit overwhelming though.

You could narrow it further by limiting your search to full-time only and selecting mid-level positions. That brings it down to 3,390. You could narrow further by restricting the geographic area or salary estimate, but you’ll most likely still end up with more than 1,000 postings to scroll through, so there are a lot of jobs out there, right?

The unfortunate reality is that many of those openings are not “real,” meaning they don’t represent positions for which a company is actively recruiting.

Sometimes the company has a contract with the job board that gives them a certain number of postings, so they decide to be strategic and put “marketing and communications specialist” up every couple of months just in case they happen to have an opening in that area. If no vacancies come open, they use the application statistics to gather data about how soft the employment market is. #SorryNotSorry.

Other times there was a real position a month ago, but by the time the job posting got drafted, revised, and posted, they had already hired someone. How did that person hear about the position if it wasn’t posted yet? Networking, most likely. A current employee recommended someone, for example.

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Sometimes a company simply wants to promote themselves as a thriving, growing business where talented people are getting hired and, it is assumed, exciting things are happening. If they purchased a job board contract and there is a hiring freeze partway through that time period, they may not want competitors to get wind of their financial difficulties, so they keep the job openings coming.

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So we’ve covered why a posting might not signify a real job, but what about the ones that are legitimately available?

Well, if you remember how overwhelmed you were when 8,800 jobs came up in your search, imagine you work in talent acquisition and you get 900 resumes for a position. How are you ever going to sift through all of those? Enter the ATS, or Applicant Tracking System. This software is designed to screen the resumes for keywords indicating the skills and experience the employer is seeking.

The problem is that you can’t know exactly which specific words and phrases were plugged into the search algorithm and in what order, sometimes called a “long-tail keyword.”

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If your most recent job experience focused on media relations and newsletter editing but the search terms the algorithm looks for are “crisis communications,” “social listening” and “trend analysis,” your application won’t make the cut even though your skills are applicable. Even phrases as similar as “online advertising management” and “digital marketing” may be too divergent for the ATS to rate an application high enough to be seen by a hiring manager.

So now that I’ve squelched your every glimmer of hope, how can job boards be helpful?

Job boards are a gold mine for one of the most important but overlooked aspects of the job search:

Employer research.

The ways in which job boards can enhance your employer research are countless, but here are 5 of the best ways to utilize the treasure trove of information:

  1. Identify the most important long-tail keywords.

    If you want to get past the ATS screen mentioned earlier in this post, you’ll need to use the most specific keywords you can find for the position you’re applying to (see cat GIF above). A secret I share with my clients is to copy and paste the text of the jobs you’re interested in into a word cloud generator like TagCrowd.com. If a phrase appears frequently in the job description, make sure you feature that exact phrase prominently in your resume.

  2. Find more vivid language for your resume and cover letter.
    It’s easy to get stuck using the same words over and over to describe your work experience—you coordinated projects, developed plans, and facilitated communication. So did everyone else! Take three new words from each of 10 job postings and see if you can use them to diversify the articulate verbiage in your resume and cover letter (see what I did there?). Consider the job board your professional thesaurus!

  3. Identify the hiring manager for your target company.
    Some job boards list a contact at the company, often the hiring manager, and some don’t. If you see a posting you’re interested in but it doesn’t contain a contact person’s name, do a Google search for the same job title and company name. You may find a job board which includes the hiring manager in the position listing, or at least one that includes the exact title of the person the position reports to. Head to LinkedIn to look them up!

  4. Calculate your target salary.

    Not every posting has a salary range but many do. Make a note of the salary range for the job levels below and above positions that interest you as well, so you’ll have a better sense of context within your position. You can remove geographic filters to get a better idea of the national average, but be sure to factor regional differences in pay scale before determining your final target salary.

  5. Find niche job boards for your industry.
    Wait, didn’t I just spend the first part of this post saying job boards weren’t great? The job boards I’m referring to in this point are niche boards that focus on a particular industry and possibly geographic area. Copy and paste the job title and company name into Google, then look at other results (often farther down) for postings that also appear on niche job boards. These are often trade association or industry council websites, and sometimes have more detailed information in their job postings. You’ll find these industry sites are a useful tool for finding networking opportunities as well.

So now you’ve heard about how job boards are helpful (for research) and not so helpful (for applying to jobs). Was this blog post itself helpful? Did you learn a new way to make use of the 8,800 job openings that came up in your initial search? Let me know in the comments!

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