Job Search in 2004

Nowadays, there are many resources available for a job hunt: From howto’s on writing a good resum to tips for interviews and hands-on training that helps you find out your strengths and weaknesses. One of the tasks that eats up significant amounts of time in my [Job Search][] is scouting for relevant job offers.

Scouting ObstaclesThere’s also a big number of online job portals like [jobpilot.ch][] or [jobs.ch][] (Sorry, mostly stuff for Swiss residents.) that provide an unprecedented number of positions in almost any industry and field of activity.#

While this is all nice, I still have the impression that the only differences from job offers in print is

  • that one can search extensively,* that there is the possibility to get some kind of e-mail alerts and* that one can apply by e-mail to interesting job offers

You might find that this is a huge difference to print, and I agree to some degree. Then, I would honestly expect more awareness and better use of new technologies:

When scouting for jobs, you will quickly find out that there are some obstacles in finding a position that matches your skills and interest. For example, not everyone would expect being a “System Engineer” to be the same kind of job for a given industry; and likewise, a given job in IT Consulting could be called “Pre-Sales Engineer”, “IT Consultant”, “Solution Engineer” or “Sales Consultant”. (Including the name in different languages) Moreover, people might post a job in different categories, depending on their point of view.

So, in order to be successful in the scouting process, you’ll have to be at once as broad as necessary and as narrow as possible. But even with carefully crafted queries you might end up with several hundred possible matches per week.

This, per-se, is not too much of a problem, it’s actually very similar to the problems we face when reading syndicated news or mailing lists: Only a small percentage of the delivered information is really useful or relevant, so some filtering will and has to occur.

But while we have great tools to manage that amount of information efficiently and effectively, the job scouting tools lack this versatility and are less apt at managing the information they produce.

Let me give some examples:

  1. One e-mail service will only list the first 20 new positions inside the e-mail. Therefore, one has to go to the website, log-in(!) and skim through the whole list of search results, including the ones already present in the mail.

  2. Another service includes all results in one mail, but when you click to see the details of a particular offer, you’ll get different sets of search results, based on the categories that job was posted in.

  3. The search results in one case are limited to 10 per page which is just a tad too inefficient in my opinion: With a maximum of one or two relevant results per page, you have to click way too much on the “Next” button.

  4. While you’ll have to log-in to see a saved query, you don’t have any possibility to remember potentially interesting offers for later reference, so that you can even more quickly skim the lists. I mean, after all, that’s what sites like Amazon let you do, even without registration.

These are not complete blockers but I find myself checking offers on different sites, only to end-up with a handful of relevant stuff.

But there’s hope for future improvements:

Better Use of TechnologyIf you use some syndication services yourself1, you might have seen the obvious: Search results for job offers are nothing else than a very special kind of syndication.#

If you think of it, a search feed, in combination with a good Feedreader, is the perfect tool for the job scouting process. It actually resolves all the main problems I mentioned above:

  • It will always deliver the newest offers when you want* It will let you *flag* the interesting ones and delete the others* It will show *all* results at once in a convenient interface, grouped together and occasionally augmented with category information as well

While many sites that provide feeds also want you to visit their site (and therefore only provide excerpts), these online catalogs are almost entirely paid by companies that want to post their offer on that site. Providing a feed won’t influence the revenue stream though, even less because you’ll have to go to their site anyway to read the complete job offer. (That’s because most companies use some kind of custom template to post their offers and therefore might insist that the offers are not entirely included in the feed)

There are obviously possibilities to achieve some of this functionality for some services by hacking together scripts that will create some feed. The possibilities are limited but at least.

Managing the Scouting and ApplicationOther problems arise once you’ve found that dream job – only to end up with a pile of online applications to follow-up. You don’t want to miss this job-in-a-lifetime just because you didn’t remember to make that one important phone call after you’d sent in that application.#

Yes, you’re right. We’re looking for tools that help you organize the application process in a more efficient way. Unfortunately, the terrain here is even less populated than for the scouting itself.

I found exactly one site with job offers that seems to provide some management services, but they’re limited to their offers, of course.

But let’s summarize the requirements first:

  • Tracking of applications, including the original letter and resum package, follow-up calls, interviews and – possibly – intelligence information on the prospective employer of yours* Possibility to get a quick overview on open applications, next steps to take and also the less appealing things like the reason why you didn’t get a job* More basic features like keeping track on the evolution of your resum (Think of new certificates, reference letters, customised versions and more)* Integration with your tools, be it Mail, FeedReader, Calendar and Address Book

I aim high, I know, but after all, you don’t want the twentieth version of a “Also includes its own Calendar and Address Book” tool that will also manage all your mail and feeds, right?

There is a Mail client, an Address Book and a Calendar and at it’s best, such a tool would integrate seamlessly with these, be it on Mac, Windows or Linux.

If you consider it, there are several possible solutions for the different tools. Let me outline one solution for Mac OS X and one for Windows/Outlook.

Mac OS XScripting and the integration of certain OS level services like Address Book make almost everything possible.#

With the intended tool being a hub in the center, you’d gather all necessary information from the peers, ideally through some kind of linking and not blunt copying.

  • Outgoing and incoming mail regarding applications would be kept in your Mail client. This way, you can write the mails in the environment you use for everyday mail.

  • New job offers could be posted directly from your Feedreader and would be stored as the URL plus some metadata, maybe. As an alternative, you could insert the URL’s from mail or the web.

  • Meetings and such stuff would be managed in the calendar application and would show up in whatever tool you use to manage your calendar (iCal, MenuCalendarClock … ) as well.

  • The tool itself would keep track of the activities and suggest future activities as well, helping you remember the next time you’d have to call, mail or whatever.

  • As a plus, the tool would also try to let you gather reasons why you were not considered for a job offer, why you were not invited to a second, third, … round of interviews etc.

  • Last but not least, it would keep references of files and documents used for your applications, be it cover letters, resumes, certificates etc.

All in all, this could end-up in a nice little application that would fit nicely in the OS X software landscape.

Windows/OutlookThere are some major deficiencies with that combo, as you all know, but at its base, Outlook, combined with the possibilities of integration and extension, offers a framework that would allow for building such a job search tool.#

Obviously, the same would be possible with other Groupware like Lotus/Notes or tools like Groove (which itself relies on Outlook) but I’ll concentrate on the Outlook approach.

First, all building blocks are already there: Calendaring and Contact management, as well as Tasks and a Journal are all built-in. The only missing building-block might be the Feedreader, but with NewsGator, one might find the right tool for that, too.

In fact, making Outlook the premier tool for job scouting might require some custom forms, some scripts and an intelligent setup of folders solely for the purpose of managing the whole shebang.

I guess, this would be doable within a day or two. :)

ConclusionI think there is a market for tools that help people do their job scouting more efficiently. The ones I’ve seen might do great jobs but are either limited to certain job resources or try to do everything on their own.#

It would be great to see online job resources (in Switzerland) to jump on the RSS/Atom bandwagon, starting to help people find jobs more efficiently.

In the meantime, I will try to tweak my current flow even more, based on the experience made so far. I know of at least one advantage so far: I think that writing this post (and all the ones before) helped me express myself better, as it forced me to search for concise words and phrases alike. I think being able to write appealing resums and cover letters is still one of the most important skills anyone being on job search needs.

Are you searching a job? Start writing your blog today! :)



  1. Chances are big you do if you read this, right?[Job Search]: /2004/08/16/problem-solver-for-hire/ [jobpilot.ch]: http://jobpilot.ch [jobs.ch]: http://jobs.ch ↩︎

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