By Tom Ziegler
June 3, 2010

Many senior-level job seekers spend hours a day applying for positions on the major online job boards – only to get little feedback and even fewer offers. Here’s why.

By Jena McGregor

If you’re newly unemployed, your first stop — after the nearest bar, that is — was probably your laptop, where you logged on to a big online job site. But are the likes of Monster and CareerBuilder really worth much time when seeking senior positions? Perhaps not, say recruiters and job counselors. “Clients tell me, ‘I’m so excited. I applied to 50 places today,’ ” says career consultant Bradford Agry. “You’re better off having lunch with one person in your network and going to the gym.”

For starters, only a small percentage of jobs are filled using the sites, which claim over 95 of the Fortune 100 as customers. According to CareerXroads, a staffing consulting firm, just 13% of all external hires at the Fortune 500 employers it surveys are filled using boards (excluding LinkedIn, which CareerXroads calls “direct sourcing”). “Are companies actively searching job boards for senior-level talent?” asks Master Burnett of HR consultancy Dr. John Sullivan & Associates. “In most cases, no.”

That’s partly because the more senior the position, the more companies value referrals, or “passive candidates” — those not officially seeking work. Hiring them once meant paying search firms thousands of dollars per job to open their golden Rolodexes. But with emergent social networks like LinkedIn, in-house recruiters now have another way to reach such talent. And with standard fees for candidate searches on LinkedIn lower than on the traditional boards (see “How LinkedIn Will Fire Up Your Career”), much less third-party headhunters, more companies are shifting recruiting dollars that way. All CareerXroads survey respondents said they were reducing job-board contracts or switching to other sources.

Tim Jones, VP of recruiting at ConAgra Foods (CAG), says his use of traditional sites is “down by big numbers” — two-thirds less than in 2007. While that’s partly from the economy, he’s also posting fewer top jobs because he gets so many résumés. “Good people know good people,” he says. At the senior manager level, “you want to be efficient.”

Monster (MWW) says that 73% of the résumés in its database are for people who are employed, and that it places ads on other niche sites to attract passive candidates. Last October it launched Power Résumé Search, a premium-priced service that uses matching technology to help recruiters target candidates. Says Eric Winegardner, VP of client adoption for Monster: “Midlevel management is an audience that continues to grow for us.” CareerBuilder, which says it has had similar technology for years, plans to further integrate BrightFuse, its 3 million profile network (LinkedIn has 55 million) this year.

Such news doesn’t sway David Wick, a 29- year Honeywell (HON) sales veteran who has been job hunting since August. Search results from Monster and CareerBuilder were “not suited for my background,” he says. “No matter how I change the keywords, I get a lot of entry-level positions.” Now he uses LinkedIn and the aggregator, and networks with local groups. “Ninety percent of the opportunities have not come from general-purpose job boards,” he says.

Getting Job Traction

1. Use the aggregators

The two biggest — and Simply Hired — scrape thousands of job boards and employer sites for free. Both tell you what LinkedIn contacts you have at a company posting a job. MBA alumni sites and industry boards can also help people at higher levels.

2. Make yourself reachable

Third-party recruiters say a LinkedIn profile is key. They also suggest signing up for professional association directories. “Is your contact info readily available?” asks Todd Barone of Integris Consulting Group, who works with companies like AstraZeneca (AZN).

3. Look for leads

If you do use the big general job sites, think of them primarily as ways in which to generate promising leads rather than offers. Then find someone in your network who works at the company to make an introduction rather than sending a résumé out to a general HR e-mail box.

4. Watch for sales pitches

Most career coaches say it’s still a good idea to post your résumé on the big boards and do a quick search there. But job seekers say to be prepared. You might hear from marketing outfits looking for insurance or time-share salespeople.

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