Online Job Ads: They’re a Really Crappy Way to Find the Best Candidates

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HERE’S A CONFESSION: I hate online job ads because they’re a crappy way to find the best candidates.

On the one hand, my recruiter side loves the fact that a smart, well-focused Internet job post can pull in a boatload of candidates for a position. It’s a great way to get a bunch of resumes in short order.

But on the other hand, any experienced recruiter knows that an online job ad is akin to turning on a firehose. If you need a drink of water, you’re probably going to get your face ripped off in the process.

So it is with Internet job ads because it’s so easy for candidates to apply for a job online — sometimes requiring only a click or two — you usually get overwhelmed by all sorts of wanna-be’s and lookie-loos who aren’t what you’re looking for at all, yet you have to wade through them anyway as you try to pluck the needles that are the REAL candidates out of the haystack of people your online ad has served up.

The problem with online job ads

Online job ads have been on my mind because I’ve been on the other side of the table for the last six months. Yes, I’ve been cruising a lot of ads while looking for job, and guess what? — I keep encountering Internet job listings that sound like a good fit for me. That’s what LinkedIn keeps telling me.

For instance, when I click on my “jobs” tab on LinkedIn (and I pay for the “Premium” service for job seekers), it lists “Jobs Where You’re a Top Applicant.” Of the four jobs listed, one catches my eye: Manager, Corporate Communications at Netflix in Los Angeles.

Wow. Cool company, and it sounds good, no?

Well, no. I have never worked in Corporate Communications (although as a journalist and media executive, I’m pretty sure I could ramp up to it), but I would be shocked if Netflix didn’t want their corporate communications manager to have actually worked in corporate communications at some point in their career.

On top of that, LinkedIn tells me that job has been posted for three months (!!!) and that I would be in the “top 10% of of 715 applicants.” Yes you read that right; there are 715 applicants for this job at Netflix.

I’m sure LinkedIn has an algorithm that looks at my personal profile and experience and deduces that I would be good for this job, but honestly, I don’t think I’m in the top 10% of candidates for a job in a field I have never, ever worked in before.

Thanks LinkedIn. I appreciate the ego boost, but at this stage of my life, I prefer brutal honesty when it comes to employment opportunities.

In other words, a great many of the jobs that LinkedIn has flagged for me are a complete waste of time, both for me and for the recruiters and talent managers on the other side of the table who would have to deal with me as a candidate. Not only would I have taken up some of their valuable time, but I would have gummed up the works a little more for all the truly qualified candidates who applied.

Why do I bother with online job ads?

So, why do I even look at online job ads at all?

That’s easy: because I’ve actually been lucky enough to have found a job from an online ad.

About a dozen years ago, I was hired as editor of the San Diego Business Journal off an Internet ad I applied to, and it was a classic case of being the right person in the right place at the right time.

The publisher had been running a job ad for months, had gotten around 800 resumes, and he had personally interviewed some 45 candidates. None of them fit the bill in his mind, and when my resume came in at the very end of the online ad process, he was tired, frustrated, and just wanted somebody decent he could hire.

That’s my queue. The publisher liked my resume and experience, I nailed it with him in the interview, and he ended up offering me the job. I hit the ground running and gave him everything he wanted, and then some, and it was a great experience all around.

So, as much as I grouse about the firehose effect and all the candidates you have to deal with when you post an online job ad, I’ve found a position this way and lived to tell about it.

I just wish more people would focus on the reality of Internet job ads and the underlying truth about them. Yes, you can find a job (or if you are a recruiter, a great hire) from them, but it takes a lot of luck — sort of like winning the lottery.

Narrowing the odds of success

I was reminded of this fact recently because about a month ago I applied to another vague online job ad. They wanted an experienced editor for a major West Coast business publication, and they actually listed a salary that was large enough that it would surely pull in a boatload of candidates whether they were qualified or not.

On a whim, I applied.

About two weeks later, a publisher called me out of the blue about the job, and I went through a whirlwind three days of phone and personal interviews. That was all good, but then I went for a week without hearing anything despite my efforts to get an update.

That’s usually a bad sign.

It was. After cooling my heels for a bit, the publisher finally reached out again and told me (via text message) that he was well down the road with another candidate. In other words, I was probably out of the running.

I wasn’t entirely surprised because it’s damn hard to get chosen for ANY job, no matter how qualified and right you might be, out of a field of hundreds of people.

Yes, this job is nearly in my backyard, and yes, I’m extremely qualified for it and have worked for the company before. They know me and know exactly what I can do, but it won’t matter because this time around, I just wasn’t the right guy in the right place at the right time.

So it goes. C’est la vie.

As much as people like to focus on searching online for jobs, this is a gentle reminder that referrals are almost always the BEST tool for both recruiters and job seekers alike. I’ve been hired far more times from a referral than through an online ad. That’s because with referrals, both sides narrow the odds and maximize the potential for success.

To my way of thinking, online job ads are kind of like the old Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry line: “Do I feel lucky?”

I’m all for luck, but when it comes to hiring, it’s a crappy way to find the best people.

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