In this blog, we often take a look at how the Internet and related technologies have changed our world and how we live our lives. It's been a long time since I had to endure the process of "pounding the pavement" to look for a job, but it's a task many people face every day. Back in the olden days, finding a new job meant typing, retyping and re-retyping your résumé until it was perfect, mailing it out in response to ads and other leads, making lots of phone calls to your contacts within your field of expertise, and hitting the streets for interviews.
All of those activities are still part of the job hunting process, but today's technology has wrought a number of significant changes. Whether you've just graduated with a shiny new degree, been laid off or fired, quit to pursue a more satisfying type of work or work environment, are making a mid-life career change or discovered retirement wasn't all it's cracked up to be and want to go back to work - whatever the reason you're in the job market - modern technology can make job hunting both easier and more difficult than it was in the past.
For one thing, getting that résumé right (at least the formatting, if not the content) is simpler and less time consuming than it was before the advent of personal computers. Spell checkers help you avoid embarrassing mistakes, templates help you put it all together in a way that's familiar and acceptable to employers, and you can even buy special software (some of it free or inexpensive, such as ResumeBuilder) that contain wizards to help you structure it in one of several different styles depending on your targeted employer. These programs can also publish your résumé to a web site, send it to a database of contacts, or even translate it into different languages.
Probably only our older readers will remember the suspense, hope and frustration of sitting by the phone, afraid of missing a call from a potential employer. Now most of us have cell phones so we can be reached wherever we go and voice mail for those occasions when we're not immediately reachable. There's no longer much danger of missing out on an opportunity because of a missed phone call.
Then there's the process of finding those potential employers in the first place. Once upon a time, we were pretty much limited to classified newspaper ads and word-of-mouth from friends. If you were open to relocating, you might find job leads in a distant city by buying its paper or through professional trade journals/magazines. The Internet has changed all that. Web boards such as Monster.com and Craig's List have job postings from all over the country and world that you can access easily. And because the cost of posting those ads is low or free, employers are more likely to advertise and the ads are more likely to be descriptive enough so you don't waste so much time making calls only to find out you don't fit the requirements.
The best way to get a job, though, is still through actually knowing someone at the company or in the industry. The Internet has made that easier, too - our circles of friends and acquaintances are no longer so limited to people in our own geographic areas. I have friends all over the globe who work in all sorts of different fields (especially my own, the tech industry). Many of them I've known and corresponded with for a decade or more; some of them I've also met in real life and some I haven't. But I know many of them would be happy to help if I were looking for a job in their cities or with a company with which they were associated.
Of course, not all of the changes that technology has brought to job hunting work in the job hunter's favor. Because everyone else has all this technology, too, there may be far more competition for a given position than there would have been before. And if you're tempted to exaggerate your qualifications a bit, there's a greater likelihood that you'll be found out since computerized records and low cost global communications make it easier for employers to check out your references now.
Even if you don't lie on your résumé, your past can still come back to haunt you electronically during your job search. Sophisticated Internet search techniques have made it possible for employers to go way beyond verifying where you went to school and whether you were really a vice president or just a janitor at the company you listed in your employment history. Many more companies now do fuller background checks using the Internet. A simple Google search on your name can turn up all sorts of interesting information that an employer might not think to ask about (or might even be prohibited by law from asking) in a job interview.
A couple of months ago (in the April 14 issue, to be exact), I did an editorial called "Online is Forever," in which I talked about how some of the records of our online activities never go away. This promises to be even more of a problem for the generation that grew up with the Internet. I did my share of foolish things when I was young, but at least I didn't do them on a public network where the whole world could see - and save copies with a simple right click.
This recent New York Times article that was reprinted in my local newspaper recounts how employers are looking up job candidates on social networking sites and other Web sources and dropping them like hot potatoes when they discover explicit photos, inappropriate comments and descriptions of drinking, drug use and sexual activities. Link here.
On the other hand, the right kind of online reputation can bring employers to you, even when you aren't looking. Even though I'm happily self-employed, I've been contacted by recruiters from a number of companies (including big names like Microsoft) who want me to apply for their openings because they've seen my work and read about me on the Web.
Obviously, technology can work for you or against you in getting that dream job. What do you think? Overall, do the Internet and other high tech services and devices benefit job hunters or work to their detriment? If you've conducted a job search recently, did the 'Net play a role? Have you ever lost (or gotten) a job because of your online reputation? Should employers be allowed to consider your "offtime" online activities in the hiring decision or is that an invasion of your privacy? If you're in the position of hiring people, do you use the Internet to check out applicants?