Job Boards: Fit to Be Tied?

It’s impossible to talk about the job search process these days without mentioning job boards. Though they’re now widely considered a staple of the job search (and recruitment) process, online job boards didn’t exist about 20 years ago. In five short years, from 1995 to 2000, the way that most people looked for jobs was completely revolutionized.

There was a time when it was considerably more difficult to find job postings. Even after job boards went mainstream, they were a far cry from what’s out there today. I’m not sure if this still happens (I haven’t subscribed to a print newspaper in, well… ever), but I can recall reading the newspaper classifieds for job ads every morning during the early years of my undergraduate degree—and that was only a decade ago.

Today, job boards (or job search engines, job aggregators, job sites, whatever you prefer to call them) are, for better or worse, the average job seeker’s first and primary strategy. It’s no surprise—who wouldn’t use freely available resources, especially in such a competitive context as the search for employment? Today, access to information is universal. What was once considered privileged or restricted information (what jobs are available, and for whom) is now widely available to anyone willing and able to look for it.

In other words, job boards have, in some respects, leveled the employment playing field.

Nonetheless, it should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that there are fundamental problems when your job search strategy is focused strictly on publicly advertised positions. It boils down to a simple matter of numbers: job boards only represent a fraction of the jobs that are actually available, and an obscene number of applicants apply for those advertised jobs.

Given that the odds seem terrible, it’s a wonder that anyone has successfully found a job through a job board.

Yet, it does happen. I can even say that it’s happened to me! Four times (and trust me, the number of applications I sent out is much higher than that)!

The first job was actually advertised in the classifieds of the University of Alberta student newspaper. I had recently switched my major to psychology, and I thought that “youth crisis intervention worker” sounded relevant. There was a group interview, and I think they hired everyone (I would later learn that there was a lot of turnover in the field). A few years later I applied to be an ABA therapist with a child on the low-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, though I chose to decline the employment offer. The last position was for an educational assistant in a self-paced high school program in Vancouver—I accepted that offer. Believe it or not, I found both of those last two positions on Craigslist.

In total, those three opportunities combine for about a year of experience, and represent just a small fraction of my working life. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t stay with those jobs very long is telling when contrasted with the opportunities I discovered through more proactive means, which have all been long-term commitments.

The point is, while I have found success with job boards, the opportunities I discovered through other means have been more fulfilling and meaningful experiences. And while I would certainly include job boards in my strategy if I conducted a job search today, I think there’s a cautionary tale to be told about whether one can assess “fit” as accurately using these online tools. It would seem that I couldn’t.

The oft-drawn comparison between looking for a job and looking for a romantic partner seems to apply here. Isn’t it so much easier to tell if you like someone when you’ve actually had a chance to interact with them—or at least talk to someone who knows them well—as opposed to reading a carefully constructed (and potentially misleading) online ad?

Thank goodness I never had to resort to online dating.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call job boards a necessary evil—in fact, I think they’re only going to increase in popularity and usefulness (stay tuned for a future post on what job boards could look like in a few years). However, I will go on record as saying they are neither good nor bad.

They just are. But if you rely on them too much, you’ll probably feel fit to be tied, yourself.

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