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On this page: The 12 mistakes that most job seekers make when they job search online.

The "Dirty Dozen" Online Job Search Mistakes

Read about them here so you can avoid making them yourself. This is not a hopeless cause! Don't be discouraged! Just pay attention, and be careful. Millions of people find jobs every year, and so will you!

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The Dirty Dozen Mistakes are:

1. Posting your resume without worrying about privacy.

Protect your identity and your existing job, if you are employed, by limiting access to your contact information (name, address, and phone number). Many employers do search for their employees' resumes in the job site resume/applicant database and/or the search engines. Those employees' jobs are at risk when their resumes are found!

According to the FBI, identity theft is the top Internet fraud. Millions of resumes complete with name, address, and home phone number make it easy!

Yes, suppressing your contact information may make you a bit more difficult to contact, but it's a trade-off. Some recruiters view it as a positive sign that the job seeker is Internet-savvy and/or has a good job to protect. Other recruiters are annoyed. Many won't care as long as there is some method to reach you through the job site or an anonymous personal email account (like Yahoo or HotMail).

[See Protecting Your Privacy and Choosing a Job Site for detailed information on how to conduct your online job search safely. We strongly recommend "Cyber-Safe Resumes" for your online job search.]

2. Using only the big name Web job sites.

Many of the "big names" are great sites, but they can also be expensive for employers to use and not attractive to some specialized groups of job seekers. So, in tight budgetary times, employers save money using smaller, less expensive sites or "niche" sites that may have exactly the applicants they want, like an industry- or location-specific job site or even the Web site of a professional or industry association. See Finding Jobs Online for help identifying other places to look.

3. Using the "fire-ready-aim" method of distributing your resume.

Posting your resume at hundreds of job sites or "blasting" it to hundreds or thousands of recruiters and employers is a self-defeating strategy. You won't be able to customize it for a specific employer or opportunity, which reduces your chances of being called. And, you won't be able to follow up the resume with a phone call or an e-mail to establish contact and move your application forward in the process.

Most recipients of an e-mailed resume probably view it as spam, if it survives the spam filters (see # 6 below).

In the unlikely event that someone receives your resume who might have been interested in you, they know that everyone else has a copy of it, too. If the recipient is an independent recruiter, they will ignore it because they will know that they'll have a tough time earning a commission on your placement (an employer may also have received it directly or competing recruiters may be "shopping" your resume around to the same employers). An employer probably won't be interested in competing with several other employers.

All of this negatively impacts your "market value."

4. Limiting your job search efforts to the Internet only.

Even if you have a job and can only job hunt at home in your spare time, don't focus all of your attention online. People are hired by people, so the Internet is only useful as a way to reach the people with the job opportunities. Use the Internet as a part of your job search toolkit.

(See the Job-Hunt articles on Using Web Job Sites and Tapping the Hidden Job Market for some ideas. And, also check out The Riley Guide's Network, Interview, & Negotiate section as well as JobStar's Hidden Jobs section.)

5. Applying for jobs without meeting the minimum qualifications.

It's SO easy just to click on that "apply" button, even if you don't really qualify for the job, just in case they might see something in your resume that interests them. But, it's a self-defeating strategy. You will be training recruiters and employers to ignore you. And, you won't look very smart, either.

6. Depending on e-mail as your only method of contact.

Spam, defined as unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail, comprises up to 75% or more of e-mail traffic in mid-2005, and it's become a significant expense for many companies. The sad truth these days is that most employers have "spam filter" software screening e-mail before it reaches recipients. Your messages may look like spam to the filter and be deleted, unread, without any notice to you (the suspected spammer). So, always follow-up your e-mail message with a phone call - or, better, call first and ask to be added to the "friends" list of addresses allowed through the spam filter.

See Job-Hunt's article, "Avoiding Spam Filters," for more information on putting together e-mail messages that have a good chance of making it through the filtering.

7. Assuming that you have privacy with e-mail and Internet use at work.

Again, it may cost you your job, if you have one, by inappropriately using company assets (the computer and software you use, even the Internet connection), by violating the company Internet "acceptable use" policy, and/or simply by revealing to your employer that you are job hunting.

See the San Francisco Chronicle's October, 2004, article on Keeping track of cyberslackers for examples.

This may apply even if you do your job hunting outside of your normal work hours, during lunch, or during some other authorized "personal" time.

In addition, using your company e-mail address won't impress a future employer with your loyalty or trustworthiness, and, if you do lose your job, you will lose access to your e-mail address and account. If you don't have personal Internet access at home, set up a personal account on Yahoo, HotMail, etc. to keep contact outside of your employer's email system. Don't expect that you will have privacy using a HotMail or Yahoo account, either, if your employer monitors your Internet use.

While your employer should publish an email/Internet "acceptable use policy" to let employees know what is acceptable and what's not, many do not. However, don't assume that a lack of policy means your employer doesn't care or isn't watching what you are doing. They may just not be telling you what they are doing.

8. Not leveraging the extensive Internet research resources to find potential employers or to stand out from the crowd with a resume and cover letter customized to the employer.

Use the Internet to identify potential employers, evaluate them, and contact them. Customize your resume and cover letter based on your research, and then dazzle them in the interview with your insight into their products and services, their market, their competitors, etc.

Company Websites, even the bad ones, are fabulous sources of information about a company. See Job-Hunt's Know BEFORE You Go (or Apply) article for tips on what you can find on a company Website and ways to use the information you find. Financial research sites, PR distribution sites, and even online phone directories are also useful research resources (see Job-Hunt's Reference category for more ideas and links).

9. Assuming that e-mail is an informal, private, temporary medium.

You can quickly sabotage yourself by sending business e-mail using a crazy, cute, or weird e-mail address (e.g. "hotstuff@whatever.com" or "2good2btrue@whatever.com"). Those informal From: addresses undermine your credibility and almost guarantee a message will be deleted or ignored by a recruiter or employer who doesn't know you.

Be very careful of the content of your messages. Apply The New-York-Times rule before you hit the Send button: would you be comfortable having a potential employer read your message on the front page of The New York Times (or The Wall Street Journal or your local newspaper)? Or, finding it in Google tomorrow or 2 years from tomorrow?

I've seen messages sent to e-mailed job search support networks from individuals looking for advice about a potential employer finding the records of an old failed drug test or their "sealed" juvenile arrest record! If those were secrets before the messages were sent, they were definitely not secrets afterwards. Everyone belonging to the network, typically hundreds of people, received those messages, probably storing them on their computers. And often messages published to the network are also archived on the network's Website (where search engine spiders can find them). So, these people potentially revealed to the world the secret most damaging to their job search.

For more e-mail "do's and don'ts" and other tips, check out Job-Hunt's Making Email Work for Your Job Search and Safe E-Mail and Blogging articles.

10. Sending a virus-laden "surprise" with your e-mailed resume.

An e-mail message containing a virus is usually quarantined and deleted. It's not viewed! And, it leaves a very bad impression of the intelligence, computer-skills, and Internet-savvy of the sender. Buy and use anti-virus software, and keep it up to date! Microsoft Word documents, a popular format for resumes, are often virus "carriers," so they are frequently viewed as potential threats and stopped or deleted without being opened, even if they are apparently virus-free.

11. Expecting someone else to do the work (the job sites, a recruiter, your outplacement counselor, etc.).

A job hunt is a do-it-yourself project! No one is as invested in your future as you are, and no one else knows what you want as well as you do. Hire professional help if you need it - professional help with resumes and/or a job search coach can be useful for some people, but are not always necessary.

Finding a job is hard work - the Internet didn't make it easier. The Internet made job search more complicated!

When you have identified a position that you want and submitted an online application, follow up! Contact the employer or recruiter directly yourself, via telephone as well as regular mail and e-mail. Passive job seekers get left behind in the current market.

12. Forgetting that a personal resume Web page/portfolio is a business document.

Stick to business-related information that will help, rather than hurt, your job search. Focus on the skills and accomplishments that are relevant to job you want.

Demonstrate your writing skills but not in a political diatribe (unless you want a job as a political commentator). Skip the vacation photos, even if you look great in your swimming suit (unless you are looking for a job as a model or photographer). The animated pooping bull or the fluttering butterflies may amuse your friends, but they probably won't impress many employers unless those graphics are relevant to the job opportunity you are seeking.

Yes, you can make a razzle-dazzle resume Web page, but, unless you are looking for a job as a designer of razzle-dazzle Websites, stick to business. No music. No strange plug-ins required. No "cool, new technology."

Your resume Website will fail if it can't be easily viewed by potential employers.

And, remember your visitors - yellow letters on a dark navy blue background may look great to you, but your resume probably won't be very legible when printed (and, hopefully, it will be printed by a recruiter or employer some day).


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.