An Interview With Joyce Lain Kennedy

The New Electronic Job Search Phenomenon

Q. In ELECTRONIC JOB SEARCH REVOLUTION, you say technology combined with economic changes is revolutionizing the job search in profound ways. How so?

JLK: We're seeing no less than a new dimension in job search -- literally the change of the century. What's happening is too few people are left on employment teams to cope with too many job hunters. In addition, plummeting prices on computer power have put technology within reach of a giant universe of users.

Virtually all offices today have computers. More than one out of every four households now has a home computer and nearly another 22 million families are reported to be in the market for one.

During the 1990s, the switchover from paper to electronics in the American job marketplace will be as dramatic as was the switchover from horses to cars.

Q. What are some of the ways employees and employers can use computers to help them meet each other?

JLK: The prime meeting places in the electronic, or E-job market are automated applicant tracking systems, the internal computer tools that companies are using to process the resumes they receive.

Beyond that, the dazzling array of new E-tools which job hunters can use to run ahead of the pack range from new ways to find out where the jobs are, to artificial intelligence programs that "teach" crash courses in job interviewing.

Among new job-locating methods are online job ad services -- some are run commercially, often fed by cooperating newspapers; others are operated as nonprofit computer bulletin board networks in which anyone may list or look at job openings -- and electronic employer databases that allow job hunters to quickly compile a blue-ribbon job prospect list without spending weeks of time in libraries wrestling with heavy paper directories.

Q. Who is using this new technology now? Is it mostly large corporations that get inundated with applicants, or are midsize companies and small employers using it as well?

JLK: The most recent studies show a high acceptance of automated applicant tracking systems, the engine driving much of the electronic job search revolution.

One 1993 nationwide recruitment industry study shows that 78% of surveyed employers have computerized their applicant-tracking function, up from 68% in 1992.

An earlier 1990 study, broken down by company size, shows automated applicant tracking systems are used by 55% of large companies, by 44% of medium-size companies, and by 24% of small companies. And that was four years ago.

What has happened recently is that the nation's small employers soon will be able to access major automated systems for free through state public employment services. At least one major applicant tracking system vendor has an automated system up and running in Minnesota and another is about to begin in New York. Several other states are also considering them. The full impact of public employment service automation on job hunters remain to be seen, but I'm betting that the computer scannable resume will become an even hotter ticket once small employers get a free ride on the E-bandwagon.

Q. You talk about independent database services in ELECTRONIC JOB SEARCH REVOLUTION. Can you briefly explain what they are? Why should a job seeker register with one? Are there any situations in which you would advise a job hunter to pursue this avenue?

JLK: Most resume database firms find people for jobs, not jobs for people. Job hunters who will most benefit from them are those who have mainstream, in-demand definable experience, education and skills that can be measured in some way. Examples are those in engineering, computer science, chemistry, finance, and marketing. By contrast, liberal arts graduates, with no specific expertise, many never escape electronic isolation.

If you think you can't stand out because of low-demand job skills or a difficult-to-capsulize background, traditional networking methods of one-on-one may work better for you.

Q. What should a job seeker look for before registering with an independent database service?

JLK: Check the fine print before enrolling in one requiring you to pay a fee. Also, get answers to these questions before enrolling:

Q. You say computers read resumes differently than people do. In your companion book, ELECTRONIC RESUME REVOLUTION, you look at various ways to write an effective resume that speaks computerese. Could you highlight three of the most important points to remember when writing a scannable resume?

1. Learn to distinguish yourself through the use of powerful keywords.
2. Learn to speak in nouns, not verbs.
3. Learn which graphics will cause a tracking system to find your resume indigestible.

Q. Lots of career experts advise job hunters to stick to one-page resumes. For scannable resumes, do you agree?

JLK: No.The more keyword marketing points you present about yourself, the more likely you are to be plucked from an electronic resume database now, in six months, or a year from now.

These benchmarks are an adequate guide: new graduates, one page; most people, one to two pages; senior executives, two to three pages. Some systems store your cover letter as well.

Q. You suggest a new format you call a keyword resume. What is it exactly?

JLK:It's one that places a summary of keywords near the beginning of the document, right under your name and contact information. The remainder of the resume can be any format of your choice. A keyword resume format is not mandatory in the E-job market, but it's a logical next step in the transition from paper to electronics.

Q. Do you think that resume scanning software dehumanizes the employment process for both the job seeker and the employer?

JLK: We at first were concerned that automation is an impersonal approach. Then we realized that automation actually may be a fairer evaluation because when human readers are sinking under a parade float of resumes, at some point they may just stop reading.

Consider this: suppose 1,000 resumes are sitting on a desk, waiting to be mined to find a couple of good people. After the readers locate a dozen seemingly qualified applicants in the first year 100 resumes, they may give up the ghost and quit, leaving 900 applicants correspondence unopened.

Q. What's ahead?

JLK: By the year 2000, electronic interviewing will become commonplace. Personal documents combining text, sound and still pictures will supplement or replace resumes. Becoming computer literate in the job search is the single most effective career insurance available to any job hunter in the 1990s. Before it was an edge; now it's an urgency.

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