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Tech tips for finding work

February 21, 2009

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— If there’s any small solace when starting a job search in this recession, it’s the proliferation of digital technology to help you re-enter the working world.

Web sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn.com have multiplied the number of job openings you can track and the professional contacts you can make. E-mail and smart phones make it easier to pitch yourself and set up appointments.

But think twice before picking up that BlackBerry and thumb-typing a message to the hiring manager whose e-mail address you so slyly uncovered online. In the end, landing the right job hinges on old-world skills.

“The electronic piece usually just gets your foot in the door,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a tech industry recruiting division of Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing consultant Robert Half International.

“But you still have to present yourself well face-to-face in an interview, and you have to have good references,” he said. “I think some job candidates lose sight of that because of all the technology options and capabilities that get your name out there.”

Willmer and Kate Wendleton, president of The Five O’Clock Club, a New York-based career counseling company, advise that job seekers — especially the young and tech-savvy — frequently misuse electronic gadgets and the Web and run roughshod over professional etiquette.

Some of their advice:

1. Avoid e-mail blasts:

Resist the temptation to respond to each online job listing in your field, and focus on those that fit the best. Only about 6 percent of jobs are filled by candidates recruited through advertisements, said Wendleton, whose firm also conducts career research. If you can use personal contacts to learn about an opening that’s not widely publicized, your chances of landing the job increase because you’ve got fewer rivals.

Instead of blast e-mailing, use the Web to research potential employers and put yourself in position to recite key facts about that company should you land an interview.

“Too many people are sitting there all day hitting that send button on their computer, answering ads, answering ads,” Wendleton said.

2. Embrace snail-mail:

In your first contact with a prospective employer, you’re unlikely to stand out if you join the legions of job seekers sending ’hire me’ pitches via e-mail with resumes attached. E-mails also are too easy for a hiring manager to delete. With snail mail, you control the appearance of your carefully crafted cover letter and resume. With e-mail, the user’s machine can control settings for fonts and spacing. And managers can be wary of opening attached resumes for fear of unleashing a computer virus.

3. Get personal:

If you resort to e-mail pitches, make them personal. If you’re introducing yourself to a hiring manager you’ve identified via a professional colleague, type that colleague’s name in the e-mail’s subject line and succinctly explain the link (e.g. “John Doe referred me”) so the manager is less likely to hit delete.

4. Avoid follow-up foibles:

If you land an interview, pay close attention if the hiring manager specifies how to make any follow-up contacts. E-mail can be a good option because of its speed; if you send a follow-up note via snail mail, it may arrive too late in the hiring process to make a difference. If the hiring manager is OK with e-mail, send a message that addresses any unanswered questions from the interview and state that you’re also mailing a hard copy. In the snail mail message, reference that you also sent the e-mail.

Whatever you do, don’t follow up on an interview with an e-mail sent via a handheld gadget — there’s too great a chance you’ll thumb-type a typo-ridden message. Only use handhelds to send brief, timely e-mails confirming an appointment or advising you’re running late for a meeting. Don’t type without regard to grammar and capitalization, and resist including smiley faces or other emoticons in electronic messages. “There is no circumstance where that is appropriate,” Wendleton said.

5. Observe boundaries:

Even if you managed to track down a hiring manager’s cell phone number, don’t call it unless given permission. “Cell phones are considered private,” Wendleton said.

6. Stick with land lines:

For any phone contact with a prospective employer, try to use a land line. With cell phones, there’s too great a risk that you’ll get a spotty connection, lose it altogether, or end up with excessive background noise if you’re in a public place. If you lack a land line, call from a quiet place like a hotel lobby. Have a pen and pad ready so you can jot down information.

7. Network smart:

If you identify a hiring manager or other professional you’d like to connect with on an online networking site, don’t merely send an electronic invitation without explaining why you want to get in touch. An out-of-the-blue request will likely be ignored. “Write something like, “I was intrigued by your LinkedIn posting. I see you have 10 years of international experience. I too have 10 years of international experience,”’ Wendleton said.

8. Manage your footprint

Hiring managers can be expected to go beyond your résumé and references, and perform a background check online. So be judicious about what you post on social networking sites such as Facebook, and limit access to friends and family if it’s something you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Likewise, think before posting political opinions or personal information in blogs or other online forums. Consider posting under a pseudonym rather than your name. “As a job candidate, I would encourage people to be conservative,” said Willmer. “Assume that anybody has access to anything.”

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