Like so many job hunters these days, Beth Dalton has experienced what some call the “black hole.”
Dalton said sending out copies of her résumé electronically to potential employers doesn’t often produce a response. In two years of job searching, she’s landed only two meetings with prospective employers.
“Everybody wants you to go on their website and apply,” said Dalton, a Henrico County resident. “Personal face-to-face interviews are almost nonexistent unless somebody gives you a call.”
When it comes to job hunting, technology seems to be a proverbial doubled-edged sword.
While the Internet, smartphones and social media have made it easier to find job openings and to fill out applications, the same technology also can build a wall of separation between employers and job candidates, some career counselors say.
Documents that in the past were always submitted to employers in a printed form but are now submitted electronically simply seem to vanish into a digital ocean of résumés, or some kind of never-never land where they are never seen by human eyes.
Even Dalton’s experience of getting a few interviews could be seen as a fairly decent outcome these days, considering that so many job seekers complain that going online to respond to job postings simply results in nothing.
Dalton described one experience of filling out an application for a job and finishing an assessment test online — a test for which she was assured by the computer software that there were “no right or wrong answers.”
Yet Dalton said she soon received an automatic message that said she was not a good match for the job.
Here are some tips offered by career counselors and HR professionals on how to avoid the pitfalls in technology and get noticed by employers:
“How do you know I am not a match unless you are talking to me face to face?” she said. “That bugs me.”
Career counselors hear the frustration from job seekers.
“The problem is that with technology, companies now sometimes leave the vetting of résumés to (computer) systems, so there is no judgment,” said Connie English, director of alumni career services for the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
“I work with alumni on career transitions throughout their lives,” she said. “It is absolutely an issue. It is a black hole.”
Richmond-based executive coach and leadership development consultant Nancy Eberhardt said technology may have produced a “speed trumps quality” mentality for job seekers scrambling to get their résumés out for job openings.
“It is so easy to post hundreds of résumés or to apply to everything,” said Eberhardt, author of the new book “Uncommon Candor: A Leader’s Guide to Straight Talk.”
“People do that so routinely that they are not thinking about making this one (job application) really stand out,” she said.
Bud Whitehouse, a career coach in Richmond, said the biggest complaint he hears these days from job seekers “is about going online and getting nowhere.”
“I have heard this so many times, I can hardly even hear it anymore,” Whitehouse said. “People talk about going online and going to websites and responding to a job posting, and it is like everything goes into a black hole.”
Whatever metaphor you use for what happens when résumés end up in a state of electronic limbo, the process is part of a very real trend fueled by the computer revolution.
From an employer perspective, technology that helps to manage and filter résumés has become an important tool.
With millions of Americans still seeking work in the sluggish post-recession economy, employers can be overwhelmed with a flood of résumés and applications for every job opening they publicize.
“As online job postings became more popular, it became more cumbersome for recruiters to handle it,” English said. “You get a mix of way more candidates than you expected. Many of them — often 80 percent of them or more — are not good candidates” for the job that is advertised.
Many midsize and large companies use computer tools called applicant tracking systems to handle the huge volume of résumés they receive.
While these software tools originally were designed to simply help organize the process of reviewing job applications, they have evolved over time to do more.
In some companies, applicant tracking systems are now used to automatically rank job candidates, or eliminate some résumés, often based on how well a particular résumé matches certain keywords programmed into the system.
Research is spotty on how many résumés are automatically eliminated by such systems. One figure from 2012 that has been cited on numerous blog posts and in magazine articles claimed that 75 percent of résumés submitted online are never read by a person.
However, that number came from one company, Preptel, that provides “candidate optimization services,” meaning the business of helping job seekers get their résumés noticed.
Most likely, the number of job candidates who are automatically eliminated varies widely depending on how a particular organization uses applicant tracking systems, human resources experts said.
The idea of computer software determining whether your résumé makes the cut can be frustrating and galling for people who are accustomed to thinking that a real person has looked at their résumé.
Many still long for the old-fashioned process of a handshake and a conversation.
“I am old-school,” said Jody Godsey of Richmond. “I am 56, and I was used to knocking on doors and making phone calls and giving out résumés. They (employers) don’t seem to want that now. They don’t want to see you. They want you to go online.”
Godsey said she has sent out close to 200 résumés over a two-year period, which yielded seven interviews and one offer of temporary employment.
The increased use of automated applicant tracking systems by employers has contributed to the rise of a host of businesses and online services that offer to write résumés for job seekers in a way that will trick the computers and make an application rise to the top of the list.
The effectiveness of that strategy isn’t clear, either. Whitehouse said he has not heard of one that works well.
“Making your résumé stand out is difficult,” he said.
“You will hear people talk about all kinds of cute tricks like putting keywords in white type on the bottom of the page. That kind of stuff is crazy,” Whitehouse said. “The automated system has its own way of doing things, and it is going to do things that way.”
For employers, there are more reasons to use automated systems than just handling the large volume of applications they receive — it is a way for employers to comply with regulations surrounding the fair treatment of job candidates.
“We have to be extremely consistent with the way we treat our candidates,” said Jeanne Fields, project manager and process engineer for Henrico County-based Allianz Global Assistance USA, a specialty insurer and travel-assistance company.
Fields said there are pros and cons and risks associated with using applicant tracking systems. Employers can miss out on good applicants absent the human judgment in selection.
“A system can’t always tell you whether or not a person is going to be right for the job,” she said.
While Allianz does have an applicant tracking system, Fields said the company maintains human judgment in the process by having a team of recruiters review its applications first.
Computer software is more important for organizing the process than making selections.
“We still apply that human touch, but it takes time,” she said. “If (the recruitment team) has 300 applications for a position, they have to look at all 300, and only 50 of those might be qualified. It will take time for them to do that.”
And there are still many jobs that require footwork and personal interaction.
For instance, because Allianz provides travel assistance and insurance, the company needs to hire foreign-language speakers. To find good candidates for those jobs, its recruiters will go out to events and meetings where those people are likely to gather, such as international festivals or foreign-language clubs.
Even job candidates who are found on a face-to-face basis and identified by a recruiter as ideal for a job must still be entered into the applicant tracking system.
For record-keeping and legal reasons, that part of the process is unavoidable for companies these days, HR experts say.
Even though computers are unavoidable, career counselors say there is still nothing better than networking and building relationships to find work.
“You have to get beyond the technology by having personal and professional relationships,” U.Va.’s English said. “Networking is not necessarily getting the face-to-face interview. Networking is about developing relationships with people so they can help you and you can help them.”
Becky Minton, a Midlothian resident who has been looking for a job, said her own search has proved to her that despite the online information revolution, landing a job still comes down to whom you know personally.
“I am convinced that unless you know someone within a particular company, you don’t get an interview,” she said.
“I have talked to so many people (who got a job), and they say, ‘Well, I knew someone,’ ” she said. “And I can understand that because I have gotten jobs from knowing someone.”
Still, Minton wishes there were better ways to get her résumé noticed in the online ocean.
“It is very frustrating when you send in a résumé with a wealth of information that says you can do the job, but then there is nothing — you don’t get a call back,” she said.
Despite her difficulties with the job search, Dalton from Henrico said she remains optimistic about finding something.
“I know there is something out there for me, and I know I am going to find it, or they are going to find me,” she said.
“I keep trying online everyday,” Dalton said, though she feels that technology has become “more of a hindrance” than a help.
“I feel very strongly about that,” she said.