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Online Applications Need a Personal Touch Be Choosy About Your Targets, And Tailor That Résumé

FROM A NALP email...

By Susan Kreimer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 5, 2006; K01


No more licking and sticking envelopes, no more lingering in long post office lines. Applying for a job has become as simple as making a few quick clicks online.

But is this really a plus for job seekers? That depends on whether you send out a mass e-mail or tailor your tactics, career advisers say.

"In the D.C. area, recruiters tend to want to make an apples-to-apples match between the job announcements they have and the résumés they're screening," said Shira Harrington, senior recruiting consultant at Positions Inc. in the District, which places administrative support staff members and mid- to senior-level management.

"You can think, 'I'll throw spaghetti against the wall and hope that it sticks,' " she added. "Remember that everyone is trying to do the same thing, so your résumé can more easily get lost in the shuffle. If everybody does their part to target their résumé, then recruiters will have more time to get back to individual people."

Some job hunters dislike the impersonality of the process. "I am much less inclined to fully pursue a job that I have to apply online for than one where the majority of interaction is done in person," said Nemuri Melchizedek, 23, an engineer who lives and works in Alexandria.

But how do you make the best of online applications?

The first step is narrowing your targets. If you intend to stay in the region, start with a map of where you live, put a pin in the center and draw a circle around how far you're willing to commute, suggested Mark Mehler, principal of CareerXroads, a recruiting-technology consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J.

Then identify the Web sites of companies that have operations within that distance. Mehler suggested checking with local chambers of commerce to determine the companies in the area.

Don't expect your online application to get a lot of immediate attention. In one study Mehler's company conducted, 20 volunteers applied for jobs as a fictitious character whose résumé listed duties such as "reviewing all toy selections for the VP's children at holiday time." Most companies sent only generic replies.

"Most résumés are never read by humans," he said.

So don't count on an e-résumé alone to snag a job. "Employee referrals are approximately one-third of all corporate hires," Mehler said. "Find a friend. Ask the mailman who works there."

Before responding to any ad you find online, check out an organization's Web site even if there isn't a link to it in the job posting, said Patricia A. Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources, a consultancy in Alexandria.

The information you glean should help you decide whether to apply, she said. If you do, make the subject line of your e-mail clear. Far too many job seekers list "résumé." For ads that don't specify what to put in the subject line, use the job title for fastest consideration -- simple but effective, Frame advised. If you're being referred by someone, include the person's name on that line. Tailor your pitch to each job. Don't just insert a new contact name into the salutation each time.

And be selective. Avoid mass e-mailings, experts caution.

"Every time I advertise for a specific position, the same five people respond within the first five minutes," said Laura Gassner Otting, president of Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group in Boston, which places workers in the Washington area.

These applicants weren't qualified when she initially read their résumés. And even if they're qualified by now, instant name recognition sends them into her reject pile right away.

>From a recruiter's perspective, online postings generate "a lot more quantity," Otting said. "You don't necessarily get more quality."

To stand out in the crowd, "take some time to reflect, do some homework, read an annual report, visit a Web site," she said. Then, "write a cover letter that says why you are right for this job at this time."