You would think that finding good career help online would be a piece of cake, right?
Trying to land a new position? Post your resume to a job board.
Prepping for an interview? Check out some of those articles that you’ve seen on your news feed.
Need some tips on resume writing? Just Google it.
But the truth is that there is a lot of distortion and misinformation online. While most students and job-seekers are pretty internet savvy, the sheer volume of data that is available about job searching can be overwhelming. This issue is further complicated by the rocky economy of the past few years – since unemployment and job searching is a hot topic, there are numerous websites pushing content about those issues. The basic tips often provided on such websites is fine (i.e. “Be sure to show up 15 minutes early for your interview!”), but at some point you will need to dig a little deeper to be successful.
So, what are some good strategies for getting solid career information online? Here are some suggested “DOs” and “DON’Ts” to help you avoid common pitfalls:
DO Consider Your Professional Brand
The successful job search is all about focus. If you are wandering around aimlessly online seeking career advice, then the result could very well be a wandering, aimless career path. Reflect upon your overall job search goals before going online, and use that knowledge to influence your strategy moving forward. Do you know what industry, company, or job title you are pursuing? If not, those items should be the initial focus of your online research. The more specific you are in this process, the better.
Your professional brand will shape the resources you choose to rely upon, and you should also display your brand throughout your digital footprint. For example, do your LinkedIn account, Twitter profile and/or blog all indicate a similar set of skills, experiences, and career goals?
Finally, be sure to remember that the way you communicate online (style, tone, grammar, etc.) also affects how you are perceived as a professional.
DON’T Try to Use “One-Size-Fits-All” Strategies
Avoid relying upon “one-size-fits-all” resources as your primary source of career help. Yes, many sites do offer helpful basic information about career topics, such as interviewing. But each industry, company, or department will approach the hiring process a little bit differently. It could be the positions you are pursuing may require a case analysis, or emphasize certain types of questions during the interview. You need to customize your research as much as possible to sharpen your skills and stand out from the crowd. And please – do NOT use a template resume that you find online. HR professionals can smell a bad template resume from a mile away. Log the time and energy to do your research and put forth a compelling professional product.
DON’T Focus On the “Mega-Sites”
You know who they are – those big players in the job search industry who lure you in with tons of job postings and articles full of interview and resume tips. The information you will find here can be helpful as a starting point, but many online job seekers get sucked into the job board mentality and wind up frustrated shortly thereafter. Uploading your resume to a mega-site job board is very easy, which is why everyone is doing it. The competition here is very, very steep and I personally think there are more effective ways to spend your time.
DO Find Your Niche
If you want quality career advice, think about how you can connect with experts online. For example, see if there are any good blogs related to your industry of interest. Or, if you are able to identify some of your weaknesses as a candidate (such as selling your experience in an interview), perhaps you can find some resources that help you overcome those weaknesses.
Examples of other successful candidates are also great learning tools that help you to visualize your own career path. One of my favorite resources on CareerThoughts.com is the “Do What You Love!” page that features interviews from successful professionals in a variety of fields. Learning about the career paths of others can be inspiring and educational, and it may just help you find the motivation to keep going when things get rough. LinkedIn, blogs, or professional associations all offer other good avenues to locate some highly-qualified experts.
DO Research Your Industry
While you want to get as specific as possible with your career research, it also helps to take a step back and learn more about the industry and the economy as a whole. Reading articles from sources such as Forbes, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal can help prepare you to impress recruiters in interviews and networking situations. If you’re not pursuing a career in business, think about other examples of trade journals or publications that can help you become an educated professional in your field.
Being fluent in the language of your industry is just as important as understanding the specific needs of a company – it demonstrates to employers that you possess more than just the superficial qualities listed in their job posting. Strive to become a passionate learner in your field.
DON’T Focus All Your Efforts Online
Being able to connect with other professionals “in real life” will give you a leg up on other candidates and help you develop your network. Think about ways that you can take your job search offline. Perhaps you discover some bloggers who live in your area that you might be able to meet in person or see at a speaking engagement. Perhaps you become tied into a professional association that has good online resources as well as monthly networking events. While the endless array of resources online can cause many job-seekers to spend countless hours in front of their computer, there is definitely a point of diminishing return. No matter how much you may be able to learn or accomplish online, there is still immense value in establishing face-to-face connections.
Hopefully, following some of these “DOs” and “DON’Ts” can help you use your time online more effectively. Just remember, everyone’s path is different so don’t be afraid to try new approaches or customize your approach to fit your own strengths and needs as a candidate. Good luck!