Smart Job Hunters Don’t Do Their Searches on Smartphones

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As a recruiter in a nationally recognized firm, I find myself inundated with offers from various companies promising to improve my ability to identify a great pool of candidates simply by purchasing the perfect mobile app.

The concept is based on the public’s current infatuation with handheld communication technology, primarily smart phones, that allows an individual to view potential jobs anywhere, anytime — say, sitting in a board meeting — and to respond instantly. They enable anything from sending yourself an email reminder to be dealt with later to actually forwarding a resume to a recruiter or potential employer. It’s amazing technology. But it has some holes you could drive a school bus through.

First, and most obvious, most jobs are generally not filled on a “first come, first served” basis.  “Instant” response to a position announcement is almost never necessary. In fact, being too fast out of the gate can hurt your candidacy. In applying for important positions — those that require judgment, attention to detail, thoroughness, and understanding of the employer and the job — there is a danger that pushing “send” too soon will make you look inadequate for the position.

Reading from a little bitty screen is not the same as reading a page in a book or a page displayed on a full-screen layout. Research into the subject is new, but evidence suggests that trying to read and comprehend information when you have fewer than 30 full lines of text in view is difficult. The smaller the display, the harder it is to locate specific information in a document.

Faced with a full-page ad, a person used to looking at position announcements tends to read the first few lines and, if interested, then looks to the end of the document to find out what to do about it. Then he or she goes back and skims the rest of the document for the factors that will influence the decision to apply. That habit is based on the way position announcements are typically constructed and on the way most of us process printed information.

When you’re reading on a small screen, scrolling and paging through to find the salient parts of the document is less efficient. The tendency is not to do it, to assume that comprehension is complete on a single read-through, and to act on what you remember rather than taking the time to be sure. That’s how, when I say clearly in an ad, “please email only a cover letter and resume in Word format by a date two weeks in the future,” I end up with a candidate submitting a 150-page, three-ring binder in 12 chapters, color coded, sent by overnight express, at a cost of more than $25.

The candidate may be great, maybe even highly-skilled, but the failure to follow simple instructions can speak to judgment, attention to detail, and the ability to work within an established process.

A related issue springs from the keyword phenomenon. Software that connects your interests to those of an employer is based on words both you and the employer use in relationship to the position. The software is fast but imperfect. It can pick out the word “executive” in billionths of a second, but cannot judge whether the context is “chief executive officer” or “executive sales position.”

Reading and understanding what a position announcement is actually saying is not an activity best engaged in while standing in the ordering line at Starbucks.

Your career is not on par with finding a restaurant where you can get a last-minute reservation. It’s your future.

Electronic toys are fun, and instant communication can make you think you are being cutting edge, efficient, and effective. But when it comes to really important things, like a career opportunity that may literally be once in a lifetime, take the time to fully understand the situation, think through your strategy, and do the best possible job of preparing and submitting your materials. Then you can use your smartphone to let your social network know your new job title.●

Vicky Ayers is the senior director for executive recruitment at RPA Inc. Vicky is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. If you have a question, email Vicky at vayers@rpainc.org.