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Job seekers try to keep up with technology

Yanina Alava (right) of Aurora attended a recent job fair at Waubonsee Community College.
Yanina Alava (right) of Aurora attended a recent job fair at Waubonsee Community College.

When Patty Sanches has a job to fill, she conducts the hiring search the old-fashioned way – or, at least, the way hiring searches were done a few years ago.

But that, she said, is likely to change.

For years, Sanches – who oversees human resources at Friendship Senior Options, the company that runs the Greenfields of Geneva senior retirement community – has sought out applicants for positions ranging from nursing jobs to food-service workers and administrators through traditional recruitment methods.

She and her co-workers typically sift through stacks of resumes, which has become more difficult in recent years as the number of applications pouring in for openings has grown.

But technology soon could make sorting through resumes easier for Sanches. Like many companies, she said Greenfields, through Friendship Senior Options, is moving toward a Web-based job application system.

“Right now, we don’t have an online application, so most of our applicants will still email in a resume and an application downloaded from our site,” Sanches said. “But that’s one of the things we’re working on.”

For generations, job seekers in virtually all fields have relied on a tried-and-true method to land that next paying gig – the resume and cover letter.

With a properly honed resume and pithy cover letter, job candidates could make themselves stand out from the pack, landing an all-important interview in which they could use firm handshakes, charisma and displays of knowledge to secure an offer.

But in recent years, the rules of the job search have changed.

With the advent of job boards such as Monster and Careerbuilder, employers have enjoyed the benefits of online advertising, reaching many more job seekers than ever before. The number of those seeking jobs has multiplied, too, so more people are submitting resume packages.

“With the job boards now, any employer with openings is getting a large influx,” said Elyse Williamson, staffing consultant at Frank’s Employment in St. Charles. “And 90 percent of them just aren’t qualified.”

Many employers again have turned to technology to help, rolling out new recruitment procedures to screen applicants and move beyond the resume.

“Employers are constantly looking for new tools to cull down the onerous piles of applications they’re getting for all kinds of positions,” said Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president at the Downers Grove-based Management Association, which provides human resources consulting services to many Chicago-area companies.

She said many employers have set up online job applications and questionnaires.

Fayoumi and Williamson said employers also have turned to online social media sites, including heavily trafficked websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to work in conjunction with their questionnaires for a more complete picture of an applicant.

While increased electronic screening has helped employers, personnel professionals admit the process can be frustrating for job seekers, who have lost opportunities to sell themselves despite devoting large amounts of time to increasingly elaborate online job applications.

“We know it’s frustrating for a lot of people who could spend a lot of time applying for a job they really believe they are qualified for, only to not even make it past the electronic screen to a human being,” Williamson said.

But she and others specializing in the job searches said such electronic screening isn’t going away and likely will continue to proliferate. Which means job seekers must change with the times.

Peggy Gundrum, director of career services at Elgin Community College, said most job seekers to be successful in the current environment will need to alter their approach.

Rather than thinking of themselves in terms of the jobs they’ve held, they should break up their experience into particular skills and focus on matching those skills.

“You’re not a title anymore,” Gundrum said. “We tell the people we help that you are a set of skills that needs to transfer to what an employer needs.”

Williamson advised job seekers to place an emphasis on their social media presence, to use their LinkedIn pages and other online creations to showcase their skills, and to keep their online identities fresh and vibrant.

More and more, she said, such sites can serve as a job seeker’s first contact with a potential employer.

“It’s today’s way of networking,” she said. “What used to be going door to door and shaking hands with receptionists and assistants is now done this way. It’s what works.”

However, Williamson, Fayoumi and others said job seekers should not take the new emphasis on online applications and social media to mean that the resume is not important.

Far from it, in fact.

Rather, the resume has become one among a growing number of tools that job seekers can use to sell themselves and land jobs.

“Don’t think it’s an either/or proposition,” Fayoumi said. “If anything, the resume needs to be more focused because everything – your resume, your social media, everything – needs to be outstanding.”

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