Fast Track: How to Net a new job

Following the lead from America, more and more British graduates are going online in the search for work. But the new medium has its own special rules - and pitfalls. By Meg Carter
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The Independent Culture
So you've decided to ditch the paperwork and apply for work online? Using the Internet to search for career opportunities, to make enquiries and to send applications electronically will certainly be the favoured method of the millennium. But take heed: technology is presenting new challenges and, employers warn, over-eager applicants still have lessons to learn.

Research published last month by SBC Internet Services in the US estimates that a staggering 82 per cent of Americans graduating this summer will use the Net to search for job openings or information on careers, and that 66 per cent will e-mail their CV to a prospective employer. Seventy-five per cent will research a particular career on the Net and an even higher number - 79 per cent - will use it to find out more about a prospective employer.

Cross the Atlantic and you'll find British graduates a little more cautious. Nevertheless, new research from UK recruitment specialists Bernard Hodges claims we're beginning to catch up. More than two thirds of today's UK graduates say they would use the Net as part of a job search, and half of these claim to apply for more jobs online than via traditional methods.

Even those graduates aiming for self-employment are increasingly using the Net to seek work., for instance, has just launched the world's first job auction for freelancers to market their services directly to employers. By submitting personal profiles on the Web describing experience, skills and education, together with ideal assignments, fees and scope of work, interested companies can actively bid on the individuals they want to use. Given the findings from a recent report by the Institute for Employment Studies - which states that one in three graduates would like to be self-employed - it may not be long before this concept becomes the norm.

"We had not anticipated the depth of use of the Web by graduates," admits Mark Jones, head of new media at Bernard Hodges. Of course, he says, it's more convenient than snail mail - but university leavers would be well advised to take note of that old cliche "more haste less speed".

"Technology has created a culture of immediacy," he says. "There is even a reluctance among some graduates to take the time to fill in online application forms, and a preference for sending CVs via the Internet instead - even if that is not what the employer has asked for."

Which, of course, could stymie your chances of getting invited to that first interview. So what is the best way of using the Net to research and communicate with a prospective employer?

Tip number one is to use the information available on company Web sites to brief yourself fully on a company's business. Next, says Yvette Bloxham, graduate resourcing manager for British Airways, ask yourself whether it is really likely to suit your ambitions and skills. Only then should you consider applying. "The information is there, so use it if you really want to come across as informed." It may sound obvious, she says, but a surprising number of applicants don't bother.

Another important consideration is understanding how employers themselves use the Net in order to shape your approach to selling yourself online. Indeed, because of the culture of Net communications, there is a tendency to be too brief in online applications, Ms Bloxham says. There is also a tendency, at times, to be too informal: "It's still important to check spelling and grammar - some of the e-mailed correspondence I see is a bit jumbled, I suspect because they're trying to do things too quickly."

Online applicants should be particularly aware that a small but growing number of recruiters are now using software packages automatically to scan and sift online applications according to certain key words and buzz phrases. "We search our database using key word searches, so we advise applicants to make a full and detailed description of their experience," says Elaine Thaw, a recruitment specialist at Hewlett Packard which currently receives between 60 and 70 CVs electronically each day, compared with 20 to 30 in hard copy by post each week.

Use more nouns than verbs. "Action" words and descriptions such as job titles, technical skills, levels of education and experience are also advantageous, she suggests. At the same time, however, don't forget to convey a sense of personality and attitude.

The online CV is a separate challenge altogether. Remember that most CVs will be printed out by the employer at some point, so use the same guidelines that apply to paper versions. That is, put the most important information at the top and don't exceed three sides of A4; stick to well- known typefaces, medium, easy to read font sizes and ensure the recipient will not have to scroll left to right to read the information.

Whether to forward your CV via cut and paste into your e-mail or to send it as an attachment is a tricky one. Text attachments are neater but some companies ignore any attachments for fear of computer viruses or formats their computers will be unable to translate. If in doubt, check with the company's website or recruitment department.

Always follow the company's instructions - even if, in your opinion, they don't seem to make the best use of the Net. "There is a danger of arrogance," explains Mr Jones. "And it is easy to be misled by the medium. Beware."

All it Took was an E-Mail

CLARE FAGAN, 29, recently joined Hewlett Packard as a graduate trainee in network engineering. She found out about the opening via the Net, having approached Hewlett Packard with an e-mail to see if, by chance, they had any likely vacancies.

"Having just completed an MSc in information management, I used the Net to find out which companies had the sort of jobs I was interested in," she explains. In addition, Clare registered with an online job site which forwarded details of vacancies to her via e-mail. Like many such sites, however, she found most of the jobs inappropriate to her skills.

"With Hewlett Packard, I had seen little information in newspapers or at my local resource centre," she says. "But I checked out their website and found they have a central database to which you can electronically post your CV. I did so and six weeks later was contacted about a vacancy."

She was offered a graduate traineeship in March. "I've had a number of job offers and interview invitations via e-mail and believe it's a quick and easy way to help secure a job," Clare says. Companies seem more likely to respond to progress enquiries and responses are quicker. "It saves them time so they can afford to answer your enquiry."

Clare's advice is to keep e-mail correspondence brief. When sending her CV electronically, 90 per cent of companies were able to read it as a Word attachment. For the others, however, she had to send an electronic version, such as an ASCII file.

"Using the Net in your job search allows you to be more proactive and better informed. Often, you can find more up-to- date information on a company's website, as well as job vacancies you may have missed in last week's newspaper," she explains.

If a company is interested in pursuing your application further, it is likely to e-mail you back with suggested dates to meet, or a request for you to phone in, Clare adds. If it's a rejection, however, they're more likely to let you know by post.