Job seekers feel disconnected in Web age

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Job HuntWhen Becky Cole lost her grant-writing job to the recession two years ago, she began scouring job fairs. She didn’t like what she saw.

Several recruiters refused to take her resume or give their business cards. They just referred her to the company website and told her to apply online. Others had a dish full of candy and lots of brochures, but no jobs. Several recruiters admitted they were only there to fill a quota for their marketing department.

“It annoys me to no end,” Cole said. “People come to a job fair expecting to be able to apply for a job. And if you don’t have job openings and can’t do an interview, don’t tell me to go apply online.”

Not every recruiter dismisses candidates with a swift nod to the Web. But anecdotal evidence abounds that such practices are alive and well, cropping up 10 to 25 percent of the time at job fairs in Minnesota, for example. Employment experts insist it’s simply part of a modern, high-tech, less-touch world, one in which online recruiting reigns supreme.

Human resource managers argue that the online job application process helps them manage herds of hungry candidates. It’s not uncommon for one job opening to solicit hundreds of resumes, they say.

On the flip side, however, are tens of thousands of frustrated job seekers like Cole who say they are demoralized by the faceless black hole of today’s employment hunt.

“People feel very defeated working with online applications,” said Jane Samargia, executive director of HIRED, which does job placement for the state of Minnesota.

Young job seekers recently told HIRED counselors that they believe online job applications “are just a big scam,” Samargia said. “They’ve never heard a response back from any employer, so they don’t believe that online is a real avenue to applying for a job. They really think it’s just fiction and a way for others to get their personal information.”

Samargia’s team encourages job searchers to network like mad. “If you only use the computer, you will never find a job.”

Dakota County Workforce Development Division Specialist Mike Lang agreed. “We usually see 60 to 70 job seekers coming in every week, and almost every week we hear comments about how the employers are not getting back to them. They are actually happy if they receive a rejection letter, because at least it’s something. Most of the time they apply online and don’t hear back on anything.”

Showing up in person for a job fair hasn’t netted better results, said Lang, who coordinates fairs for the county.

“Last year, there were companies that signed up but when it actually came time for the fair they didn’t have openings. So they were just there to provide information. And I do hear that (the job seekers) are told to go to the website and submit an application, even though they … come in and meet face to face.”

At the last job fair, some 3,800 people showed up with the hope of getting a real interview, and maybe a job. But they heard a familiar tune — go online. “They are just really burned out and tired of it,” he said. HIRED’s job counselors have provided “dozens” with information for free mental health counseling.

At first glance, the February job fair organized by U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., at Normandale Community College seemed a stunning success: 50 recruiters, reams of jobs and scores of patient job seekers.

But closer inspection revealed an unsettling trend. One recruiter at Starkey Labs said it was inefficient to take resumes on site, because they would just have to be scanned manually back at the office. Better to submit it online. A recruiter at Thomson Reuters gave out business cards that didn’t have her name — just an address, e-mail and phone number for a “global legal recruiting team.”

Agents recruiting for Frontier Communications gave out business cards with nothing but an e-mail address.

Paulsen’s aides said they were surprised. Job candidates floating through the fair that day told the Star Tribune that they noticed it, but chose to focus instead on those recruiters with real information and descriptions of jobs available at Starkey, Target Corp., Strategic Financial and others. Many said they had been looking for jobs for six months to two years.

With Minnesota’s unemployment rate at 7.3 percent, job hunts are so protracted that some companies feel they must protect themselves, said Gaye Lindfors, founder of Significant Solutions outplacement and job counseling firm in Vadnais Heights, Minn. “They are concerned that applicants who don’t get the job will take out that anger on that (interviewer), so they don’t give out a name.”

In other companies, there are just too many applicants to manage, especially where human resource departments have shed staff. Companies need to automate the application process because candidates deserve to be told at least whether their applications were received, Lindfors said.

Employers often are bombarded with applications. Samargia said HIRED recently posted an online ad for a front desk clerk and had more than 500 applications in four days. Large corporations see even higher volumes.

“Again and again, (HR managers) say they are completely overwhelmed and defeated. They put out one job opening and their systems are quickly overwhelmed. … They don’t have enough staff to handle them. So it’s kind of a vicious circle,” Samargia said.

Some job seekers are perceiving slights when there aren’t any, said HIRED Senior Program Manager John Klem.

A representative for a hospital recently stated that its “Equal Employment Opportunity rules require all applicants to apply online and … (for) all applications to first be reviewed by someone to ensure … basic qualifications for the job,” Klem said. Even if a recruiter likes a candidate, all steps must be followed before scheduling an interview.

Becky Cole of Minneapolis doesn’t want to hear it. She became so fed up with online applications and dead-end job fairs that she began hosting her own job fairs last year. She has strict rules about what she will and won’t tolerate from recruiters.

“My approach is that if I can’t be invited to a party, then I will create my own,” Cole said. Leave that candy dish at the office and come to the job fair with real jobs, she tells companies who pay $20 to $40 to set up a booth. Her fees include lunch. She won’t give space to a recruiter who refuses to interview job seekers, look over resumes and give feedback.

“When I do it, I can be more particular about who I like … and don’t,” she said. “If I host, then I can say to certain organizations, ‘No. You stay home.’ “

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.