You’ve probably heard that if you’re job searching, you should really be spending more of your time networking than browsing job boards. That’s true, but realistically you’re going to be spending at least a little time searching for jobs online.
With that in mind, how can you use them best? Here are five pointers.
1. Use Niche Job Boards
Sure, you could use super general job boards that scrape a bunch of job postings off of other sites, but that usually means you have to do a lot of digging before you actually find a job that interests you. On the other hand, if you use niche job boards, like Idealist for nonprofit jobs, FlexJobs for flexible or telecommuting work, or Mediabistro for communications and journalism positions, half the battle is done for you—you’re already at least looking in the right industry.
Plus, there might be jobs that are of interest to you that are posted here—and only here. The jobs tab of Hacker News, for example, has jobs for Y Combinator funded startups that might not be posted anywhere else other than the actual company’s website. This is the only way to see them all in one place.
2. Check for Active Postings
Some job boards are better about keeping job postings up to date than others. The Muse, for instance, works directly with employers to get job postings up, so you’ll rarely find a stale job posted. That’s not always the case everywhere else in the vast world of online job boards. I’ve seen postings that are old—we’re talking years, not months.
This means doing your due diligence when searching for jobs online. Always try to narrow your search by the date the position was posted and keep the range to at most a month. Old job postings might be interesting to look over from time to time, but they won’t do your current job search much good.
3. Narrow Your Search
Speaking of narrowing your search by date, consider using ways to get your search to be more specific. Don’t just use keywords; try refining by salary, location, years of experience, or education. Some job boards, like Simply Hired, even have special filters like “veteran friendly” or “green.”
Now that I’ve said all that, it’s important to mention one caveat. At least periodically, you may want to do a very open, keyword-only search on your favorite job boards to see what comes up. Posting on job boards is not always the most intuitive process, and sometimes highly filtered results can keep out good positions that were just posted without some critical blank filled.
4. Set Up Search Agents
Needing to input all your search information each time isn’t the most efficient use of your time. (Like I said in the beginning, you’re probably better off spending your time networking.) But, to make sure you don’t miss out on any spectacular job postings, just set up a job search agent.
Most job boards have the option for you to save a search (with all your particular parameters) and receive an email notification every time a new job is posted that fits your criteria. This way you can still use job boards without giving up precious networking time. Even if you’re not job searching, you may want to set up a search agent regardless just to stay up to date with what’s going on in your industry. It’s a great way to see what skills are in demand in your field.
5. Maximize Job Board Tools
Finally, make full use of other tools on job boards besides just the job postings function. With The Muse company profiles, you can sneak a peek inside the offices of all the companies that have posted positions and get a sense of the company culture through pictures, videos, and quotes before you apply.
Other job boards, like Indeed, have interesting tools, too. The job trends page on Indeed allows you to see what job skills are trending in job postings, the cities with the most job openings, and top job titles in specific industries. There are so many interesting tools out there now, but it’s still up to you to take full advantage of them.
As a final note, when you do find a position on a job board, it’s worth spending some time seeing if you can get an “in” at the company (here’s how) before you apply. People definitely do still get jobs through good, old-fashioned job boards, but having a real foot in the door will significantly up your chances of getting an interview.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author