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More Job Seekers, Firms Use the Net

But effectiveness of the Web sites remains unclear.


The highly competitive online job-search market that began in earnest about six years ago is showing no signs of slowing down.

In fact, the sputtering economy, the rapid succession of dot-com companies becoming "dot-gones" and large-scale layoffs have made this relatively young venue even more popular and important. Worried employees and laid-off workers crave the breadth, immediacy and low cost of online searches. So do employers needing wide or highly specific searches in trying to make every hire count.

The jury is still out, however, on how effective this far less personal but huge database has become for those looking for work and companies looking to fill their ranks with the right people.

Each of the online job-search companies has its own strengths and weaknesses. Those such as boast enormous databases of resumes of every kind. has become its own virtual community, with some users logging in to stay in touch well after they found the job they were seeking. The downside is employers and applicants can get very misleading information.

Some online sites are strictly niche-oriented in terms of jobs, catering to a specific profession, such as, run by the Society of Toxicologic Pathology.

Others operate mostly in the background with ASP, or applied service provider, technology. ASP software allows job hunters to go directly to a company's Web site that has been digitally retrofitted to accept and pre-screen applications. The vast Sutter Health network in Northern California uses the latter.

Keith Vencel, 45, is clearly among the digitally converted. As the Sutter Health administrator in charge of bringing ASP technology to 27 hospitals and five medical groups, Vencel is happy to leave behind the expensive, time-delayed and paper-driven reliance on employment search firms, print ads, job fairs and college campus sojourns.

"Three years ago, we were paper-driven. There were 100,000 to 200,000 resumes coming in, and it took too long to get the resumes in front of the right manager," Vencel said. "Search firms were charging us 20% to 35% of the starting pay for each and everyone we hired. Now, the applicants come right to the front page of our career Web site. I'm posting more openings on online job boards, buying banners on Internet sites. We're saving a fortune and have cut the paperwork by 40% to 60%."

Traditional job-search firms that troll the Web for likely resume hits can sometimes waste considerable time doing so.

The Net appears to be filled with resumes so old that they are the digital equivalent of Sputnik. Respond to some and you might get a college dorm room years after the resume poster has graduated, or a dead-end connection to the resume writer's former employer.

Precision in search criteria appears to be crucial. Leigh Taylor Berry, a technical writer and editor from Baton Rouge, La., who is looking for her next gig, has been waiting since December for to come through for her.

So far, the 29-year-old Berry has received one inquiry, from a company looking for a computer programmer. Berry had been trying to let prospective employers know that she was familiar with several different kinds of software. But prospective employers using keyword searches mistook her software experience for programming ability.

Barry R. Liden, vice president of Los Angeles public relations firm Rogers & Associates, searched's vast database for prospective employees between January and June of 2000 before dropping it. He used keywords such as "creative," for "ability to be creative," and "design," for "able to help design an effective campaign" to narrow the search. He wound up with resumes from a lot of set designers, interior designers and writers, none of which he needed.

"We were overwhelmed with resumes that didn't fit us," Liden said. "We haven't hired anyone from online job sites.

But the online experience is perfect for job seekers like Richard Le, 23, who know where they want to work. Le determined he wanted to work for Philadelphia-based Cigna Corp.

"I applied right online and never used a piece of paper or a fax. It was very easy from a job seeker's perspective," said Le, now a staffing technology consultant for Cigna.

Pascal Dornier, 34, agreed.

"In the past, I have used to locate high-tech contract positions," said Dornier, who now runs his own company in Sunnyvale, Calif., where he designs embedded hardware for personal computers. "They [online job pages] are definitely useful. It provided an easy way for me to search through employers. I can search through companies geographically or by the specific skills they want."

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