Boycott the Boards: A 7-Day Challenge for Frustrated Job Seekers

I've lost count of the number of frustrated job seekers I've spoken with over the past month. From the California coast to the suburbs of London, these seekers' full-fledged job search efforts, which span between 3 and 18 months, have been tightly focused on the job boards. With such a plethora of online job boards, it's not hard to understand why. Job postings abound, whether on the employer's career site, third-party job boards, job matching tools, or job search aggregators. Though 12 million job seekers are competing for 4 million jobs posted online, surveys show that employee referrals remain the number one source of hire.

I know first hand, as both a Recruiter and job seeker in today's highly saturated job market, that a click and send approach is not the most effective route to finding your ideal position. While 10% of my job board submissions have resulted in an initial phone screening, not one resulted in a face to face interview. Not a one.*

Which prompted me to take my job search off line. Last week, instead of waking up at 2am to check Indeed alerts so I could be in the first batch of applicants for newly posted jobs, I boycotted the boards. I made lunch dates with two former co-workers (one gainfully employed, the other also actively searching). From those two separate and organic meetings came two unique leads. Those two leads, which I followed up on within hours, turned into real life interviews this week.

So let's see. Within 7 days, 4 hours of good conversation resulted in 2 meetings with hiring authorities. Meanwhile, countless hours of entering my contact information and job history repeatedly into online applicant systems over 3 months resulted in 0 interviews.

My takeaway? If you want different results, approach your search differently.

You're probably thinking, "But isn't the job search a numbers game? Aren't I increasing my chances by applying to at least 40-50 jobs per week?"  No and no. The Lottery is a numbers game. Your career search is a strategy that must be purposefully planned, rigorously fine-tuned, and carefully executed.

The 7-day Challenge:

Take a break from Indeed, Career Builder, Monster, and whatever else you're using. Over the next 7 days, commit to the following 7 tasks.

1. Schedule 2-3 catch ups.

Make a list of 2-3 people from each of your past companies who you've remained in contact with over the years, but haven't touched base with in a while. From that list, identify the top 5 people you'd like to schedule catch-up meetings over the next few weeks. Ask if they can carve an hour out of their schedule this week for lunch/coffee. If they're on a super tight time schedule (like my good friend who is the mother of 3 and full time HR Manager), simply send a concise e-mail asking for their partnership in your search. Once you schedule the meetings (which can be no- or low-cost), your primary purpose is to catch up, laugh, and listen. Easy and fun, right? Be helpful. Find out if you can assist with anything that's going on in their lives - babysitter referrals, help setting up a Twitter account, finding a good plumber. Anything.  The fact you are looking for work needn't be the focus of the meeting, but when it comes up, ask for resources, insight or ideas that may prove to be beneficial.

2. Utilize your Facebook profile to solicit help from friends.

This will work best if your Facebook list consists of personal contacts and your LinkedIn database consists of professional contacts. Let your Facebook friends (or a select group of friends) know you're looking for introductions to a person in their network - a mentor, valued adviser, or former client. Ask if anyone knows of someone that could benefit from the work you do/skills you provide. "Know anyone looking for resume writing services? I'm available at a discount this week!" You can update your status as you get leads and shout out those that helped out. "Thanks so much to John for introducing me to the PR Manager at XYZ. We're meeting for coffee this week! If you haven't inboxed me the name of your favorite teacher/boss/mentor, it's not too late! I'm still working my network until I land the right position! Thanks for your support!" You can tailor the messages to reflect your personal style, but the point is, if this is your true friend base, people will be more than willing to assist.

3. Meet someone new.

Attend a Meetup function this weekend in your city. It could be a book club or a walking tour of your city. Choose something you consider fun. It doesn't have to be a "professional networking" event. Attend an alumni event or volunteer. If you make at least one genuine connection with someone, exchange contact information. Let them know you're in a career transition and that you'd love to learn more about what they do. Follow up with them and begin developing a true networking partnership that will carry you through this job search and beyond. Your goal is to listen, provide help where you can and glean knowledge/resources regarding your search.

4. Revamp your resume.

If you have been getting lots of calls from your current resume great. Don't tweak your resume too much, but do consider branding yourself and aligning your LinkedIn profile with your resume.

If you have not been getting calls from your resume submissions, consider having a professional re-write your resume. Check with your local community based organization or Career One Stop for free advice. I'm here as a resource as well if you need tips and suggestions -->

5. Partake in a mock interview.

Have you been receiving a lot of initial calls but not getting past the phone screen? Maybe you need some practice in coming across as polished and confident. Find a list of interview questions online and ask a trusted friend (ideally an HR professional) to spend 20 minutes (via Skype or in-person) asking you questions and recording your responses (audio or video). After your session, ask them for their honest feedback. Watch the footage again and find 2 things you did well and 2 things you could improve. If your finances allow, contact a Job Search Strategist who is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer. You will find plenty of options on Twitter or via a Google search.

6. Register with a temp agency.

Schedule a face-to-face meeting with a reputable agency. If your typing/Word/Excel skills are rusty, brush up before you go. If you are a mid-career or professional and general office work is not a viable option, consider registering with an industry specific industry agency  that can find you work during this interim period (i.e., attorney temp work, substitute teaching). Follow up weekly or as often as required by the agency to stay on their radar. Temp agencies are dealing with far more candidates than positions to fill, so it's important to be proactive and consistent.

7. Exercise for 30 minutes a day.

Load up your iPod and take a brisk walk to start each day. If the weather is inclement, consider swimming in an indoor heated pool or taking a free fitness class at a local church or gym. Work out at home or download my favorite free app, Nike Training Club. If you have the time and energy, extend your workout to an hour a day - 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to energize you for the day ahead, and 30 minutes at the end of the day to reward yourself for your diligent efforts. It's amazing the clarity you'll gain after a challenging workout.

By participating in the 7-day challenge and taking your focus off of the job boards, you are ensuring that your time spent online is used primarily for (a) gathering information (b) setting up meetings (c) e-mailing actual viable leads directly. Scouring the boards at all hours of the day and night should take a backseat during this 7-day period. I know it will be tough to pull yourself away from the drudgery of applying for jobs online, but the boards will be there when you get back.

If you're ready and willing to commit to this seven day hiatus, I'd love to hear about the highlights/challenges you experience along the way. Extend your job board boycott as long as you need to. Slowly make perusing the job boards a weekly task vs. a daily one. As long as you're making real life connections, you're gaining momentum and making measurable progress. Networking is a necessity, so get out there and shake some hands!


*This statistic does not include LinkedIn, which I don't view as a job board, but a digital Rolodex.

Photo #1 Source:

Photo #2 Source:

Additional Resources

10 Free Government Resources for the Unemployed

Why Online Job Apps Don't Work

You Applied to How Many Jobs this Week? By Amy Ala

Hidden Job Report: Before the Jobs Hit The Boards

Recruiters Scaling Back Job Board Usage


Maisha Cannon is a Senior Recruiter and Researcher committed to introducing employers to talent that will enhance and grow their businesses. Over the span of her 15 year career in Human Resources, Maisha has filled over 1,000 positions, and has coached hundreds of candidates on resume writing, interviewing skills, and career planning. She spends her free time blogging, engrossed in social media, and singing along to the thousands of songs in her iPod.

Views: 3115

Comment by Torquil Thomson on March 21, 2012 at 10:23am

Most of the advice you offer is helpful, but checking your favourite job boards shouldn't take more than 15-30 minutes every day. Surely it is a question of managing time effectively between all available resources?

Comment by Megan Bell on March 21, 2012 at 11:01am

Maisha, you've written a great post, and I'm going to share it wih a few people I know who are frustrated with their job searches.  It's really nice and refreshing that although you are frustrated you are staying positve and looking for new ways to ignite your search.  Great job!


Torquil - 15-30 minutes on a job board will let you review a few job descriptions and maybe submit a resume or 2, but most companies require you complete their application - so you're directed to another site that takes you an hour to enter in all of your info.  Plus, if you're doing what you're supposed to and tailoring your cover letter and resume to the job then it will take you 10 minutes at least per job to just submit the cover letter and resume. 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 21, 2012 at 11:29am
I don't recommend that anyone boycott any potential source for a job if they are unemployed. It makes sense to do your online apps early morning or at night when the opportunity to meet with people face to face is not a priority. It is possible to overdo every form of job seeking to the point that people get to the point of diminishing returns.

I have had candidates who get so hysterical about looking that they drive everybody crazy and shoot themselves in the foot. Looking for a job is a job if you are unemployed and should be managed in exactly the same way. Target what you do, what you can do and where you can do it. Focus and don't scattergun to every remote possibility. When people start thinking that they have transferable skills and could learn that job they set themselves up for rejection and depression in this market by applying online. Transferable skills are recognized by personal contact at times but very seldom in an online app.

Too much online activity can become a deal killer if an employer does an online search and finds too much hysterical job search activity.
Comment by Maisha Cannon on March 21, 2012 at 12:02pm

@ Sandra, Absolutely, too much online activity is exactly the issue. The candidates I've spoken with aren't spending 10-15 minutes online. There's spending 8 hours plus a day, every day, sitting at the computer, pouring over jobs, applying and applying. Very few are fine tuning their resumes; most are hoping against hope that their transferable skills will be noticed. This challenge is for those who have not mastered the balance between offline/online searching. You make a great point about transferable skills being a tough sell online. That reiterates the importance of having those that know you best be your mouthpiece.

Torquil - Thanks for your feedback. You're right, time management is key. When is the last time you searched for work online? I challenge you to give yourself a 10-15 minute window today, search your favorite board, and let me know what you're able to accomplish in that time frame. If you have a winning formula, I'd be happy to feature your 15-min search strategy in a future blog!

Megan - I'm glad you found this helpful. I've been speaking to candidates whose 99 weeks of unemployment have expired. They are stressed, depressed, in a rut and trying to make ends meet. Many no longer have internet access in their homes. They're at local libraries, on laptops in coffee shops, and feel guilty if they're not applying for work every day all day. The point of the challenge is to take a break from the routine and hopefully come back with a fresh perspective. It's like if you've been walking for fitness 15 minutes a day for the last 9 months but eating the same foods, and you wonder why you haven't lost weight. Change your workout or change your eating, but for goodness sake, change something when what you're doing isn't working like you expected.

Thanks for reading & commenting! As you can tell, I'm passionate about today's long-term unemployed population.

Comment by Torquil Thomson on March 21, 2012 at 12:10pm

Megan: thanks for your response. I take your point, but whenever I've been searching for work, the number of jobs that I applied for online would be no more than 5 per week (on good weeks).

My experience has been limited by the number of available jobs online that interest me and that I am qualified to apply for.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 21, 2012 at 12:22pm

I used to work at the state employment office dealing with everyone from the newly unemployed to the 99 week crowd. A thorough online application can take up to an hour - a very large employer in Seattle said point blank if a job seeker spent LESS than an hour they had wasted their time. Apply to 1 position a day (as Torquil mentioned) 5 days a week and spend the rest of your time doing what Maisha's laid out here. Too many job seekers only have themselves to blame with their spray and pray approach.

Comment by Bert Shimabukuro on March 21, 2012 at 1:13pm

@Maisha, This is a perfect example of quality over quantity.  Thank you for posting.

@Amy & @Torquil, A limited number of jobs is a great idea.  Don't you love the candidates who apply for so many jobs that they can't keep track and their first question to the recruiter is "What job did I apply for?"

Comment by Bill Schultz on March 21, 2012 at 1:20pm

Excellent Topic.  When I talk to candidates who are obviously "playing the victim card," I urge them to take a temp job.  Do anything to get out of the house and away from your misery.  Good things will happen if you put yourself  out there.

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on March 21, 2012 at 2:14pm

All of the tips you've suggested are valid. I agree that job seekers need to balance their efforts and focus on the activities, methods and resources that produce the best results.

We do continue to see reports that job boards provide a significant source of hire, so it makes sense for job seekers to leverage those tools in the right proportions. It can be a very time intensive process to apply for jobs online. From what I've noticed each application (if properly customized) can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the employers' processes, steps and requirements. 

I've interacted with job seekers for many years (providing job search coaching and resume writing services) and know for certain those that put the most into their search, get the most out of it. In recent years, I've met several long term unemployed people that are oblivious to how the most basic things they are doing or not doing make a huge difference.

Many of them are stubborn, set in their ways and look for any possible justification to avoid taking accountability for at least what IS within their control. Yes, there are challenges that we wish didn't exist, but dwelling on that is not productive. The ones that keep spending time on the same things are stuck and making matters worse the longer they remain unemployed. Unfortunately, they often are entirely closed off to getting help or trying something new. 

You mentioned resumes - that is a topic that boggles my mind. The vast majority of resumes circulating are terrible. Same with LinkedIn profiles. Just because someone is a spectacular chemical engineer, doesn't mean they are exceptional at putting together a cohesive, coherent and most importantly error-free resume or profile. 

Legitimate help is available and I know for sure those that package and present themselves best gain more interviews. I see this come up constantly and I understand the skepticism people have related to paying someone for that type of work, but if it makes a difference in getting a job or not it is difficult to see so much resistance. 

After seeing the resume examples and instructions given out here in my local area, I personally don't recommend people get (free) advice from the unemployment office unless they are absolutely destitute and have no other options. I don't know if that is the case everywhere, but around here "the blind leading the blind" is the it works and it shows! 

Good article! 

KB @TalentTalks 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 21, 2012 at 2:18pm

I just had a "round robin" go around with a candidate who is  trying to come back into the job market after six years out taking care of ill family members.  She can not get through her head that having an MBA from a top flight school 9 years ago and a couple of years after that in high paying jobs does not mean she is a walk on at over 100K .  She recently applied for a job online that specifically requested experience in a narrow field that she had no clue about but thought she would get an interview because she had met the owner of the company.  Of course she did not.  When that happened she was sure that it was the fault of the HR person who probably only graduated from high school and doesn't have a clue how impressive that MBA is.  It was because of the small minds in this part of the world who don't understand how impressive her background is in the military for 20 years before she got that MBA.  When i finally said, "Ok tell me what you know about pricing and selling electrical power?"  The answer was , "nothing but i didn't know anything about other jobs that i had when i first started them either."  It falls on deaf ears that was then and this is now and you have not worked in six years.  There has been this little thing called a recession in between and you would not have been interviewed for this job then because you don't know anything about it.  It always ends up with a long sigh and the comment that there must be someone out there smart enough to understand this work background and education who knows what she is trained to do.  I got her one interview, she blew it because she spent half the interview talking about how she wasn't sure this was for her because it did not require an MBA in the job description so her education would be wasted if all it took was a BA.


I see this over and over, perhaps not to this extreme but the concept is the same.  Unless a person is willing to move anyplace in the world in two weeks , at their own expense, there is no way that there are 40 to 50 jobs a week that are even close to a fit for their background and skill set.  It is slinging crap against a wall to sit at a computer all day filling out job applications.

I agree with Bill, go do something, anything, temp, substitute teach, offer your skills for free to somebody who needs them where you can meet people who may be in a position to hire or know someone who is..


Jobseekers can bitch about online apps all day long but they are what they are so learn to navigate them without getting twisted up into a negative ball because you don't like them.


Most importantly, don't apply for something you aren't qualifed for , you not only loose credibility but if one comes up with the same company that you are qualified for you have already marked youself as a loon because you applied for something that is totally out of your field, ablity or pay range.  Like the three year accounting person who applies for a controller position.  If you don't have enough sense to know that you are not qualified to be a controller three years out of school, trust me you will not get an interview for a staff position, you just labled yourself as a problem with not common sense.  And no , it does not work to see an accounting position or any other and apply because you think they might have something else in that department.  You can do that by filling out a general app or making a contact but not by applying for something specific that you don't fit.



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