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Standing Out Online: The New Realities of Job Search for Executive Women

iStock_000014187113XSmallBy Robin Madell (San Francisco)

Technology, social media, and the recession have drastically changed the face of job seeking—it’s much harder today to stand out from the noise. Talent hunters now have access to literally hundreds of millions of online resumes in an instant through job boards, search engines, and networking sites. Yet the online environment can serve as an “equalizer” as well, helping to create a more level playing field for executive women during the job search process—provided they know the right strategies to use.

How can you cut through the clamor and gain the attention of potential employers, recruiters, and hiring managers in today’s ultra-competitive online and social media environment? Who better to ask than Mike Junge, who currently serves on the leadership recruiting team at Google and has helped hundreds of job seekers land offers with Fortune 500 companies around the globe.

Junge is also author of the recently released book, Purple Squirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews, and Master the Modern Job Market and a former five-time Recruiter of the Year with a national staffing firm. As such, he has the inside word on what it really takes for female execs to get hired in an environment where it’s no longer about searching for jobs—it’s about being searched for.

New Challenges, New Advantages

Whether male or female, executives face a different set of challenges than the average job seeker. Moving up the corporate hierarchy means fewer opportunities and stronger competition. Junge explains that gender aside, executive job search is an intensely competitive space that has been complicated still further by the Internet, which gives employers access to a much larger talent pool than previously available. “The online marketplace has changed things pretty dramatically for everyone on either side of the hiring equation,” says Junge.

Yet while the online environment causes increased competition for all job seekers, Junge believes that it also offers some strategic advantages for women. For example, in a typical resume hunt performed by recruiters, key words and search strings are gender neutral. That means everyone has an equal shot at capturing the attention of the hiring manager or other decision maker reviewing online job profiles.

Junge adds that in this environment, women have the potential for another added advantage. Because of the Internet, women now have the ability to connect with the more focused audience deliberately searching for qualified female applicants. Yet with millions of available online profiles to review, that’s not always an easy task. “Leaving searchable hints and clues on your resume—things like affiliations, associations, and similar content—can make it easier for interested parties to identify you as a potential match for their hiring goals,” recommends Junge.

How It Works

To understand the best way to leverage online job search to your advantage, Junge says it can be helpful to think on a broader scale about how recruiters and employers hunt for talent these days. He explains:

“There’s usually a progression through a variety of resources, starting with personal networks and referrals, then working through some combination of job boards, online sources, applications, outside recruiters, search engines, and company databases. Referrals and personal networks tend to be first choice and highest impact, but collectively the job boards, career sites, search engines, databases, and social networks contribute significant hiring results.”

But how do talent hunters specifically use these online resources to zero in on the right employee for a particular position? In order to even show up in the search results, the critical first step is that your profile has to hit the parameters defined by the person searching for talent.

Junge explains that recruiters construct “queries” that incorporate various role-specific parameters. These parameters evaluate each resume in the system against a combination of key words, phrases, titles, past employers, locations, industries, dates, degrees, certifications, and related criteria. The recruiter receives the results of a query in the order determined by a proprietary ranking system or sorting algorithm.

To build a resume with the best chance of showing up toward the top of the list, Junge recommends doing some preliminary research to gain insight into the specific parameters that those on the other side of the job hunt may be using to identify candidates for a specific position. To this end, job descriptions can contain valuable clues.

“Instead of just deciding whether or not to apply, pay close attention to the words, phrases, and requirements most commonly used by employers in your space,” says Junge. “The more you can honestly and accurately build their language into your resume, the more page views and interview requests you’re likely to land.”

Strategic Searching

When it comes to strategies that women can use to excel at online job searching, Junge says there are two areas to consider. The first prerequisite is considering what needs to be done offline, in the “real world,” to become genuinely valuable to potential employers. The second is translating and adapting these offline skills and experiences into a digital format—such as a resume, bio, and/or profile—and using that material to create a compelling and magnetic online presence.

“Regardless of industry or domain, it’s really offline activities that have the biggest impact on a job search,” says Junge. “When they hunt for talent, recruiters and HR professionals search for specific attributes, experiences, and skill sets. They’re looking for signs that a prospect will meet or exceed the requirements of a particular role, and these signs point back to things that happen (or happened) in the real world. Education, work projects, affiliations, achievements, initiatives, certifications, and other experiences are all likely to factor into the equation.”

When it comes time to “log on” for part two, success comes not only through having the right skills and experience, but also by presenting the information strategically and having it available where recruiters and HR professionals go searching online for talent.

“Targeted research can help with shaping your message and choosing the best words and phrases to describe your background—building your resume,” says Junge. “But this is only useful if your information is then available in the places where motivated employers can find it.”

In an active job search, Junge suggests that this likely means having a presence on major job boards, LinkedIn, industry-specific niche sites, and perhaps on a personal blog or website. He notes that at the executive level, particularly for C-level positions, it’s also likely for potential employers to find candidates or conduct due-diligence through other forms of research, such as by reviewing quarterly and annual statements, looking at competitors’ boards of directors, or reading press releases and publications. For this reason, having a strong online presence can be highly effective.

Go Offline

Ironically, one of the best ways to stand out online is to spend more time offline. “Particularly at an executive level, I’d recommend investing at least as much or more time in offline search as online,” says Junge. “The Internet is a fabulous tool for attracting the attention of motivated talent hunters, but it’s just one part of the equation. A huge amount of executive level hiring comes from offline relationships and networks, and those are things that need to be developed and cultivated over time.”

To that end, here are some of Junge’s top strategies that may be helpful in forging and building live connections:

  • Become an active contributor and/or board member for a non-profit (or two). Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community while providing an opportunity to make connections with others who share similar goals and interests. “As you build relationships and have a positive impact, you also gain access to the minds and networks of the people around you,” says Junge. “By demonstrating your skills and abilities in a practical context, you give your peers a solid basis for recommending you when and if the right opportunity presents itself.”
  • Be an equal-opportunity networker. While it may be tempting to stick solely with women’s organizations for networking opportunities, broadening your focus can expand your job search horizons. “Contributing to groups and associations specifically for women is a fantastic idea for a whole host of reasons, but it’s also incredibly useful to get plugged into broader groups and associations related to your industry or profession at large,” says Junge. “Referrals still account for more hires than any other source, especially at an executive level, so it makes sense to deliberately build professional connections on both sides of the gender aisle.”
  • Go out of your way to contribute to industry initiatives and forums. Junge recalls a technology executive who once shared with him that she was the only woman to participate on a committee for a particular standards body. The executive told Junge not only about how much she had learned from being part of that effort, but also how much it had impacted her professional trajectory. “Although she was relatively unknown at the beginning of the effort, her input and contributions had a significantly positive impact on the direction the group chose to take,” explains Junge. “The friendships and connections she made led to numerous job offers and consulting engagements over the years.”
  • Build relationships with expert recruiters. Having a magnetic online presence can help attract the attention of motivated talent hunters—but it also pays to proactively ask peers for introductions to the recruiters they trust. “Great recruiters tend to be exceptionally busy, and recommendations can make a huge difference in their willingness to invest time with you,” says Junge. “If you make a point of connecting with them in advance and fostering strong relationships over time, they are far more likely to be an asset for you when you really need their help.”

All of this takes time, which is in short supply for executive women. Yet by understanding and then mastering the new realities of searching for jobs online, you may soon find yourself being searched for by those who can help you land your next great opportunity.

2 Responses

  1. Debbie Halvorson

    I love this article and everyone needs to read it. Relationships are key. Build that power base and remember ladies, we have a tendancy to do too much at work. Do only what really matters . Only you will know what that is and focus.

    Women are on line more than men but when it comes to LinkedIn they are not. They should be