Persistent high levels of unemployment affect everyone, whether you've been jobless for months or are happily and securely employed but worry about the dwindling prospects for out-of-work friends and loved ones. Plenty of Web sites offer to help people find a new or better job. The challenge is distinguishing the legitimate online employment services from the many job scams cluttering the Web.
The preliminaries: Cover letters and resumes
Job-search counselors highlight the importance of well-crafted resumes and cover letters. Jobweb offers plenty of resume advice geared mostly to recent college graduates but applicable for nearly every job seeker. It includes information on video resumes, tips for navigating the online-application process, and dozens of sample resumes, again intended for students but adaptable for more experienced workers.
In a nutshell, remember that prospective employers might spend all of 10 seconds scanning your resume, so be brief. Use bullet points, proper nouns, and numbers, such as "I wrote three blog posts of 300 to 500 words each day, resulting in a 25 percent increase in page views per month." (I wish!) Most importantly, don't forget to include your contact information.
Before you post any resume, be sure to read the World Privacy Forum's Twelve Resume Posting Truths. Among the truths are that not everyone who has access to resume databases should, that using a disposable e-mail address can prevent problems later, and that "delete doesn't always mean delete." (See below for more tips on avoiding online job scammers.)
When it comes to resumes, there are no hard-and-fast rules, other than to be honest at all times. I worked at a company where the hiring manager ignored resumes and instead used only applicants' cover letters to determine who would be interviewed. He looked at each applicant's resume only after the initial interview had been scheduled.
This highlights the importance of a well-crafted cover letter to accompany your resume. The Virginia Tech Career Services site provides several useful tips for writing cover letters, including the information to include in your cover letter, the format to use, and the best ways to follow up the letter.
The most important aspects of any cover letter are that it be personalized to the recipient and that it be sincere. This requires that you do your homework about the organization and be upfront and honest about why you want to work there.
Also, always reply to any response you receive (unless the response indicates not to) so you can thank the recipient for taking the time to respond. It's so common to apply for a position and never hear a peep back from the organization that acknowledging the courtesy of even a negative reply is worthwhile.
The Web's best job-search resources
You've probably been to the job listings on Craigslist.org, Monster.com (which is now linked to Yahoo HotJobs), CareerBuilder.com, and Indeed. According to the review-aggregating site Consumer Search, the best-reviewed job-search site is Simply Hired, and the best networking site for job seekers is LinkedIn.
Before you start blanketing the job-search sites with your resume, take a step back and devise a strategy that will maximize your time and effort. The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration offers resources and tools for job seekers, one of which is called America's Service Locator. Enter your city, state, or ZIP code at this site to find free employment services in your area.
Another useful resource for devising your job-search strategy is About.com's Career Planning page, which features a Job Search Quiz and a Personal Marketing Strategy, as well as information for people who have been out of work for an extended period.
Don't become a victim of job-search scams
Con artists are known to prey on people who are helpless and desperate. As the number of jobless people increases, and the length of their unemployment stretches on, the helplessness and desperation of the long-term unemployed becomes almost palpable. The more you want to believe some get-rich-quick scheme you see pitched on the Web or elsewhere, the more suspicious you must become.
A great resource for people who suspect a job offer is too good to be true is PhishBucket.org, which lists thousands of fraudulent offers in a searchable database. The site also provides an FAQ section, a page for reporting suspicious job offers, and its own list of "phish-free jobs."
The Riley Guide's scam-detection page provides tips for spotting online job scams, reports of recent employment scams, and red flags to watch for in your job search. These include requests for your Social Security or bank account numbers, your PayPal account, and scans of your driver's license or passport.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse fact sheet on avoiding online job scams warns against participating in payment-forwarding or payment-transfer schemes. The site repeats Monster.com's list of terms appearing in job posts that are tip-offs to scams, including "money transfers," "wiring funds," "eBay," "Western Union," and "package forwarding."
I'm a big fan of working at home, and based on the growing popularity of home-based businesses, I'm not alone. Unfortunately, scammers are trying to take advantage of people's desire for the commute-free lifestyle. The Scambusters.org site lists the 10 most common home-business come-ons and explains how to avoid falling for them. In case you haven't already heard, you're never going to get rich stuffing envelopes. And if you ever see the term "multilevel marketing" in a job offer of any kind, hit that Backspace key as quick as you can!