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Job hunting by e-mail has pluses and minuses

July 22, 2001 

I am now a poster child for the power of e-mail, with regard to getting a job. After sending out scads of electronic cover letters and resumes, I landed a pretty good position that will keep me off the streets for a while. You can expect to see my picture on the side of a bus or in the employment offices, holding a laptop and screeching, "I got my job through e-mail."

And things have changed in the dozen years since I worked in the office.

In my last job, e-mail was kind of a corporate bulletin board that told you when meetings would start and who had to bring the doughnuts.

Today, offices rely on e-mail, even when they want to talk to the person in the next cubicle. I learned this quickly. As I attempted to chat with my new boss she gently encouraged me to use e-mail instead of coming into her office with every little thing. The whole idea of "get acquainted" didn't really matter here. This is a temporary position, and we are trying to save money. That means don't waste time. That's the way it is, and don't take it personally.

What I do take personally, however, is the somewhat callous treatment that job seekers get from prospective employers while using e-mail as a job-search tool. When I first addressed this question (Inbox, April 22) I was relatively new to the process but saw how it put the job seeker at a disadvantage. If you are e-mailing resumes, then you can do nothing but wait, since many companies don't offer a point of contact. Then, there is the fearful "no phone calls" admonition, which you dare not violate.

So an e-mail job seeker is just shouting in the wind; the only good news is that you can send out 30 resumes in an evening and hope that something sticks.

Back in the days before e-mail, I applied for a restaurant-reviewer position at the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette, a job I had virtually no chance of landing. Still, their answer was somewhat amusing:

"Dear Sir: We had over 50 applications for this job. Yours was in the top 40. So we're so sorry that we took so long to inform you that the position has been filled."

Pretty funny, that. But with the multitude of resumes I sent out over the past few months, not one wrote to say sorry, the position has been filled. In many cases the resume generated an autoresponder that thanked me for submitting the resume and said that they would be in touch.

So you would think that it would be easy enough to let the 49 people who didn't get the restaurant-reviewer job know that they can cross this one off of their list. Such a form letter costs the employer little, and it would be a classy move — especially since no one else seems to do it.

Whenever my current job ends, I will unfortunately have to go back in the line and send out a million resumes. And the first time I get a notice from a company that it has declined to hire me in favor of someone else, I'll do a half day of volunteer work at the charity of its choice.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type "Inbox" in the subject field.

By Charles Bermant Special to The Seattle Times, Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company

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