Question: “Many of the Internet job leads I find seem outdated.  Should I just ignore them?”

Alas, while the Internet has made many things in life more efficient, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the process of job hunting has been meaningfully improved or enhanced through the advent of on-line technology.  Virtually every candidate and corporate recruiting professional I encounter, in fact, seems to long for the “good old days” when if you wanted to hire somebody, or get hired yourself, you essentially just had to consult a single source: the Sunday “help wanted” section of your local newspaper.

This is somewhat of an oversimplification, of course.  The Internet does provide companies with a number of significant benefits, including the ability to post, edit, and delete openings on the fly (instead of waiting a week) and to more easily source hard-to-find talent from around the globe. With more than 100,000 employment websites now in existence, however, candidates typically end up burning hundreds of extra hours combing the employment market for leads, and companies, in turn, are forced to hire batteries of internal recruiters and HR professionals to promote their openings across the cyber-universe and screen the onslaught of e-mailed resumes they receive in return.

And yet, at some level the words “get over it” come into play.  There’s no turning back the clock, and like it or not, we all must learn to adapt to the new rules of the game.  Which brings us back to the original question asked.  What exactly is the proper way to respond to Internet job leads you come across that appear to be old, outdated, and languishing in the backwater of a web server somewhere?

While it may come as a surprise, our stance is that job seekers should treat these listings no differently, and with no less significance, than those opportunities which appear more current.  If this advice seems counterintuitive, or sounds absurd, we’d encourage you to ponder the fundamental philosophy that we preach to people regarding the job market in general: “If a company at any point signals that they have a need for candidates with your skills, or have historically hired people with your background, they should immediately be treated as a ‘key prospect’ and approached accordingly — regardless of whether they appear to have a current position available or not.”

This optimistic, action-oriented attitude reflects the fact that in most organizations, change occurs constantly, and hiring needs and decisions can change on a daily or even hourly basis.  Almost no published information source, in fact, including employment ads, can keep up with the true state of a company’s internal affairs or personnel requirements.  So if you see a fantastic job lead that was posted a few months back, there’s no way to know whether the position was successfully filled, whether it was put on hold, whether other related positions have opened up in the interim, or whether perhaps the initial person hired has already been promoted up the ladder or moved on to greener pastures.

Once you accept this reality, and realize that the perceived orderliness of the published employment universe masks the true “black box” nature of corporate hiring needs, you have two choices.  You can either walk away (guaranteeing zero chance of a positive outcome) or approach the company with both guns blazing to find out the true status of the published position — or whether the organization in question has other emerging needs and opportunities which are right up your alley!