If memory serves, there was a line in a Shakespeare play (Richard III, I believe) that read “for want of a nail, a kingdom was lost” and referred to a single nail in a horseshoe falling out, leading to a cascading series of events that caused an army to lose a war.

This quote, I feel, sums up the way that the published job scene has evolved — or devolved — over the last few decades.  In the old days, when companies had to pay good money to run ads in newspapers and boil their requirements down to a few column inches of print, things were a lot saner.  The jobs were not only more legitimate, due to the cost involved, but the credibility of candidates was a lot stronger as well since people had to actually take the time to print their resume, stuff it in an envelope, and pay to put a stamp on it.  They couldn’t just spam every employer in town, wantonly, for free.  You wouldn’t see plumbers or accounting professionals, in other words, responding to software testing, sales manager, or pastry chef openings (or vice versa) merely to fulfill their weekly unemployment office requirements.

These days, however, the emergence of e-mail and the web (the nails in the proverbial horseshoe) has resulted in candidates having to contend with an endless sea of job sites and for employers, in return, to have to fend off thousands of unsolicited and unqualified applicants.  It’s chaos.  There’s almost no “friction” in the market anymore, and as a result, the legitimacy of published want ads has declined precipitously.  Many job seekers today report, in fact, sending out hundreds of resumes without even getting a single response.  So in light of this paradigm shift, it begs the question.  Are online ads really worth even messing around with anymore if you’re a job hunter?  Is the time and effort invested actually worth the ROI?

If I were asked to argue the “don’t bother responding to ads” case in court, I’d make the following points:

•  Many ads are no longer real ones; they’ve either already been filled by the time you apply or are “ghosts” of jobs that once were real, but got cancelled and couldn’t be recalled in cyberspace

•  While companies of a certain size are obligated to legally publish their openings, in truth, they often already know who they’re going to hire and the job usually goes to an insider or somebody known through word of mouth

•  Companies are extremely picky these days and have inflated the requirements of jobs to the point that almost nobody qualifies for them, including the people who write them!

•  You’ll face more competition in this arena than any other channel, given that it’s the one common place all job hunters focus on and you’re potentially competing with talent from all around the globe

•  The number of job sites is almost endless (an estimated 50,000 of them now exist) and job hunters have to somehow figure out which websites they should be checking each day, since there’s no longer a single-source location, like the newspaper

•  The process of filling out online applications can be time-consuming and tedious, raising the question of “opportunity cost” and whether this time could be better and more productively invested in alternative job hunting activities

•  Given that most resumes have to first survive a technology screening today, before being seen by a human being, one can no longer count on a one-size-fits-all resume draft anymore and must customize their document (and its keywords) constantly for best results

What say you?  Enough grist for the mill?  Would you agree that all of the above factors, taken together, have fundamentally changed the nature of applying to jobs today — and have largely decreased one’s potential odds of achieving success through ads, as a result?

Now to be fair, there are some counterarguments one could make, as well.  For starters, despite the above cynicism, there’s no denying that millions of people still get hired each year by responding to advertisements.  It’s not a billion-dollar industry for no reason and despite the horror stories, sometimes the process still works like a champ, especially for people who have extremely strong pedigrees in their chosen field.  But for candidates with non-traditional backgrounds or various perceived weaknesses (e.g. job gaps, overqualification, numerous short-term roles, lack of a degree, etc.) I’m having to constantly harp on the reality that ads are not the end-all and be-all force in hiring they once were, historically, and that many professionals will get almost zero traction through this channel no matter how much they manipulate their resume.

Interestingly, some dedicated souls (see article here) have even tried to beat the system in a scientific way by submitting fake “perfect resumes” to various ads — and even then haven’t been able to meaningfully improve their response rates, which I find enormously revealing.

So in closing, no, I don’t think ads are a complete waste of time.  If you’re a reasonably well-qualified candidate with a clear sense of your career goals, they can certainly lead to some quality opportunities.  But make sure to manage your expectations along the way, since again, the rule today (not the exception) is that the majority of applications you send out will fall into the black hole.  So try not to spend more than 20% of your time on the “ads” channel alone, since they’re just one small part of a more diverse mix of self-marketing activities one should pursue that includes staffing firms, direct company contact, and (of course) personal contact networking.

Agree?  Disagree?  Other observations on the subject?