Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wield New Tools, But Wear Protective Gloves

Job-seekers are often urged to ramp up their use of online tools like personal Web sites, social networking, live-blogging and mobile Web-based email. Just as with physical tools, however, any relatively new product poses a risk of self-injury.

A candidate relates this harrowing tale: Scanning a mailbox he rarely used, he was shocked to find an employer's invitation to interview for a dream job languishing there. Worse, his Web hosting system had routed that incoming email to a "Junk" folder. The candidate discovered the message eight days after the prospective employer had sent it – and less than 48 hours before his system would have automatically deleted it.

The lesson: It's easy to get euphoric while watching your online presence grow before your eyes. Free personal Web sites and blogs, a custom domain for yourself, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and a multitude of separate mailboxes and email addresses -- all give job-seekers ever-greater leeway to tailor job inquiries to the perceived preferences of particular employers. But those same tools also give you more ways to lose control - of both the messages you put out about yourself (falling victim to "digital dirt"), and incoming messages from contacts or even potential employers.

What's the answer? Telling every job-seeker to confine all search-related correspondence to a single email address is probably too simplistic. Instead, each professional should administer personal Web and email accounts in a way that he or she is comfortable with, but that makes it easy to review all information frequently so that critical messages won't be missed.

One obvious possibility is to set every mailbox to automatically forward all incoming email to your primary address. If some mailboxes and other communication tools lack full Outlook functionality (automatic forwarding, reminders, calendars and the like), you might set your Blackberry or PC to send you alerts by other means. Or, you could create a document or spreadsheet that lists each domain you use and each employer you contacted through that domain.

The bottom line: expanding your online toolbox requires a bit of planning and extra care, especially at the outset, to maintain control over the edifice of new communication tools you've built.

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