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Searching Online for Jobs – The Good and the Bad

One way to describe job searching in our industry is “hurry up and wait.” Sometimes you’ll interview quickly but not start working for months. Other times, hiring happens at lightening speed. In television, it’s common to get a call about 3 months of consistent work only a few days before you need to start!

When you’re in a lull between jobs, it’s really easy to go online and look for work. There are great jobs to be found, but there’s a lot of noise out there, too. How can you tell what to pursue?

Why are they listing online?

The old phrase that work comes by “word of mouth” is totally true. It means opportunities are most likely to come from people you know (your connections). A resume may not tell a lot about your work ethic or your ears, but a former co-worker or colleague can easily verify that you’re a good fit for a job.

Online hiring is time consuming for employers. They have to put together a job description, post an ad, go through resumes, make phone calls, interview, check references, etc. If a manager has a good relationship with their employees, it’s a quick conversation: “We need to hire. Can you recommend anyone?” Anytime I see an ad online I ask: Why the extra effort? Do they have an existing network to bring in good quality candidates? Is this the type of place that people want to work, or is it a revolving door that always needs new people? Is the online listing a matter of company policy?

An online job search is like online dating. If you just met someone through a website, would you immediately trust them and jump into a relationship? It can save a lot of trouble down the road by being inquisitive and watching for red flags up front.

When you find an ad you’re interested in, do a little research (look up the company or person), and ask around if you know anyone who’s worked for them. This is also a good idea because you might find someone to directly recommend you for the job. Then, if you get called for an interview, you’ll get the opportunity to further ask questions.

Corporate jobs

Some corporations (and large companies) require that all job openings are posted publicly. It’s great for the public to find out about jobs, but sometimes the company already knows who they’re hiring and still has to post an ad. If you apply to one of these jobs, be objective about it – don’t wait around for them to contact you (the same could be said of any online job). If you have a connection to the company, take advantage. Sometimes there’s hiring bonuses when an employee gives a recommendation, so you may find someone eager to help you.

Keep in mind it may be someone in HR or a recruiter looking at your resume first, and they may not understand the technical nuances. If you’re going to apply to a corporate job, tailor your resume so it has easy-to-read points, and includes some general details that could be understood by anyone reading it.

Amateur/Semi-professional work

A large subset of online ads is the amateur/semi-professional market.  In film, there’s a lot of self-taught filmmakers who seek sound help but don’t know any sound people. In music, there’s bands everywhere looking for help with recording or live sound for gigs. There’s a lot of opportunities, but the quality, talent level, and pay can vary significantly. It’s hard to distinguish this in an ad, too.  If you’re going after work in this market, ask a lot of questions before committing. Make sure that their expectations are in line with the work you are going to do (and not do), and be very clear about the budget and timeline.

For films, ask for trailers or a clip to watch to get a sense of audio quality. For music, ask for past recordings or a demo (even an iPhone recording or YouTube video) just to hear what they sound like. There’s been many times I’ve passed on a project because what someone said they needed was different from what they actually needed. For example, an unwritten song needs a songwriter, not an engineer. Film ads regular confuse terms such as “sound mixer,” “Foley” and “sound designer.”

Just because you inquire or put your name in the running doesn’t mean you have to take the work – especially if you have concerns about the level of professionalism or the person hiring you. The right project can be a great opportunity for learning and relationships, but it still may entail a lot of extra work, teaching/explaining what it is you do (and can’t do), and managing expectations.

Be realistic about your chances

Some online ads for audio jobs get hundreds of responses. It can be hard to break through the noise, but it can be done. Try to share something different or unique about you. I got a job off Craigslist once because the person hiring was curious to meet a female engineer. They had almost a hundred applicants, and I was the only woman. I don’t think they were planning on hiring me, but we got along great, and I landed the gig.

The absolute best way to stand out is to find someone who will recommend you (whether it’s passing along your resume, or who’s name you can include in an email or cover letter – with their permission). Check your LinkedIn or Facebook networks for connections to the company. Ask your local friends or family if they know anyone (sometimes this will have surprising results).

Tips for responding to online ads

  • Cater your resume/cover letter to every job you apply for. When there’s a lot of applicants, you may only get a few seconds to make an impression (and they may even be using search terms to sort through resumes).
  • Show a good attitude about the job you will actually be doing (and willingness to learn – even if it’s something you’ve done before). If the job listing is for an entry level job (like internship or assistant), it’s better to say in a cover letter, “I have a working car and I am willing to run errands” than to say, “I can engineer and mix.” That raises the question, “If you can engineer and mix, why are you applying for an entry level position?”
  • A personal recommendation can set you ahead of the pack. Check your LinkedIn, Facebook or Soundgirls contacts (and groups) and ask your colleagues if they know anyone at the company, and try to get an introduction (in addition to applying online).
  • Don’t give out your mailing address unless you can verify it’s going to a reputable source. Always include the city that you live in (out-of-town or anonymous locations may be dismissed immediately). Use caution giving out your phone number (or get a Google voice number – this may help if you don’t have a local area code, too).
  • Don’t give a bid, rate, or salary to an online ad (especially if it’s anonymous) unless you think it’s absolutely necessary. Some job listings are fake or phishing. Sometimes the job description is different from the actual job. It’s better to say, “I’d prefer to speak first before discussing rates” or “I’m happy to give a quote, but I’d like to verify some details first.”
  • Carefully read over the ad and follow directions. I’ve posted online ads to find interns, and I always removed these candidates: weren’t physically in town for meeting (within 25 miles), had spelling or basic grammar errors, cover letter clearly pasted from another email or application. Directions were asked like, “Include resume in text of email; attachments will not be opened” and “Please include a cover letter where you tell us why you’re interested in our company.” Anyone who didn’t follow directions wasn’t considered, and it also helped find people who were attentive and good with details.

Accept online jobs for what they are

Online websites can be a good supplement to a job search, but it shouldn’t be considered the primary means of looking for work. It’s a balance; if you spend too much time looking online, it’s time taken away from building your network, relationships, and skills. It’s good to set a limit for how much time you spend every day on online searches/applying, and aim to spend just as much time trying to connect with people in the industry you’re looking for work in.