As Listings Shrink, Job Sites Bulk up

Even as the ranks of the unemployed swell and the number of job openings shrink, online job-hunting tools are getting increasingly sophisticated.

Monster.com, Microsoft and Glassdoor are just a few companies offering relatively new online tools for job seekers.

Take Monster. It now has a host of Web 2.0-style features that make it easy to quickly discover useful information about various jobs. To test them out, I created a profile for myself. When the site asked me my job status, I chose "open to new opportunities," the most remote option to job seeking. (Note to my boss: I'm not job hunting, I swear!).

I decided to browse Career Snapshots. The tool let me choose various endings to a sentence that starts: "Jobs that..." I chose "could make you famous," and was presented with another choice: writer, disc jockey, journalist, chef and singer. Who knew!

I picked journalist, since it's a field I know a bit about. The results were depressing, confirming the declining fortunes of print news. Monster had just 18 journalism jobs in its database and informed me that the field expects a paltry 1.2 percent growth rate. The size of the industry in 2006 was 59,000 and that's expected to increase by a mere 1,000 by 2016, according to Monster.

After seeing results like that, journalists looking for work might be interested in trying out Monster's Career Mapping tool. It's a good idea, showing a path from one job to another in a different field, but didn't work great. I filled in "writer" as my starting point and "nurse" for my career destination. The tool automatically generated six steps.

But amazingly, according to Monster, I won't be required to go to nursing school. I simply should progressively take jobs including editor, executive director responsible for fundraising, health educator, director of nursing and, finally, registered nurse. If I knew nothing at all about how someone qualifies to be a nurse, the tool would be pretty deceptive. I realize Monster is a job search site, but if it is offering information about various types of careers, it ought to include necessary details like schooling requirements.

Next, I tried Monster's Career Benchmarking tool. As I answered questions such as years of experience and education, graphs popped up showing me average responses. I discovered that 74 percent of the 49 other people who had answered the questions as journalists had bachelor's degrees as their highest level of education.

The data Monster collects in its benchmarking tool might eventually compare to that compiled by Glassdoor, a site that launched in the middle of last year where anyone can describe their job, share their salary and post reviews of their job. You can browse salaries by industry but also by specific company. The catch is, the site requires visitors to anonymously post their salaries before seeing much of the specific salary data.

In addition to the sites that cater to job hunters, some individual companies have also improved their online tools for potential workers. Microsoft, which recently instituted the first significant layoffs in the company's history, has a Web site called View My World that contains profiles and videos of various employees and general information about different groups at the company. It also links to other related Microsoft sites including a blog dedicated to finding a job at Microsoft.

While those sites have some nice content and features, a lot of company and employment sites haven't adopted new online capabilities. Even Dice.com, a site that purports to be the "career hub for tech insiders," looks a lot like a jobs site would six or seven years ago.

The new tools available on sites like Monster and Glassdoor could help people better home in on the shrinking number of available jobs. Monster found that in January, online job availability fell across the country. Nevada and Alaska were the only two states that had an increase in online job availability during the month, Monster said.

There is a bright spot. For anyone who recently lost a technology job and is looking for a major career change, Monster found that its farming, fishing and forestry job category was the only one to register an increase in online job availability in January.

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