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Craigslist Job Hunt: Make it More Effective

Updated on June 14, 2012

Craigslist, most of us know, has been the "go to" online classified ads site for many years now. It's free, unfiltered, overflowing with opportunities and nefarious schemes, and even a source of entertainment.

Sometimes, however, good 'ol Craigslist gets an unfair share of criticism largely because it fosters an "anything goes" type of online environment. However, in a world where too many rules and regulations are beginning to hinder us all, it's kind of nice that there are some domains (usually digital) where a little bit of unfettered communication can take place. Yes, a few folks have been taken advantage of by dishonest types that use Craigslist for shady activities. But, by and large, if you approach Craigslist like you should be approaching all areas of your life - that is, with some common sense - you will find savings, jobs, and possibly even a love connection on the mighty CL.

I have had pretty good luck using Craigslist to find work. I steer clear of the largest job hunting websites like Monster and CareerBuilder, for a couple of reasons. For one, the last time I checked (which, admittedly, was some time ago), these sites charged hundreds of dollars to publish a single "help wanted" listing. This means that the smallest companies, which do most of the hiring anyway, are avoiding the "Monsters" with ten-foot-poles. Craigslist, of course, provides free "help wanted" postings in most metro areas; and charges a fraction of what the Monsters charge in others. In addition, my experiences with the Monsters out there convinced me years ago that the bulk of help wanted postings are placed by recruiters and temp firms - not always a good thing.

Any person with marketable skills should do well using CL, especially when following these tips:

  • Target your area of expertise using keywords. Because Craigslist is a free-for-all where everything is bought, sold, rented, given away for free, or bartered (including sex!), you need to focus your CL job hunting efforts. Sure, you can check the actual categories that you're looking for work within without doing a keyword search. However, it pays to zero in on the type of job you're looking for by using keywords. Using a keyword or phrase in your search will pull up jobs in categories that you hadn't thought of. Craigslist is a self-service medium - noone will tell an advertiser which category they should post in - so potential employers may place their help wanted ad in a category where you might not look.
  • Blow off garbage ads quickly. Yes, there are plenty of legitimate employers seeking employees on Craigslist. However, there is no shortage of "garbage posts" on the Craigslist help wanted sections. The key to finding work on Craigslist is to become very savvy at separating the digital wheat from the chaff. Certain phrases, such as: "rock music lovers wanted!" (you'll be working in a telemarketing sweat shop), should alert you that you are looking at a "garbage" ad. You have to develop a sense for figuring out which ads are worthwhile, which are spammy, and which are downright fraudulent. If the job description sounds too good to be true - it is.
  • Look for duplicate, or "series" posts, and ignore them. If a potential employer is posting the same ad every day for months on end - that "employer" is either engaging in fraud, or is so terrible that the company's turnover is sky-high. Run away. If you check Craigslist daily - which you should be doing - you'll see the same ads over and over again. They are there for a reason: obviously other job seekers have learned to ignore these posts. You can use Craigslist's search feature to see if these posts have a history.
  • Configure your RSS feed to update you on new job listings. This is very lame on my part, but I once read recently that there is a way to set up RSS feeds to somehow keep you informed about newly posted jobs on Craigslist that meet specific criteria which you specify. I have no idea how this is done or even if it's possible - maybe someone can comment about this below...
  • The more detailed the description, the better. Legitimate employers don't want to screw around by casting a wide net when looking for employees for a specific job that requires specific skills. To save time, they want to make sure that the candidates they bring in can at least meet some minimal criteria. To this end, they are going to provide enough detail about the job they are looking to fill by making sure that only qualified prospects bother to respond to their help wanted posting. On the other hand, a shady help wanted posting, or a company looking for warm bodies, just wants respondents - as many as they can get. This means the job description will be kept to a minimum, with perhaps only a few phrases designed to get your attention and possibly a toll-free number. Vague or too-brief help wanted CL posts should be avoided.
  • On the other hand, you don't need to read the company's history. Every job hunting "guru" will tell you that it pays to know something about the company that you are interviewing with. What they don't tell you is: this really applies to larger corporations, not small mom-and-pop companies (the kinds of companies that use Craigslist the most). The smallest companies don't really expect (and really don't care) how much you know about them. What they want to know is: can you do the job? Will you show up? Are you willing to accept a reasonable wage without crying every day? Are you qualified? If the first couple of paragraphs of a Craigslist help wanted post insists on informing you that "Amalgamated Products, Inc., was founded in 1853 and is now the largest worldwide supplier of toilet seats...", then you're dealing with a large corporation. Not necessarily bad, but you're going to be competing with more job candidates, for what it's worth.
  • Remember: it's a numbers game. Like all methods used in your job hunt, the more contacts you follow-up with, ads you respond to, interviews you go on, etc. - the better your odds of finding work. Most legitimate companies that seek employees via Craigslist will get dozens of potential candidates. Don't let this discourage you - just make sure you respond to all of the potential job openings that you're qualified for.
  • The early Craigslist bird gets the worm. You should be checking Craigslist at least every day, and possibly a couple of times per day, to find fresh job postings. Then respond to them quickly. I have scored a number of jobs on Craigslist by e-mailing the potential employer within an hour or two of the appearance of his/her posting. You can view the timestamp on each and every CL post. The earlier you respond, the better (in most cases). That doesn't mean you shouldn't respond to a post that's over a week old - maybe the job hasn't been filled yet - but be quick when you see a job opening on Craigslist that looks promising. When a small business owner decides he or she needs to hire someone, they probably already waited too long before placing the help wanted ad.
  • Do not provide your Social Security number early on. This goes without saying. If a potential employer that you haven't dealt with face-to-face is pressuring you for sensitive identity information, you may be dealing with a scammer. Avoid these. A legitimate employer will understand your reluctance to provide a Social Security number at least until you've gotten to know each other. However, they will probably need to do a background check on you at some point, so a request for some sort of official identification will be legitimate as the hiring process moves forward.

Craigslist "Help Wanted" Posts You Should Avoid

Avoid these postings when looking for work via Craigslist:

  • Promises of compensation that are significantly higher than the industry norm.
  • Any type of job description that seems too good to be true.
  • Any post seeking "drivers" for a "busy outcall service". These are usually scams.
  • There are no shortages of companies seeking debt collectors, "outbound account executives" (code for: cold-callers), or door-to-door magazine subscription salespeople. Work for one of these outfits if you wish, but realize that you're probably better off getting a job at McDonald's.
  • There are two types of commission-only sales jobs: those that suck, and those that don't. The ones listed on Craigslist are the former - 99% of the time.
  • Anyone looking for a (fill in the blank here) "rock star" or "ninja". Really? Your company is looking for a "rock star"? Then hire Bono.

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