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Technology

Jul 31, 2014

Applying for 40 jobs? There'll be an AppApp for that

The government's scheme to force job-seekers to send 40 applications a month will definitely increase employment -- among entrepreneurial app developers.

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If the government wants to penalise dole-collecting unemployed who automate their job-seeking efforts using “online tools” rather than making “genuine efforts” to find work, they’re in for trouble. The market will provide.

Online is where job-seeking happens this century. Employers are already being barraged with job applications that are unlikely to succeed — even though they come from job-seekers who genuinely want a job — and they have been for years. I know from personal experience: when I was hiring technical staff in 2005, people using sites like Seek clicked on the “Apply” button to send their standard resume and covering letter to every job in the category they’re after. The result was hundreds of wildly inappropriate applications to wade through. These days, with almost everyone online, not just the geeks, applications can number in the thousands.

It doesn’t take job-seekers long. As The Guardian’s Nick Evershed demonstrated on Tuesday, applying for 40 jobs takes nine minutes — and he was even trying to do things properly.

Meanwhile, back in 2005, the next time I was ready. My job advert at Seek said to email a separate address for the position description and instructions and not to send a resume yet. Those who did were told: “If you’ve already sent a resume, that’s fine — although we did say not to. So you’ve already lost a point. You’ll have to catch up. Think of it as a chance to do Version 2.” The instructions said their application had to contain a certain keyword: “dolphin”. So I just rejected every application that didn’t, with a standard rejection email pointing out their mistake. Details are a factor in this, so please pay attention.

Evershed is smart and technologically literate. Maybe not every job-seeker can work as fast as he can. But it’d be easy to create an online tool so that less capable job-seekers could work just as fast, target their applications just as appropriately, and perhaps even have the whole process automated for them …

Introducing the AppApp — a smartphone app to do your job-seeking for you.

Job-seekers could simply choose the kinds of jobs they’re after from a list, answer a few questions about location and conditions, and they’re ready to go. Then, somewhere out in the cloud, a software robot trawls through the employment sites looking for matches, clicking through at a slow pace and looking for all the world like an actual human. Sites like Seek are well-structured, and the software libraries for doing this sort of “screen scraping”, as it’s called, are freely available.

Natural language processing software libraries exist too, giving programmers a head start in writing the code that tries to understand some of the niceties. Semantic and statistical methods already exist to determine how closely two texts relate — such as a CV and a job ad.

The whole thing could probably be sketched out during one of the increasingly popular weekend hackfests. The result would, of course, be an arms race. Employers would invent more elaborate tricks to sift the ocean of applications. AppApp’s creators would add more smarts to work around them, and to counter any government claims that the applications it sends aren’t appropriate.

All in all, nice work for a handful of entrepreneurial developers, but apart from that, precisely zero effect on employment.

It’s funny, really. It’s as if the government, with all its talk about “genuine effort”, actually wants job-seekers to work harder, not smarter. And with all its talk of turning up at the factory gates and the demonisation of online tools, their worldview, or that of the disgruntled employers who whinge about the young unemployed, hasn’t been updated since the Great Depression.

Stilgherrian —

Stilgherrian

Technology writer and broadcaster

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