Expert Interview with Matt Berndt on User-Friendly Job Sites


The answer to building an audience of job seekers to your job board is simple, says career expert Matt Berndt: Respond to questions quickly, honestly, candidly and with helpful information, specific to what the person was asking.

Oh yeah, and offer actionable advice.

“People don’t want to hear from you long after their need has past. They don’t want Pollyanna responses they cannot relate to. And they don’t want advice they cannot act upon,” Matt says.

On his blog, TheCampusCareerCoach, Matt works hard to make sure all his content is approachable, reasoning that the prospect of conducting a job search is scary and intimidating enough; there’s no need for the advice he offers to be the same.

Here, the vice president and “Career Services Evangelist” for CSO Research Inc. offers his thoughts on what job sites can be doing to improve the user experience and offers advice to employers on writing better job ads.

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How did you become interested in career services and workforce development?

I’ve been exploring career options and networking since I was in high school. Curiosity about what people do for a living and why they do it comes to me naturally. But the light bulb really went “on” for me in 1993. I had just moved to Austin, TX, and was looking for a job in higher education. St. Edward’s University was looking for a new director of career resources. As a liberal arts university, they knew they needed to do something different for their students than they had been doing, because their old-fashioned “placement office” model wasn’t getting the job done. They wanted someone to come in and re-engineer their career center; to integrate it fully into the student experience from first year through graduation; to help students connect the dots between what they were doing in the classroom to what they were doing outside the classroom to discover and explore their career options. I saw that opportunity and said, “That’s me! That’s what I am supposed to be doing.”

Tell us about TheCampusCareerCoach…when and why did you start the site?

We launched TheCampusCareerCoach in August 2013. I had just joined CSO Research Inc. as the career services subject area expert and advocate a few months earlier, after 12 years as director of communication career services at The University of Texas at Austin.

Over the course of my university career, I saw a great need among students for information and advice about career exploration and decision-making. Many college career centers are understaffed and under-resourced, and I wanted to support their missions by providing career coaching and content for students that students and career center staff could trust and rely upon. I also wanted students seeking career advice independent of their campus career center to have a resource providing candid, honest and actionable advice and information.

Essentially, TheCampusCareerCoach is my effort to take my 20 years of experience in career services and workforce development and make it available to college-educated job seekers around the world.

There is a lot of very generic (and therefore very bad) career advice floating around the internet. TheCampusCareerCoach provides very specific and targeted advice and information.

Very little career advice is universally applicable – one size or style does not fit all when it comes to career decision-making. TheCampusCareerCoach recognizes this, and we build our content with that principle in mind.

What do you think online job sites do well when it comes to connecting job seekers with potential employers?

Online job boards do a great job of making information immediately available to the masses of job seekers. They don’t necessary do a good job of helping job seekers vet this information to identify relevant job opportunities.

Now, most of that responsibility falls on the job seekers themselves; they need to be a lot more intentional, assertive and inquisitive when they are searching for opportunities. But the job boards can help.

Just as not all job seekers or job searches are the same, not all job boards are the same.

Effective job boards – whether they are company specific, industry specific or general – do a good job of offering job seekers an intuitive search experience. Job boards that are easy and intuitive for job seekers to navigate, creating a positive job seeking experience for the candidate.

Let’s face it – first impressions are important. For many candidates, the first impression they get of a company or an industry is via an online job board.

What are the biggest complaints you hear from job seekers about online job boards?

“I can’t find any jobs I want” – that is the top complaint I hear. The difficulty comes when you ask those same job seekers to define or describe the kinds of jobs they want. Often, the responses are: “A job I’ll like” or “A job that pays well.” Job seekers often aren’t able to articulate clearly what they want or what they are really looking for. They don’t look in the right places for job opportunities because they aren’t specific in what they are seeking.

Here’s a parallel: If you need to buy a lot of different things, you might go to a department store like Target or Walmart because you can find a wide variety of products. If you are looking for a specific kind of shoes, however, you go to a shoe store. If you want advice on jewelry, as you get ready to by an engagement ring, you will probably go to a jewelry store.

Some job boards are generalist job boards; some are specialty job boards. If you are looking for something specific, don’t look for it on a general job board. Sure, CareerBuilder and Indeed have a lot of jobs on them, and a wide variety of jobs. But if you’re not looking for variety, why start there?

Sometimes you should shop at a department store; other times you should shop at a boutique. It depends upon your objectives! Effective job seekers “shop smart.” As a result, they tend to complain less.

What improvements/changes/innovations would you love to see online job sites making?

We need more job sites that help employers of all sizes (start-up, small, mid-size, large and mega) connect with job seekers (of all kinds) in their geographic region. Too many job sites are built to meet the needs of the large national or multi-national employer.

Small- and mid-size employers recruit in different ways and have different recruiting needs and priorities than large employers. Since many job seekers are looking, first and foremost, for work in their geographic region, there is a disconnect. Again, one size and style does not fit all.

What types of information (outside of job listings) do you find job seekers are most hungry for?

Most job seekers will say they just want (are hungry for) job listings, but sheer volume is not enough. What they need is information and resources to help them sift through the volume of listings that are available – tools and advice that will help them evaluate the job listings, articulate their priorities, market themselves to employers, prepare for interviews and evaluate and negotiate job offers.

Everyone wants help navigating what, to most, is a very foreign process – looking for and securing a new job. Most people don’t know how to look for a job. And a lot of people don’t know that they don’t know how to look for a job. They think it should be really easy, and usually it isn’t. There is a lot of well-intentioned but bad advice being given and followed!

What are some best practices that employers should follow when writing better job ads?

Write job postings so they read like advertisements and not HR documents. Spend some time articulating the skills, experience, qualities and characteristics you are seeking in candidates. Build your postings around that information. Remember, your posting is an advertisement, not an informational document – it should be written in a way that will make the job appealing to potential candidates. The job posting is the employer’s opportunity to make a good first impression, and you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Quick Tip: Show your job posting to someone who doesn’t work for your organization. Ask them what they think you are looking for in candidates. Ask them for their impressions of your company. If you don’t like what you hear, re-write the posting.

How do you think job searches will be conducted 10 years from now? What will be different from today? What will stay the same?

People hire people, so when it is all said and done, the human element in hiring will not go away. It will always come down to a hiring manager meeting a candidate (in person or virtually) and making an offer (or not), and that candidate saying yes (or no) to that offer when it comes. That will not go away. People hire people, whether the hiring organization is large or small; local, regional or national; public, private or otherwise.

Now, how we get to the actual job offer will evolve quickly and dramatically over the next decade. Even in the “old days,” the majority of jobs were sourced through referrals. Networking always has and always will fuel employment, but the means and tools for networking and professional relationship building will evolve with every new technology and social media innovation.

If you wish to be successful, you are going to have to actively manage your online brand (what people learn about out when they look you up on the internet).

If you don’t have an online presence, people may question the validity of what you state in your resume.

The volume information available to job seekers to evaluate employers, supervisors and business opportunities increases every day.

Likewise, the volume of information available to employers and business opportunity providers to evaluate potential employees and contractors also increases.

You are what you post on the internet, so be careful what you share. That statement is already true, but will become more and more evident over the next 10 years.

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