The Internet has Free Resumes – SO WHAT?

BEWARE: This post takes a contrarian (yet fact-based!) view of the Internet as a sourcing tool that may be unsuitable to some readers. If you don’t want to hear anything other than how awesome the Internet is for sourcing and recruiting, please stop reading now. 

The Internet has Free Resumes – SO WHAT?

Okay, so you can find free resumes on the Internet.  So what? What’s the big deal?  The fact that the Internet is free? While free is nice and certainly can’t be argued with, I am sure you have also heard that you get what you pay (or don’t pay) for. Or if it’s too good to be true – it is.

So let’s take a look at what you get for free on the Internet:

Not a lot of resumes

If you are a sourcer or recruiter I am sure that at some point in your career you’ve read somewhere or heard someone say how the Internet has 10X the number of candidates that can be found on the online job board resume databases. I’ve always taken that for face value because, to be honest, it’s really tough to prove or disprove such a figure/statement. However, I am a bit of a skeptic and I don’t just accept what I read or hear at face value – especially grandiose statements/claims, so I’ve taken a critical look into the matter.

While you may be able to find more names/people on the Internet than you can find on any given internal (corporate) resume database or the major online job board resume databases such as Monster, Careerbuilder, etc., the Internet does NOT have more RESUMES, even when it comes to the most common job titles and roles. 

In fact, I’ve found that the Internet has in many cases at least 10X FEWER RESUMES than you can find even on ONE major job board.

Sound crazy or impossible? Would you like some apples-to-apples comparison searches in specific locations comparing the number of resumes you can find on Monster vs. the number of resumes you can find on the Internet via Google? You’ve come to the right place – here are two posts/search exercises that illustrate this point dramatically: Monster vs. the Internet Round 1, and Monster vs. the Internet Round 2.

What’s that? You don’t need resumes to find people on the Internet? Yes, you certainly don’t need resumes to find great candidates – you can search blogs, user groups, company directories, conference attendee lists, etc., and find lots of people. Unfortunately, in most cases, without a resume we can’t reliably determine exactly where these people live (kinda helpful to know), how much experience they have (or how recent it’s been), or what they have been specifically responsibile for. For a detailed analysis – read this post on the intrinsic benefits and advantages of resume database recruiting over any other method of talent identification.

Unstructured data

A database is a structured collection of records or data. Structured data enables more accurate and targeted information retrieval. The Internet is NOT a structured collection of records or data – it’s unstructured, and as such, the Internet is by its very nature an impendiment to targeted and accurate information retrieval.

This can be especially challenging when trying to find people in a specific location, because the Internet is not designed to allow you to do so. Most people try and search for area codes, states (spelled out or abbreviated), or even get more creative and use Google’s numrange functionality and attempt to target zip codes, but any way you slice it – Internet search engines don’t know that you’re looking for area codes, zip codes, or even specific states. So you often get lots of false positive results – hits with the numbers OF the area codes or zip codes, but the numbers themselves are not actually area codes or zip codes. You can also get false positives of pages that happen to mention your target city/state, but the person referenced doesn’t actually LIVE in that city/state.

Trying to specifically target resumes is equally fraught with peril. You can try using the (intitle:resume OR inurl:resume), but then you miss people who do not title their resume as “resume.” If you DON’T use (intitle:resume OR inurl:resume), you open yourself up to a LARGE amount of false positives, even if you try and eliminate job postings and other annoying false positives. This is again due to the fact that the Internet is not a structured database, and no matter WHAT you put in your search strings, the Internet search engines don’t know what you’re looking for. In effect, sourcers and recruiters using the Internet to find resumes are actually performing “work-arounds” in that they are creatively applying search operators and symbols to make the Internet return results they’re looking for, even though neither the Internet nor the Internet search engines were designed for sourcing and recruiting.

A poor search interface

Yeah – I said it.

Yahoo, Ask, and Google don’t even support full Boolean logic. Come on. Performing text-based search without full Boolean logic is like performing surgery with a butter knife – crude and imprecise, and some things simply can’t be accomplished.

MS Live supports full Boolean logic, but has no wildcard/stemming/truncation search. And while Exalead supports full Boolean logic as well as wildcard/stemming AND fixed and configurable proximity searching (WOW!) – it indexes a small fraction of what the other large Internet search engines do. Sigh. Can’t sourcers and recruiters catch a break here?

ALL of the major job board resume databases support full Boolean logic, and Monster supports fixed proximity with the NEAR operator. While they of course have the advantage over the Internet of being designed soley as resume databases – their search interfaces are well ahead of most Internet search engines. Am I the only recruiting professional that loves to leverage the asterisk and be able to use the NOT operator on a parenthetical statement?

Anyone who has used a full-featured text search engine that supports not only standard Boolean logic, but also extended Boolean such as configurable proximity and variable term weighting (such as Lucene or dtSearch) on a structured database can tell you that in comparison – using Internet search engines is like trying to tie your shoe laces with mittens on…while handcuffed.

And of course Internet search engine interfaces don’t allow for reliable location-specific searching. This is compounded by the fact that as stated previously, the Internet does not structure any data, let alone location-specific information.

Irrelevant results

Google uses their PageRank link analysis, among other things to determine “relevance,” which has NOTHING to do with the relevance of a potential candidate’s qualifications based on a search. In fact, it’s inherently flawed in that a person who happens to have created their own website and has posted their resume on it may not have ANY links to it, so Google will interpret it as a result of low relevance.

Yahoo and other search Engines do not appear to disclose their relevance ranking/sorting methods – so who really knows what they think are relevant results? Also – am I the only one that thinks it’s ridiculous to get 2.5 million results from any search? Any guess as to how many are actually RELEVANT?

The very fact that the Internet is not a structured database of people makes it intrinsically difficult to get relevant results from any search – the Internet has tons of garbage on it. Trying to look for the term “resume” or “CV” pulls many false positives, as does any search for location-specific information such as area codes, states, or even 5 digit zip codes simply because there is so much STUFF on the Internet, and it doesn’t know what you’re looking for.

No competitive advantage

The Internet is free – anyone with an Internet connection can search it to find people and resumes. While there is no denying that some people are more proficient at searching the Internet, everyone has access to the same information – and there aren’t even that many resumes on the Internet to fight over. I don’t see that as a competitive advantage of any significance.

Even major online job board resume databases offer more competitive advantage than the Internet, because they cost money and not every person or organization pays for access to even 1 job board resume database. Plus – they all have decent search interfaces/engines.

Any recruiting or staffing organization of any significant size should have an internal resume database that affords them a TRUE competitive advantage – access to a large number of unique candidates that other people and organizations do not have (any and/or easy) access to, stored in a structured database with a powerful search engine that supports full (and ideally extended) Boolean. 


It’s awesome that the Internet is free and has so much information, but let’s not overlook that:
  • It doesn’t have many resumes
  • It’s unstuctured data
  • It’s intrinsically difficult to find people in specific locations
  • It’s intrinsically difficult to find people with specific experience and qualifications
  • It has poor search interfaces
  • It has TONS of irrelevant results
  • It does not afford any significant competitive advantage

Before some readers cry “blasphemy!” – there is no denying that you CAN leverage the Internet to find fantastic talent – everyone knows that. But let’s not conveniently overlook the fact that using Internet search engines to locate people with specific skills and experience that live in targeted areas is intrinsically difficult due to the fact that you are using Internet search engines as well as the Internet in a manner that they were not specifically designed for (targeting people that live in specific places with specific experience and qualifications). Finding SOME people on the Internet is easy, but consistently finding a solid quantity of the RIGHT people is definitely not.

Because of this, using the Internet via Internet Search Engines for sourcing and recruiting has an intrinsically low ROTI (return on time invested). But hey – don’t blame the Internet or the Internet search engines. That’s like getting upset because your blender/food processor isn’t effective at mowing your lawn.  

If you only need to find a handful of the right people every month, perhaps the Internet alone, with all of its intrinsic limitations, can still fulfill all of your hiring needs. Regardless, there ARE and more effective methods and technologies available.

What really drives me crazy is that I feel that most people don’t even know how to effectively leverage their own internal resume database or even the online job boards if they have access to them – where they can run more precise searches and find more people who live in targeted areas that have specific skills and experience and enjoy a much higher ROTI – yet they spend lots of time searching the Internet where it’s harder to find specifically qualified people in targeted locations and there are less of them to reliably find in the first place.

I’d argue that every sourcer and recruiter leverage ALL resources available to them – but I believe they should START with the rousources that produce the highest ROTI first, and then work their way backwards from there.

I’ll end this post with an analogy:

If you were in the oil prospecting business, would you choose to specifically target and utilize technologies and methods that made it intrinsically difficult to find oil deposits?  And would you specifically target areas where you know there isn’t much oil in the first place and where everyone else has already searched and picked over?

Think about it.

  • kameronswinton

    Amen! I completely agree. The internet doesn’t index the high volume of resumes and it’s simply not built to store and search them like a Monster, CB or your internal ATS.

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on how the shift to (and corresponding traffic spike) job aggregators like Indeed will affect the resume databases of the big 3 job boards. Job seekers can now search jobs posted on corporate job sites and apply directly without a middleman or the need to store their resume in a central location. This would seem to place even more importance on SMB/Enterprise ATS systems, along with the sourcer’s ability to leverage those systems to find top talent.

    Kameron Swinton

  • Boolean Black Belt

    I’m glad you agree – I’m not much of a blind follower, and when I see so much positive press and interest around using the Internet for sourcing talent, I’m the guy who says, “wait a minute,” and decides to pause and look at it from another angle…without the hype and the rose colored glasses.

    You raise an excellent point with the trend of job seekers being able easily and more conveniently use job search aggregators like Indeed instead of hitting the major job boards directly – I am not exactly sure how that will affect the resume databases of the big job boards. One would think though, that there is definitely a group of people who want to be FOUND (like my eBay analogy), and not just look through job postings. Hard to say if a decrease in direct job ad traffic to the big boards will lower the number of people entering resumes online. Will be interesting to see.

    Personally, I am not a big fan of posting jobs. It’s a necessary evil, but it’s a passive method of finding people, and I am a little bit of a control freak. I like to be able to control who I find. Every once in a while I have had the magic candidate respond to a job posting, but more often than not (I’d say 90%+) I get people responding who are anywhere from partially to totally unqualified.

    I’ve been meaning to put a post together about posting jobs online vs running searches on resume databases – you’ve prompted me to get my rear in gear and get moving on the topic.

    Thanks Kameron!

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  • Tracey

    I believe there are less than 500 resumes on the internet, not including job boards, paid sites, etc.

  • Thx for taking the
    time to explain the terminlogy towards the novices!

  • Ya its true you should target the area where there is less competition and more searches.Internet provides you free sample resumes just for reference but one should analyse and build his resume that makes him different and appropriate from others.One best advice for above situation is to build customize cover letters to get noticed.

  • Jo Joe

    I am a recruiter who uses CL, believe it or not, for the vast majority of my sourcing. We don’t need any special qualities as we actually prefer to train from the ground up…why mess with what ain’t broken lol. We do want college grads but can work with anyone who is a leader and driven. BUT I am looking into job boards as a result of this and your other article, How to Find resumes on the Internet with Google. Job boards cost money tho and I am allotted really nothing to spend on sourcing. Your two articles here may change some of the financial dept’s minds though! Thanks for writing this :)