Many people devoted some of this weekend to updating their resume and look for a new job.

Back in prehistoric times, when resumes were printed on paper (Admit it my fellow dinosaurs…you remember), applying for jobs was a very different process. You’d check the local paper on Sunday, write targeted cover letters, address envelopes (maybe on that typewriter thingy?), carefully fold a copy of your resume, mail it out, and hope for the best. And somehow it worked, and you got a call by Friday. But sometimes you didn’t, despite the fact that you were perfect for the job.

In pre-Internet days, I remember seeing two piles of resumes on my boss’s desk. In the first pile were resumes of people who were referred word of mouth by coworkers, friends, and/or other departments. In the second pile were resumes collected from newspaper job postings all still in their unopened envelopes. Those resumes would be “kept on file” until the next ad was posted six months later at which time they would be unceremoniously tossed – uh I mean — carefully placed in the circular file.

The digital age makes this submission process sound archaic but also uncaring and unfair. Today you go to your favorite job posting or big corporation website, then search, click, attach file, and click again to send. And all the best qualified candidates will be considered for the position. (Uh, yeah. Sure they will.)

Most (let’s say 90 percent for the sake of argument) of the online job postings are actually real job postings that intend to and will review your qualifications (Okay, most just flag job titles and keywords, but that counts). But what many job seekers don’t realize is that some of those job postings that you see online are really not looking to fill an empty position.

The biggest offenders are the posts that take you on the endless submission journey making you re-input all the information that’s on your resume and LinkedIn profile. Many large companies are required for variety of reasons – mostly legal – to prove that they cast an unbiased net when looking for new employees. But unless you have been specifically requested by the HR manager to fill out that online application, you are sadly probably wasting your time.

This is not a blanket statement. Some of those ads are legit – sort of. But there are those companies that for all intent and purposes have disqualified you on page one. Many entertainment companies for example won’t consider hiring you unless you’ve worked for the competition. They won’t/can’t say that of course. Then there are those for the data business who always look to increase their database so they’ll gladly accept any info you are willing to provide.

Or have you ever come across one of those job postings that seems ideal but claims that the company is undisclosed? Blind ads are sometimes placed because an employee is about to to be terminated. But these ad are often headhunters and executive search firms looking for new candidates. Or in some rare cases, just another candidate looking for insider information on the competition. Finally, the ad could have been posted by companies that prey on the unemployed or desperate job seekers. They offered to rewrite your resumé, counsel you, or find you a job… for a price of course.

So how do you know if that job posting is really legit, or the position is vacant? Unfortunately you don’t. But here are a few rules that I follow.

  1. Don’t fill out any job application that requires you to re-input the information that is contained on your resume or your LinkedIn profile. If they are not willing to review either of these then it’s not really worth your time investigating the position. Doing this can also work against you if you ever want to apply to a different job in the same company.
  2. Be wary of a company that asks for your social security number or references contact information before you speak with someone from it’s HR department. That’s not being paranoid. It’s being sensible. If they want you, they’ll wait for that info.
  3. Does the job description sound familiar? Very familiar? I see companies posting the same job description month after month. Either they are collecting resumes or the working conditions are so bad they can’t keep an employee happy. In either case, abandon ship.
  4. How vague or specific are the job requirements? Does this job sound like something you could have done 10 years ago? Does it sound like a job your assistant could do now? Real job postings have real requirements. If you read it and think anybody in your field can do this, then don’t apply.

The best jobs I have found have been through recommendation. There’s nothing wrong or even unseemly about that; it’s just smart business. But I’ve also gotten jobs through job postings in companies where I knew no one. Real job postings all have one thing in common: real people. If you receive an email or better yet a phone call from the hiring manager or HR personnel who has read your resume, then you’re on the right track.