I recently heard from friends looking for help with the online job applications they’ve been wrestling with. Clearly, figuring out how to apply for jobs online nowadays is NOT easy. In fact, it seems harder than it’s ever been. Except maybe for the company to which you’re applying!
Folks at different levels of their careers are telling me the same thing: how tough it is just to get through online application process. One person had scads of pages to fill out just to be considered for an interview for a department store sales job.
Even a senior creative type in advertising, with many solid years of top-level experience, is being asked if she has any felonies before she can submit a resume. Seriously? That couldn’t wait until the candidate actually makes it to the final one or two?
How to Handle the Online Application Process
Your application is most likely being fed into a computer system, so they need to repackage you and your background into handy-dandy storable data. But at some point, whatever you enter or attach, will wind up in human hands – if the system can access it easily enough to spit it out. This is a good reason to check carefully for keywords and key phrases they may be searching for. (More on this below.)
First thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Or two. Or ten. No matter how talented you are, no matter how much you can add to an employer’s bottom line, if they require you to do it this way – even after you’ve been recommended by someone – you might as well relax and go with the flow. I am NOT a fan of employers that do so much filtering up front, but if that’s the process they choose and you still want to apply, then this is not the time to let annoying processes stand in your way. As maddening as it can be, you’ll do a much better job if you aren’t screaming at the screen.
Next, make sure you are comfortable. While some companies are fine with just a few questions and an attached resume, other applications may take a good 10 minutes or more, depending on what they want you to do and how many questions they ask. Although uncommon, thirty minutes is not unheard of. Some companies even require you to take an online test as part of the online application.
Answer the questions as honestly as possible. If you think this is the time to throw in bogus experience or add a degree or two to your background, please think again. Any company that asks in-depth questions at this stage is going to do a background check. So you may as well tell the truth, and, if there is a place for you to add a personal statement or attach a cover letter (always choose to do so if that’s an option), that’s where you make your case for why you fit the job so well, despite any requirements (real or perceived) you may be lacking. HINT: Best not to emphasize the “lack” but instead focus on what you do have.
Proofread your entire application carefully. This is not the time for a typo or grammatical error. If you have someone who can review your application before you send, don’t be shy about asking. Two sets of eyes are always better for things like this.
Attach your resume exactly as they ask you to do. Be careful to look for any specific instructions, such as a Word or text document. If they ask for ASCII, that means you should save it in plain text, correcting for any format changes before attaching. Pasting a resume also requires you to check carefully and edit any format glitches. And remember to make sure your resume is error-free and tailored to the job you’re applying for; they shouldn’t have to work hard to figure out why you’re a match.
Include keywords and key phrases. As I mentioned above, what you feed into a system has to get spit out. Someone will “query” the job application system, asking for specific skills and experience they are looking for. Review the job description carefully, and make sure that on your resume you use the most applicable keywords and key phrases mentioned in their description, and also use them in the application, if possible.
The Waiting Game Begins
And now, after careful checking and re-checking to make sure you did the very best you can, submit the application. And then … wait.
You might hear back in a day (not common) or in weeks or even months (not unheard of). Or not at all. There are all kinds of reasons this happens, that have nothing to do with you in particular. And yes, I know this part sucks. Try to be as patient as possible, and maybe follow up in a couple of weeks if you haven’t heard anything, assuming anyone will respond. Don’t take it personally if they don’t.
Just so you know, for some companies, usually for legal reasons, it’s standard process not to respond until a decision is made; and some don’t even respond then. This is not something worth taking personally; that only gets in the way of your next job application – the one that may be the right one for you.
Meanwhile…keep applying! Job search continues even during the waiting game.
Hope that helps at least a little. Good luck!
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