For the past almost 2 years, I’ve been a work-at-home mom. I’ve recently decided to return to the “traditional” workforce and have accepted a great position that I am super pumped about! This job hunt was relatively easy but I was having some anxiety about it before I jumped in. In my years of professional experience, I’ve picked up some tips that I think really helped me with this search and thought I’d share my top 7 Tips for filling out an online job application.
Most mid – large size companies nowadays are going to use online applications. These companies use computers to scan your application and rank you based on the information you include in said application. So you really want to be sure you are filling this out the best you possibly can to increase your chances of a hiring manager actually seeing your information. If you’re filtered out before he/she even gets to the initial screening, you aren’t going to get a shot at making an impression. I’ve been actively involved in hiring candidates in all of my positions over the past 7 years and here’s what I’ve learned really helps in that process to get the computer to see you and to get the best out of your online application.
1 – Plan dedicated time to fill out the application
Online applications take some time. It’s tempting to just upload your application and whip through it but you really need to invest sometime to accurately fill out the application. It can feel like a big task but the investment can be well worth the reward when you land the right job. Don’t rush through it; you wouldn’t want a potential employer to think you’d approach your work responsibilities in the same manner. It can be a process but the good news is, most companies will keep your online application on file with your own, unique log in information so you can apply for other positions in the same company and have the same base application that you just personalize for each position. It’s just the time to get that initial online application completed.
2 – Be prepared
Have a clean copy of your resume, references and ALL past employer information and employment dates in a word document. This document should be free of formatting; no bullets, special text styles, etc. This is just to make it really easy for you to copy and paste your information into the online application. Then you’ll want to have your “pretty” version saved to a pdf of your resume, references, cover letter, etc. to upload where requested. It’s tempting to have the online application search your resume and fill in information for you but I’ve found they really aren’t that accurate when you use a pdf version and I promise you want to upload a pdf version. Programs read documents differently and sometimes word docs aren’t read the same way and your “pretty” version of your resume doesn’t come through as you intended and spent time formatting. It’s just not worth the risk of messing up a first impression in such a competetive process. Saving it to a pdf ensures that your work formatting and layout sticks. Having the information gathered and in both forms before you start your application will save you a lot of time and headache and ensure it all translates well on the other end for what the computer and hiring manager sees.
3 – Save frequently
As with anything on a computer, you should be in the habit of saving frequently. It’s a terrible experience to focus time and energy in something and then have it all disappear. Online application programs often time out, sometimes your internet connection goes out, etc. Just do yourself a favor and hit “save” as frequently possible.
4 – Use the job description to your favor
You should have a good understanding of the job and what skills they are looking for in a candidate by reading through the job description thoroughly. But you’ll want to take this a step further. The programs these companies use to screen candidates will scan your application for keywords and usually give you a rating based on what they find. It’s a good idea to either print out the job posting and description or have it open in another internet tab. As you fill out your application, be sure to pull phrases and words from the job description and incorporate them into your job experience. Of course you’ll want to be sure it accurately represents your experience but as the computer scans your information, if you have a lot of the same phrases and keywords they are looking for, you will rank higher and have a better chance of being seen by a hiring manager. This doesn’t mean that you go in and lie about your experience but rather make substitutions on similar words you had that better fit the wording they used.
For example if a job posting states they are looking for “effective verbal and written communication skills.” but you originally listed “strong communication skills”, that’s a place you’d want to swap out verbiage to better fit what the computer is looking for. Same with “knowledge of personal computers and standard software applications” sub that for your original “proficient with computers and many office programs”. Again, it’s the exact same information, just worded more in line with the posting to ensure it gets seen by the computer during the initial screening.
5 – Fill in ALL fields
In the past when I’ve attached my resume to an online application, I’ve put “see attached resume” in fields where it asks for my specific employment history. This was a HUGE MISTAKE! Again a computer program is going to be scanning your information to see how well you fit what they are looking for on paper. If you don’t actually provide the information on the application, the program is never going to see you as a good candidate. Take your clean copy of your resume (as explained in #2 above) and take a minute to copy and paste your information into the appropriate fields. It seems redundant but it’s essentially the game you have to play to get seen.
6 – List ALL related experience and job history
On a resume, you want to keep it short and sweet and a strong summary of your qualifications. On your application though, you want to go detailed. A lot of companies have policies and formulas in place to figure out compensation as it is related to experience. If you are only giving them a snapshot of the past 10 years or whatever it may be but really have 20 years of experience, if you get an offer, it is most likely going to be a number based off of the experience you have listed. In some situations and companies you can negotiate higher but sometimes you are strapped by a policy based on the years of experience you listed on your application. This isn’t always the case but I saw it frequently at a state funded university I worked at.
Pay is important to all of us and so it’s best to put your best foot forward. I’m still relatively young but I’ve been working in a W-2 type position since I was 14 years old. My resume lists my past 7 years of professional experience when really I have more like 15 years, more than double my actual experience. Previously, I never thought to list my retail experience from age 14 past high school. I thought it was silly but thinking about it, it is absolutely related to any office related position I would be seeking. It has served as a great foundation of my customer service skills, phone skills, and even sales experience. It seems unrelated to an office job but really it’s not. If you had a fast food job in college, where you learned valuable skills that you have since built upon, you should absolutely include that on your application if you are still relatively new to working. You want those years of experience to be as high as possible. Again be honest, don’t pad your experience to look like more than it was and remember that part time experience should be listed differently than full time but make it work in your favor.
I won’t go into negotiating pay or how to position yourself after an offer – I kind of suck there. I can fight for others but when it comes to me, I just don’t know how to best approach it. I’m working on it but you better believe I am going to position myself as best as possible on paper. Since I have learned this, I have found that job offers are higher and much more in line with the experience I have.
7 – Be honest
As with anything you do in life, you should really provide an accurate picture of yourself. Be honest. I’ve sometimes gone too far the other way and excluded experience or responsibilities because I didn’t want to give the wrong impression and have sold myself short so it’s a fine line. Present yourself in the best manner possible. We have all done great things and have experience behind us and we should present that well but never make up something that never happened. If it comes to light (more when not if) you lose all credibility and jeopardize a position that you have or could potentially have. It’s just not worth it.
Some of these may seem like common knowledge but I’ve been surprised by how many people are unaware and remember how enlighted I felt when a previous collegue simple talked about them like I should just “know” these things. I can’t go back and do things differently but I can use these tips (and have!) to serve me well in the future and share them to help others have the best possibilities in their job search. Have you implimented any of theset hings into your online applications? Anything you would add to this list?