If you’re like the majority of job seekers, you spend quite a bit of time searching for jobs online. While there are lots of other job search methods—networking, company research, career fairs, recruiters, and the like—once you finally find a job opening, many companies will direct you to their online job application process no matter how you found it in the first place.

Online job application systems, also known as applicant tracking systems (ATS), are used by large and small companies alike to compile job applicants and their information in one big database, where they can quickly search for and find what they need. Companies also argue that using ATS helps them to put job seekers on a level playing field so they can make unbiased decisions.

However you arrive at an ATS, the prospect of entering your professional information into a computer system and sending it into a seemingly large black hole is both scary and exhausting, but there are things you can do to make your application stand out, both to the computer system AND to human beings at the other end. Here are 4 tips to maximize your applications in these large online job application systems:

1. Change the content of your resume for every job.

This might seem time-consuming but it makes a big difference because when a recruiter searches their ATS for specific resume keywords, yours will actually come up! Additionally, some ATS are set up to auto-sort applicants based on specific keywords, so these help the computer identify you as a qualified applicant as well. The job description is a great place to mine for keywords, and you can place them throughout your resume wherever they make sense. And, though it hopefully goes without saying, use only the keywords that are true to your professional experience.

2. Be the first to submit your application.

Recruiters admit that when they search an ATS for potential candidates, they stop after they find what they need. It’s just like when you search the web for information: do you go past the first one or two pages of search results, or do you stick with whatever results came up in those first pages? If your resume isn’t one of the first to pop up, the odds are low that they’ll search long enough to find your application. Use the variety of alerts that most job search websites offer —texts, emails, etc.—to be alerted as soon as a new job is posted so that you can apply right away.

3. Don’t skip boxes: fill everything out.

Depending on how companies and recruiters have their ATS set up, they may only require certain boxes and information be filled out. This doesn’t mean that you should skip the non-required boxes: the reason you should fill out every piece of information is that the more content you add to your application, the more searchable content you’ve given. This can help your application wind its way through the system and make it to the recruiter.

4. Use basic, simple formatting for your resume.

Resumes have received quite the makeover in the last few years: from infographic styles to beautifully-designed, graphic-heavy versions, resumes are looking pretty good! Unfortunately, ATS are simply no good at reading these fancy resumes, and the less text they can identify, the lower your chances of making it past the computer to a human being.

To make sure your resume is formatted for a computer reader, ditch the graphics and special characters, use web-safe fonts like Arial, Georgia, and Tahoma, beef up your skills section with lots of keywords and industry-specific qualifications, spell out abbreviations and acronyms in addition to using the acronyms, and check your spelling: computers can’t read keywords that are misspelled!

Ultimately, the key is to help computers realize that you are a well-qualified candidate, and these tips should help your online job applications navigate the black hole of applicant-tracking systems so that they eventually reach a human being.

Featured photo credit:  short depth of field focus on a job application via Shutterstock

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