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The Ugly Reality of Online Job Applications: How to Stand out from Others

The Ugly Reality of Online Job Applications: How to Stand out from Others

As I sit here at my Macbook Air contemplating the approach I want to take on this impossible-sounding article, I hear one of my favorite Miranda Lambert songs in the back of my head…

“Hey whatever happened to,

Waitin’ your turn

Doing it all by hand,

‘Cause when everything is handed to you

It’s all only worth as much as the time you put in

It all just seems so good the way we had it

Back before everything became, automatic…”

Don’t get me wrong – I love the internet. I love my email and my instant messenger. I love having all this information and access right at my fingertips. And it’s so damn fast, too.

That’s the problem.

Back in the day, I remember sending resume after resume, cover letter after cover letter, to addresses of employers with position listings that I found in the newspaper or Chronicle of Higher Education. And don’t forget about those Placement Conferences.

Every job application went into its own 8 1/2 x 11 manilla envelope and was taken to the post office, weighed, stamped, and mailed. There was no internet, there was no Monster.com, there was no Indeed.

Having navigated the process of updating every resume, every cover letter, and gathering all of my individually addressed letters of recommendation seemed like a lot of work at the time…but that was okay with me because I completely understood the process and what was expected of me.

Am I a terrible person because I’d like for it to still be that way?

Online job applications can speed things up, make things much easier for the employer to view, sort, and store. If you are on a search committee, you can screen those applications from the comfort of your desk or office and not have to spend the entire day in the Human Resources Office reading and scoring 300 paper applications.

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(I’ve done this before. It’s quite painful.)

But the list of cons is equally as long – online controls can be too limiting, online only applications can inadvertently exclude possible qualified candidates, and it’s quite an investment to get started.

And that’s just from the employer’s side of things.

As a potential employee and candidate, it can be horribly frustrating trying to navigate the online job environment in order to stand out above other candidates. And while it may have seemed a like a great deal of work printing all those paper resumes and taking them to the post office, candidates have to do a great deal more preparation work for an online job application to stand out.

Getting Started

When you’ve identified a position of interest to you and discover the online application, make sure you get very familiar with what is expected in the job application.

From the employer side, I have reviewed many online applications that aren’t complete simply because the candidate didn’t realize what was required for the application.

In our desire to finish the application, we may neglect required items or just gloss them over.

The Balance Careers website shared a great list of items you will need to have in hand and ready to go before you begin filling out that application form. It’s not just your resume and cover letter:

Personal Information Required for an Employment Application

Name

Address, city, state, zip code

Phone number

Email Address

Social security number

Are you eligible to work in the United States?

If you are under age eighteen, do you have an employment certificate?

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Have you been convicted of a felony within the last five years? (information about convictions varies based on state law)

Education and Experience Needed for a Job Application

School(s) attended, degrees, graduation date

Certifications

Skills and qualifications

Grade Point Average (G.P.A.), if this was above 3.50

Extracurricular activities where you held a leadership role

Honor societies

Employment History Required

Employer

Address, phone, email

Supervisor

Job title and responsibilities

Salary

Starting and ending dates of employment (month, day, and year)

Reason for leaving

Permission to contact the previous employer

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References

Name

Job title

Company

Address, phone, email

If you can’t remember the address, city, and zip code of your employer three jobs ago, you’d better look it up before you start your online application. Get all these details together and set them aside. Or better yet, save it as a Google Doc so you have it accessible all the time (you can be old school, too, and just write it down).

Strengthen Your Profile

When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? In the online job environment, LinkedIn can give your candidacy a big boost if you are able to connect things there that might get left out in your application (or not required).

Keppie Careers shares strong advice on how LinkedIn can boost your online footprint:[1]

“Statistics show that over 90% of recruiters are using it to source hires. LinkedIn users post jobs, and when you view the descriptions, you can see who posted it and how you are connected to that person or organization via LinkedIn.

You can also see how many people have applied for the job via LinkedIn. These tools make it useful as a job search/applying for jobs tool.

Many companies will allow you to apply for jobs using a one-click option where you use you LinkedIn profile instead of filling out an application.”

Do Your Research

As you would ANYWAY for your job application, visit the employer’s website and check things out. According to Forbes:[2]

“First, recruiters want to see that you have a special interest in their company. They’re more likely to pursue a candidate who has a history with the company or industry and a story about why they’re applying now. Take the time to learn its mission and values. Then, incorporate those into your job history and cover letter. This will help you stand out among other applicants who applied without doing their homework.”

Workbloom suggests going the extra mile and contacting hiring managers directly.[3] Once again, LinkedIn to the rescue:

“When you complete an online application, use LinkedIn to research who the department head, hiring manager, HR manager, or supervisor is for your desired position.

Then, find out their e-mail and send them a short introduction letting them know you have applied for a specific job and that you are very interested in joining their team.”

Get to Know ATS

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System. Applicant tracking systems are used by corporations to assist with recruitment and hiring processes. Each system offers a different combination and scope of features, but ATS are primarily used to help hiring companies collect, organize, and filter applicants.

While these are a dream for corporations and organizations, they can be a nightmare for candidates. According to Job Scan:[4]

Corporate recruiters can have their ATS automatically extract information from an applicant’s resume to build a digital applicant profile that can be searched, filtered, and/or ranked. The goal is to quickly cull out anyone who is under-qualified, make the applicant pool smaller, and quickly identify the top candidates.

Unfortunately for job seekers, most ATS lack sophistication and are not able to search and filter candidates reliably. Some highly qualified candidates fall through the cracks and are wrongfully eliminated from the applicant pool because their resume has formatting issues or lacks the correct search keywords.

This is a necessary tradeoff for many hiring professionals with limited time and resources. In order to get noticed, job seekers must optimize their resume for ATS.

Trying to “beat” the ATS’ out there could be as futile as figuring out the Instagram or Facebook algorithms that are ever changing. But The Muse offers these simple four tips on how to get past the “ATS Troll” to get your resume seen:[5]

  1. Keep Formatting Simple
  2. Nail the Correct Keywords
  3. Ditch the Career Objective Section
  4. Use Spell Check

Further, The Muse says,

“At the end of the day, once your resume passes the unfailing eye of the ATS, it will then be scrutinized by a human eye. The good news is that all of the advice for optimizing your resume for ATS is simply good resume practice.”

It seems that much of the online environment is dictated by keywords, algorithms, search engine optimization, and virtual engagement; it’s no wonder we are all so tired by the time we get to the job interview.

Nonetheless, in addition to all the access and information provided by the lovely World Wide Web, it definitely changed the way we pursue our dream jobs (or any job, for that matter).

The good news is that all this extra work gets you more prepared for the interview, when you land it. Consider it Basic Training for your Job Search.

And an extra special thank you to Miranda Lambert whose “Automatic” gave me inspiration to launch this article.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Kris McPeak

Educator, Author, Career Change and Work/Life Balance Guru

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

Taking your work to the next level means setting and keeping career goals. A career goal is a targeted objective that explains what you want your ultimate profession to be.

Defining career goals is a critical step to achieving success. You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. Knowing what your career goals are isn’t just important for you–it’s important for potential employers too. The relationship between an employer and an employee works best when your goals for the future and their goals align. Saying, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll do anything,” makes you seem indecisive, and opens you up to taking on ill-fitting tasks that won’t lead you to your dream life.

Career goal templates’ one-size-fits-all approach won’t consider your unique goals and experiences. They won’t help you stand out, and they may not reflect your full potential.

In this article, I’ll help you to define your career goals with SMART goal framework, and will provide you with a list of examples goals for work and career.

How to Define Your Career Goal with SMART

Instead of relying on a generalized framework to explain your vision, use a tried-and-true goal-setting model. SMART is an acronym for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic with Timelines.”[1] The SMART framework demystifies goals by breaking them into smaller steps.

Helpful hints when setting SMART career goals:

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  • Start with short-term goals first. Work on your short-term goals, and then progress the long-term interests.[2] Short-term goals are those things which take 1-3 years to complete. Long-term goals take 3-5 years to do. As you succeed in your short-term goals, that success should feed into accomplishing your long-term goals.
  • Be specific, but don’t overdo it. You need to define your career goals, but if you make them too specific, then they become unattainable. Instead of saying, “I want to be the next CEO of Apple, where I’ll create a billion-dollar product,” try something like, “My goal is to be the CEO of a successful company.”
  • Get clear on how you’re going to reach your goals. You should be able to explain the actions you’ll take to advance your career. If you can’t explain the steps, then you need to break your goal down into more manageable chunks.
  • Don’t be self-centered. Your work should not only help you advance, but it should also support the goals of your employer. If your goals differ too much, then it might be a sign that the job you’ve taken isn’t a good fit.

If you want to learn more about setting SMART Goals, watch the video below to learn how you can set SMART career goals.

After you’re clear on how to set SMART goals, you can use this framework to tackle other aspects of your work. For instance, you might set SMART goals to improve your performance review, look for a new job, or shift your focus to a different career.

We’ll cover examples of ways to use SMART goals to meet short-term career goals in the next section.

Why You Need an Individual Development Plan

Setting goals is one part of the larger formula for success. You may know what you want to do, but you also have to figure out what skills you have, what you lack, and where your greatest strengths and weaknesses are.

One of the best ways to understand your capabilities is by using the Science Careers Individual Development Plan skills assessment. It’s free, and all you need to do is register an account and take a few assessments.

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These assessments will help you determine if your career goals are realistic. You’ll come away with a better understanding of your unique talents and skill-sets. You may decide to change some of your career goals or alter your timeline based on what you learn.

40 Examples of Goals for Work & Career

All this talk of goal-setting and self-assessment may sound great in theory, but perhaps you need some inspiration to figure out what your goals should be.

For Changing a Job

  1. Attend more networking events and make new contacts.
  2. Achieve a promotion to __________ position.
  3. Get a raise.
  4. Plan and take a vacation this year.
  5. Agree to take on new responsibilities.
  6. Develop meaningful relationships with your coworkers and clients.
  7. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
  8. Learn how to say, “No,” when you are asked to take on too much.
  9. Delegate tasks that you no longer need to be responsible for.
  10. Strive to be in a leadership role in __ number of years.

For Switching Career Path

  1. Pick up and learn a new skill.
  2. Find a mentor.
  3. Become a volunteer in the field that interests you.
  4. Commit to getting training or going back to school.
  5. Read the most recent books related to your field.
  6. Decide whether you are happy with your work-life balance and make changes if necessary. [3]
  7. Plan what steps you need to take to change careers.[4]
  8. Compile a list of people who could be character references or submit recommendations.
  9. Commit to making __ number of new contacts in the field this year.
  10. Create a financial plan.

For Getting a Promotion

  1. Reduce business expenses by a certain percentage.
  2. Stop micromanaging your team members.
  3. Become a mentor.
  4. Brainstorm ways that you could improve your productivity and efficiency at work
  5. Seek a new training opportunity to address a weakness.[5]
  6. Find a way to organize your work space.[6]
  7. Seek feedback from a boss or trusted coworker every week/ month/ quarter.
  8. Become a better communicator.
  9. Find new ways to be a team player.
  10. Learn how to reduce work hours without compromising productivity.

For Acing a Job Interview

  1. Identify personal boundaries at work and know what you should do to make your day more productive and manageable.
  2. Identify steps to create a professional image for yourself.
  3. Go after the career of your dreams to find work that does not feel like a job.
  4. Look for a place to pursue your interest and apply your knowledge and skills.
  5. Find a new way to collaborate with experts in your field.
  6. Identify opportunities to observe others working in the career you want.
  7. Become more creative and break out of your comfort zone.
  8. Ask to be trained more relevant skills for your work.
  9. Ask for opportunities to explore the field and widen your horizon
  10. Set your eye on a specific award at work and go for it.

Career Goal Setting FAQs

I’m sure you still have some questions about setting your own career goals, so here I’m listing out the most commonly asked questions about career goals.

1. What if I’m not sure what I want my career to be?

If you’re uncertain, be honest about it. Let the employer know as much as you know about what you want to do. Express your willingness to use your strengths to contribute to the company. When you take this approach, back up your claim with some examples.

If you’re not even sure where to begin with your career, check out this guide:

How to Find Your Ideal Career Path Without Wasting Time on Jobs Not Suitable for You

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2. Is it okay to lie about my career goals?

Lying to potential employers is bound to end in disaster. In the interview, a lie can make you look foolish because you won’t know how to answer follow up questions.

Even if you think your career goal may not precisely align with the employer’s expectations for a long-term hire, be open and honest. There’s probably more common ground than they realize, and it’s up to you to bridge any gaps in expectations.

Being honest and explaining these connections shows your employer that you’ve put a lot of thought into this application. You aren’t just telling them what they want to hear.

3. Is it better to have an ambitious goal, or should I play it safe?

You should have a goal that challenges you, but SMART goals are always reasonable. If you put forth a goal that is way beyond your capabilities, you will seem naive. Making your goals too easy shows a lack of motivation.

Employers want new hires who are able to self-reflect and are willing to take on challenges.

4. Can I have several career goals?

It’s best to have one clearly-defined career goal and stick with it. (Of course, you can still have goals in other areas of your life.) Having a single career goal shows that you’re capable of focusing, and it shows that you like to accomplish what you set out to do.

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On the other hand, you might have multiple related career goals. This could mean that you have short-term goals that dovetail into your ultimate long-term career goal. You might also have several smaller goals that feed into a single purpose.

For example, if you want to become a lawyer, you might become a paralegal and attend law school at the same time. If you want to be a school administrator, you might have initial goals of being a classroom teacher and studying education policy. In both cases, these temporary jobs and the extra education help you reach your ultimate goal.

Summary

You’ll have to devote some time to setting career goals, but you’ll be so much more successful with some direction. Remember to:

  • Set SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, and Realistic with Timelines. When you set goals with these things in mind, you are likely to achieve the outcomes you want.
  • Have short-term and long-term goals. Short-term career goals can be completed in 1-3 years, while long-term goals will take 3-5 years to finish. Your short-term goals should set you up to accomplish your long-term goals.
  • Assess your capabilities by coming up with an Individual Development Plan. Knowing how to set goals won’t help you if you don’t know yourself. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are by taking some self-assessments.
  • Choose goals that are appropriate to your ultimate aims. Your career goals should be relevant to one another. If they aren’t, then you may need to narrow your focus. Your goals should match the type of job that you want and the quality of life that you want to lead.
  • Be clear about your goals with potential employers. Always be honest with potential employers about what you want to do with your life. If your goals differ from the company’s objectives, find a way bridge the gap between what you want for yourself and what your employer expects.

By doing goal-setting work now, you’ll be able to make conscious choices on your career path. You can always adjust your plan if things change for you, but the key is to give yourself a road map for success.

More Tips About Setting Work Goals

Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

Reference

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