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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 November 12, 2020

11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

Thinking up a goal is the easy part. Pinpointing the specifics of a goal, developing a plan of action, and then following through with that plan of action and pushing past the inevitable obstacles that will arise is a different story altogether. As you can see, there are many reasons why we fail to achieve our goals.

Former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt is famous for having said:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

It would be easy to blame people’s avoidance of pain and difficulty for the fact that a great majority of goals fail to be met, but there has to be more to it than that, right? Well, there most certainly is.

Here are the reasons why we fail to achieve our goals and a few helpful tips to help you reach the goals on your own list.

1. Shifting Focus From Reward to Effort

Thinking about the end result and achieving the victory of reaching a goal is exciting: “Man, I can’t wait until I get that new job title” or “I’m going to look so good at the beach this summer” can be great motivators. It’s easy to start out full of energy and motivation at the beginning because our focus is on the end result.

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However, there’s a disconnect with our brain’s focus before we start our goals and after we actually begin. Before we start putting the work in, we’re focused on the reward. Then, slowly but surely, we begin to focus more on the effort (i.e. hard work) it takes to get that reward. The key is to redirect our focus back to the reward as often as it takes to push through.

2. Goals Are Undefined or Unrealistic

Perhaps you want to write a bestselling novel or become the next viral YouTube star. Well, that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but how do you plan to make any of this happen? Without a clear definition of your goals, they’re just wishy-washy fantasies.

If you’ve never read a book or written anything longer than a tweet, writing a bestselling novel is unrealistic. Likewise, simply saying you want to be a viral YouTube star is too vague without putting some specifications in place.

Give some definition to those goals by setting smaller goals along the way, like “join a writers group” or “make one new video a week.” This will help give you some focus while you work towards those loftier goals.

3. There Are Too Many Things on Your Plate

Having multiple goals at the same time is not a bad thing. However, having so many goals that nothing ever takes a priority will yield poor results all around. If you feel like you’re never fully accomplishing one task or can’t seem to recognize which things are a top priority, there’s a good chance you have set too many goals at once.

A lot of us like to think we’re masters of multitasking, but science says otherwise. Be careful not to overload yourself, learn to prioritize, and you’ll reach your goals faster.

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4. Poor Planning Derails All Efforts

Just about every goal is going to require at least some planning, and others are, of course, going to need extensive planning. If you neglect to work out the steps for how to actually get from point A to point B, well, you very likely will never make it to point B.

Maybe you want to increase your business’s customer base by 30 percent in the next year. Will you need to hire more staff to make this happen? What new strategies can be put in place? Do old marketing efforts need to be reworked or discarded? Asking/answering these sorts of questions in the beginning and along the way is crucial.

5. Losing Sight of the “Why” Factor

Let’s say that you must uproot your family and move to a new town for a job. If you have teenagers, they’re almost certainly going to put up some fuss. When the inevitable “why?” comes up, it might be easy to say they have to move because mom or dad has a new job and leave it at that. That’s the reason, but it’s not the why.

Perhaps the move means a higher income for a more comfortable lifestyle or the security of living in a safer environment. It’s easy to lose focus of the why factor when it comes to working towards a goal, and this can hinder progress. Make sure you periodically reexamine why you have that goal in the first place.

6. Excuses, Excuses, and More Excuses

Everybody makes excuses from time to time. Rattling off excuses on why a goal isn’t worth pursuing or didn’t work out is often easier than pushing forward. While some excuses may very well be valid, others are just total cop-outs.

Excuses are a convenience when it comes to abandoning a goal, but they’re also paralyzing. If not kept in check, excuses can derail every goal you attempt. If you feel yourself in danger of hitting the brakes on a goal, take a good look and ask yourself if the reason is valid or just a flimsy excuse.

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7. Fear of Failure

Not reaching a goal because of the fear of failure is crippling and an insecurity that can seriously hold you back in life. Nobody wants to fail, and a fear of failure often stems from a need for perfectionism.

The avoidance of taking risks, however, is no way to go through life. The good thing is that by looking at why you may have a fear of failing, you can learn to overcome it and avoid letting it sabotage your goals.

8. Failing to Anticipate Obstacles

Guess what? That fantastic, shiny goal of yours with the too-good-to-fail plan is almost certainly not going to go perfectly to plan. Problems arise, and obstacles get in the way—that’s just how the universe works. If you fail to plan for some of these problems ahead of time, they may just prevent you from reaching your goal altogether.

Try building in strategies and incentives for when you may feel yourself losing focus or run into problems. Having a rock-solid plan A is always a good thing, but a pretty good plan B isn’t a bad idea either.

9. There Is No Set Deadline

Whether it’s trying to learn a new skill or becoming a tycoon of industry, set a deadline for yourself, and write it down! You’re 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down[1], and if you don’t put a deadline on them, they’re not going to happen.

So why is a deadline so important for accomplishing a goal? It holds you accountable for your time. Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. Okay, when? If you set a deadline of June 1st, you’ll either meet it or you won’t, and a deadline puts the pressure on you to get up and get to work!

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10. Allowing Naysayers to Doubt the Goal

The bigger the goal, the more people you may have doubting that you can accomplish it. It’s easy to listen to the naysayers and allow their doubt to sidetrack and even derail your goals, and this can be why we fail to achieve our goals. There are always going to be critics and haters, and a lot of that negativity is rooted in jealousy.

Don’t allow their doubt to get the best of you, and, instead, use it as fuel for the fire to buckle down on your focus and forge ahead.

11. Procrastination Delays Goals

Abraham Lincoln reportedly once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Out of all the reasons why we fail to achieve our goals, none are as deadly as procrastination.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll start tomorrow or reach an obstacle in your plan and decide to handle it later. Too many times though, later never comes, and motivation dies out.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the best ways to beat procrastination is to publicly commit[2]. Most people want to avoid looking lazy or like a failure, and telling others we’re going to do something reinforces our brain’s focus on the reward.

How To Stop Failing Your Goal?

Here’s an expisode from the Lifehack Show where Jade dives into the actionable ways to stop failing and finally achieve your goal:

The Bottom Line

Accomplishing goals is seldom easy and can often take a long time and a lot of mental and physical sweat. Now that you know some of the reasons why people don’t reach their goals, you can improve your chances of crossing the finish line to victory.

More Tips on Completing Goals

Featured photo credit: Mael BALLAND via unsplash.com

Reference

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