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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

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Kris McPeak

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

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

How to Bounce Back Gracefully After Getting Fired

How to Bounce Back Gracefully After Getting Fired

Whether you saw it coming or not, getting fired is a real shock and its impact is daunting. What did you do wrong? What are you supposed to do next? When will you stop feeling so angry?

But there are ways to deal with a layoff.

The most important thing is to remain calm and see it as an opportunity to reflect, change and improve. This is a great time to consider what happened, look again at your needs and desires and start afresh on a stronger, more constructive basis.

Let’s take a look at how you can bounce back gracefully after getting fired.

1. Deal with the Shock of Getting Fired

To lose your job is to lose your identity as a worker and as a person. Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, states that 7 out of 10 of us define ourselves by our job titles, since work is where we spend the majority of our time and energy.

Being laid off affronts your sense of self-worth—it implies that you simply are not good enough. It’s no wonder you feel confused and emotional.

The first thing, then, is to take some time to digest what happened and deal with the overflow of sensations. People who quickly recover from the pain of a job loss tend to do two things very well:

First, they accept their feelings of sadness, anger, fear and shame as a part of the natural healing process.

Second, they do their complaining to a friend.

Never call out your boss in the office or on social media. It’s a bad form to speak ill of the company you work for. Stay stylish, and your employer will speak better of you when you need a reference.

2. Stay Away from the Drama Queens

Mass layoffs are, unfortunately, very common. If this is your situation, then you may be surrounded by a lot of angry people, ruminating and lamenting their fate.

“It’s not fair!” they say. “After everything we did for this company! We don’t deserve this!”

You’ve lost your job and that’s tough. But please resist the urge to join in the negativity. Positivity is by far the most important attitude to apply right now. If staying upbeat means you have to limit your exposure to the Negative Nellies, then that’s what you have to do.

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Remember, life is not harder for you than it is for other people on this planet. You live in a democracy, you have freedom of choice and you enjoy a certain material abundance.

Stay positive and focus on what’s going well in your life and the exciting future opportunities available to you. Getting fired is only a temporary setback.

Staying positing could be challenging in a difficult situation, so these tips can help:

10 Questions To Ask Yourself To Stay Positive When Facing Difficulties

3. Take a Break and Let the Dust Settle

Instead of running straight into another job that may not be the right one either, take a short break to recover from the job loss. You need a week or two to de-stress and meditate on the next step.

Be attentive to your need for self-care during this interlude. Everything goes so fast these days that we often do not stop to think or give ourselves the permission to do a little mourning.

Getting fired is a big shock: you need time to refocus and take stock of the new reality. Do not make things harder for yourself!

What you need is to pause a while and do some self reflection:

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

4. Be Anchored in the Present

Since you no longer have a hold on the past, but have not yet designed your future, try to build yourself up with the present. What do we mean by that?

We mean that right now is the only time you have any control over. Focus on that instead of losing yourself in memories or reliving the awful day you got fired over and over in your head.

Get up at 7 a.m. each day, whatever happens. The body needs rhythm and habits. You will feel much more energized if you keep a consistent routine. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, revisit your budget, play sports, volunteer. Take care of the practical stuff like claiming unemployment. Enjoy the small pleasures of everyday life.

When you’re busy, there’s no room for the inner critic to raise up and derail you. Keep active, and you will gain more of the precious energy you need so much to move forward.

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Try these things to help you live in the moment:

34 Ways To Live in the Moment And Grow in the Moment

5. Understand the “Why”

There are lots of reasons why people are fired. Sometimes the mistake is yours and it’s embarrassing to admit you backed yourself into this corner.

Other times, it’s not your fault. Businesses change direction all the time—maybe yours is going through a major transition or merger and your job is disappearing.

Either way, to give the situation some closure, you need to understand why you were dismissed. What slipped? What could you have done differently? Was your boss really out to get you or did you do something to put your job in jeopardy?

Be honest with yourself. It’s not easy to admit that you might have dropped the ball but it’s the only way to turn the situation into a learning experience. Ask yourself:

What skills do you need to improve?

Is there training you can access, or learning you can do?

In the end, did this job suit you that much? Were you happy there?

Reflecting on these questions can help you put things into perspective. What lessons can you learn to avoid reproducing the same pattern in your next job?

6. Find out If You Were the Right Fit

Hiring decisions ultimately come down to personality. You can study for an interview all you like, but every candidate who is chosen for interview has the right credentials for the job.

The final decision comes down to personality. Who does the recruiter like the best? Who is a better fit for the company culture? That’s the person who strikes it lucky.

Firing decisions are based on personality, too. Slacking off, insubordination and playing fast and loose with the company rules—these are the official reasons why people are getting fired.

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But all of these reasons boil down to one thing: personality. Specifically, they signal a personality clash between an employee and a manager, or an employee’s fit with the company’s culture.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you were fired for “not being a team player.” Some people, namely introverts, lose energy when they are surrounded by other people and gain energy when they are on their own. Forcing an introvert to continuously work on a busy, noisy team without any solitary rest periods means the job is a mission impossible. This employee will never perform at her best.

Or how about the time the Kansas City Star newspaper fired Walt Disney for a perceived lack of imagination? Talk about a clash of personalities![1]

Getting fired can be a signal to turn inward and do some self-reflection so you can better understand your personality and how it might fit in with corporate culture.

In particular, personality assessments based on Isabel Briggs Myers’ sixteen personality types can help you to understand your own work style and how you can find a job and workplace that better match who you truly are.

In many cases, it is totally liberating to realize that all the crap you had to deal with was just down to a clash of work styles and not something you did wrong!

7. Rediscover Your Strengths and Talents

A personality test can also give you clear insights into your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and work potential. Do you have leadership abilities? How do you communicate and manage conflict? What benefits do you add to an organization?

Identifying your working style should be your top priority right now, otherwise you risk accepting a new position that has all the same problems as before. The last thing you want is to reproduce the same old dramas the next time around.

When you become aware of your potential, you will have the confidence to search and find the type of work you love.

For example, getting fired from your banking job may have knocked you sideways. But you have some stellar home decorating skills, and a personality test shows that you are curious, flexible, rational and resilient—all the traits of successful entrepreneurs. Maybe this dismissal is an opportunity to launch the business you’ve always dreamed of but never dared to admit to yourself?

By considering all your special skills and talents, you increase your chances of finding a job you would really enjoy, and not just the one you can do.

8. Get the Word Out

At this point, you should be ready to take action and move forward with your job search. Let’s not sugarcoat the situation: getting a new job is tough. It helps to have a clear idea of the direction you want to go in, a list of all your crossover skills and a freshly polished resume.

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Look around for inspiration. Talk to recruiters in your sector to establish what they consider to be your most valuable skills. Use all the resources at your disposal: job search agencies, headhunters, work coaches, careers websites and so on. These resources can help you match your qualifications to the job requirements and ensure you have the right keywords on your resume.

Don’t hold back on marshaling your networks. Put friends and family to work to pop up leads, and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. Sometimes the simple act of getting the word out to the people who know you is the surest way to find work fast.

9. Anticipate Questions and Know How to Answer Them

Even if it wasn’t your fault, getting fired can hurt you if you don’t know how to explain why you were let go. You have to be honest here and tell recruiters the truth. Even if a would-be employer does not specifically ask why you left your previous job, it is better to clarify the situation upfront before it comes out in your references.

The best approach is to take your share of responsibility and show that you want to go forward and that you understand the lesson.

For example, suppose you got fired for asking the difficult questions that no one wanted to answer and your candidness set people on edge. Acknowledge that some people perceive your communication style as abrupt and explain how you’re taking steps to increase your diplomacy skills.

A recruiter can be seduced by someone who knows how to evolve and who shows a great energy for personal development.

10. Adapt and Persist

Throughout this journey, you inevitably will go through moments of self-doubt and disappointment. There are undulations in every road, and these are the normal steps for regaining self-confidence after getting fired.

Stay tough! Don’t conclude that your future is hopeless just because the dream job doesn’t land straightaway. You open a positive path when you maintain focus. Have the confidence to know that the perfect job for you is out there.

Remember, you are not alone. Many people walked this road and they would urge you to keep the momentum. Stay open-minded and go where the opportunities take you: it will bring you closer to the job you really want.

Coming Out on Top

While getting fired isn’t the ideal situation, it isn’t the end of the world either. Even if feels like a doozy right now, you will get through it and emerge happier on the other side.

Be clear on what you want, have courage and believe in yourself. In the end, you may decide that getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to you. It can be the catalyst for a powerful, career-fulfilling change.

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Featured photo credit: Jesus Kiteque via unsplash.com

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