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Published on October 1, 2018

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 June 18, 2019

14 Powerful Leadership Traits That All Great Leaders Have

14 Powerful Leadership Traits That All Great Leaders Have

Being a leader of a company or organization is certainly a difficult and often frustrating position – but it can also be tremendously rewarding.

Whether you’re just starting out as a leader, or have been leading for a while, you’ll be sure to benefit from knowing the essential traits that all great leaders possess.

Effective and successful leaders transcend the title of ‘manager’ or ‘boss’. They’ve found a way to achieve the perfect combination of charisma, enthusiasm and self-assurance (with a healthy dose of luck and timing probably added to the mix).

It may seem like some people are gifted with leadership skills, but the truth is most leadership traits can be learned, adopted, and strengthened with time and practice.

As we delve into the list of effective leadership traits, you will learn the behaviors and attitudes of a good leader.

1. Vision and Mission

Having a clear picture of what needs to be achieved is a crucial quality of good leadership.

This vision is often communicated in a mission statement, such as this one from Starbucks:

    How to develop vision? Spend time pinpointing what you need to achieve, and then plan the steps to get there. Here’s a complete guide on creating your own vision.

    2. Self-Motivated

    It’s no coincidence that successful leaders have an abundance of self-motivation.

    Without a decent level of self-motivation, you’ll struggle to become a strong and respected leader. However, if you don’t have a lot of self-motivation right now, don’t despair.

    One of the secrets is to have definite goals to keep you motivated at all times. Some people also choose to reward themselves every time they achieve a goal, and this is certainly a good way to keep yourself enthused and motivated. Learn how to set an ambitious yet achievable goal here.

    3. Optimism and Positivity

    Positive energy is contagious. Great leaders are overflowing with this type of energy.

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    Not only does a positive mindset make leaders easy to work with, but it also gives them a constant source of inspiration and ideas.

    Tap into this energy by aligning yourself with positive people and positive goals. Find out more about the habits of positive people here.

    4. Emotional Stability

    In leadership positions, frustration and stress are daily occurrences. This is why leaders need to have strong and stable emotions. They can’t allow themselves to be easily knocked off track.

    If you’re prone to losing your emotional stability when stressed or frustrated, try some of these techniques: breath deeply and slowly for 30 seconds, go for a walk, drink some water (instead of tea or coffee), turn your focus onto something you can resolve. Here’re some effective ways to control your emotions.

    5. Self-Confidence

    Watch a presentation by any CEO and you’ll see that even if they’re not natural presenters – they make up for this by having powerful self-confidence.

    It’s not just CEOs who have self-confidence, any successful leader will have this trait in abundance. One reason for this, is that only a confident person can persuade others and gain their respect.

    Worried that you have low self-confidence? Try faking it. Psychologists often recommend that if you ‘act’ at being confident, you’ll start to look, sound and feel like you ARE confident. And in time… you will be.

    If you look for more ways to boost your self-confidence, this confidence coach has got you some nice advice:

    How to Be Confident: 62 Proven Ways to Build Self-Confidence

    6. Decisiveness

    Leaders are frequently called upon to make decisions (some leaders may have to make dozens of decisions every day). In fact, you could say that making decisions is one of the key things a leader must do.

    Spend some time observing highly-successful leaders and you’ll see that they are quick to make decisions. They also enjoy making decisions, rather than stressing out like many non-leaders do when they’re asked to decide on something.

    Put yourself in the leadership bracket by developing your decision-making skills. Start with small decisions – and then work your way up to bigger and more difficult decisions. Once other people notice your decision-making prowess, they’ll automatically see you as leadership material.

    I know it’s really quite difficult to make the right decisions sometimes, but don’t worry, here’s a guide for you:

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    How To Make Good Decisions All The Time

    7. Passion and Enthusiasm

    Expressive. Active. Energetic. These are words best describe a passionate leader.

    Great leaders are lively, driven and are possessed with zeal and purpose. It’s this passion that helps them achieve big results. If you want to emulate their success, then you need to develop passion and enthusiasm for the work at hand, and the end goals.

    Take a look at this Passion Pyramid to find out how importance a leader’s passion is to the team:

      One way to do this is to find what motivates you, and keep your focus firmly on that. For example, i f you’re motivated by helping others, then make sure your role and company are both suited to realizing this. If you’re motivated by money, then put your focus on achieving bonuses and pay rises.

      Take a look at Leo Babauta’s guide on how to find your passion.

      8. Accountability and Responsibility

      Exceptional leaders know that at all times they’ll need to take responsibility for tasks and their results. This includes things likes individual and team performance, as well as being accountable for when things go wrong.

      When negative things occur (and you can guarantee they will from time-to-time), a great leader will immediately step in and take responsibility. Initially, they’ll try to resolve the problem in as quick and smooth a way as possible. But if this is not feasible, they’ll be sure to say that the buck stops with them – and they take full responsibility for what has happened.

      To develop your leadership skills, you must never shy away from responsibility or accountability. If you prefer to sweep mistakes under the carpet, then you’re demonstrating non-leadership traits. Try owning up to issues and finding solutions to them. By doing this, you’ll immediately gain people’s respect.

      Find out some tips on how to be a more responsible person here.

      9. Focus

      Distractions are everywhere. And it takes major focus to stay committed to tasks and goals. The best leaders understand this, and therefore, they’re always looking at ways to boost their team’s focus.

      One way leaders do this, is to keep their team intensely focused on the bigger picture. This might entail allocating specific time for tasks and eliminating any non-essential work.

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      If you’re easily knocked off track, you’ll need to spend some time boosting your focus. Try planning your day, week, month and year to help ensure that you don’t fall behind with achieving your goals. Check out the 7 strategies of staying super focus recommended by a productivity coach.

      10. Ever-Learning

      Leaders know that to be successful they need to continually update their skills and knowledge. They deliberately learn all they can about their profession and industry, so they’ll able to make confident and assured decisions.

      Why is ever learning so important? I’ll leave it to you to find out the reason here:

      If I Am Living a Good Life, Why Should I Bother Learning New Stuff?

      Imagine a CEO of a solar power company. His company may have amazing solar panels, but when it comes to discussing business with potential buyers, if the CEO or his sales team show a lack of understanding about the solar industry and future trends, etc., they’ll be unlikely to win any business.

      It’s exactly the same for you. If you’re a team leader at an electronics store, you should make sure you fully understand all the products that you offer. But go beyond just that, and read about upcoming products and trends that might change what customers are interesting in buying in the future.

      11. Empathy

      The best leaders understand the feeling of their team members, customers and associates. They know when to praise, and when to discuss problems (usually in private).

      Without empathy, leaders will be seen as cold, harsh and lacking understanding. They’re also likely to be regarded as untrustworthy.

      One way to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ is to have regular informal discussions with your colleagues. When you do this, you’ll quickly learn their fears and desires. And when you understand why they have these – you’ll be in a position to express empathy. You can also learn to be more sensitive to others’ needs by taking up these communication skills.

      12. Persuasive and Influential

      Communications are at the heart of all transactions. Whether it’s pitching for a sale or resolving a customer complaint, how you communicate will determine the outcome.

      Charismatic leaders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) are confident and persuasive communicators. They know how to win over audiences and leave a lasting impressing in people’s minds.

      There’re some common barriers that you’ll have to overcome in order to communicate effectively:

      How to learn effective communication? You could join the world-renowned U.S. nonprofit Toastmasters International. They’ve been training people in the art of public speaking since 1924, and members have included Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, and Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy.

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      If you don’t have time to join a club, then practice your communications skills at home. You can do this in front of a mirror, or even better, video yourself presenting, and then ask some friends and family members for feedback. You’ll be amazed at what they pick up on.

      13. Team Building

      If you put a bunch of random people together, you may have a loose definition of a team. In reality, a real team has purpose, drive – and a leader lighting the way.

      If you’ve worked in different teams and with different managers, you’ll no doubt have come to this conclusion:

      Managers who treat their team members like children are unpopular with the team. Conversely, managers who treat their team members like adults, are respected and well-liked by the team.

      The days of disciplinarian managers are passed. Nowadays, successful team leaders know how to inspire and motivate their team, while keeping a harmonious atmosphere between all team members.

      14. Fostering Creativity

      Solutions to problems are rarely black and white. Often it takes a leader who can ‘think outside the box’ to come up with answers. In other words, a leader must be creative, and also help to foster creativity and innovation throughout their team.

      Creativity is not only associated with pursuits such as arts, literature and music, running a team can be just as creative. There will be times every day when you need to come up with ideas and give guidelines for your team to come up with theirs to solve problems.

      The Bottom Line

      Leadership is a journey of continuous learning. It is an amazing experience that will take you on roads you’ve never traveled before.

      Begin now to build your skills and experience, pick out the traits that you currently lack – and then work on developing those.

      It will take tons of practice and time before becoming an effective leader but eventually you will join the ranks of great leaders.

      More About Leadership

      Featured photo credit: unsplash via unsplash.com

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