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4 Strategies for Conquering Online Job Application Systems

4 Strategies for Conquering Online Job Application Systems

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Brie Weiler Reynolds

Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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