The more technology improves business efficiency and production, the more potential employees are being asked to submit an application online with or without a resume and cover letter. As an HR professional, I have reviewed multiple online applications and frequently see why an applicant fails to secure a job interview or even get screened. Just as Google uses keywords to advance an article to the head of its search list, so too will your use of keywords and key phrases that relate to the job description. These catch a screener’s eye more quickly. Your application, cover letter and resume must stand out from the often large volume of applications that are submitted for a position to increase your chances of being selected for an interview.
Read and print out the job description and highlight skills and functions that you have done or where you have knowledge and familiarity. Zero in on specific duties listed in the descriptions, for example, “prepares spreadsheets” or “performs a variety of administrative experience”. These are key phrases that can be included in your application and resume if you have skills that match or are comparable. If there is no description or only a minimal functions list, and there is contact information, call the company to ask for a copy of the job description or ask the contact what the basic requirements are for the position. If the company has a website, research it for its mission and purpose to gain insight.
Create or edit your resume and cover letter tailored to the position for which you are applying and realistically believe you qualify. Summarize and highlight your skills in the cover letter and how they relate to the posted position and state how you can be an asset to the company. Make your resume more skills based rather than chronological, especially if your work history has multiple short time jobs or you do not have a long history. A recruiter will be far more interested in the skills and functions you have performed relative to the posted job than the dates you performed them; however, be sure to include dates of employment for verification if you are indeed hired. List your degrees, where obtained and if the degree has not been completed, list the number of hours completed and/or when the degree is expected to be conferred.
Now you are ready to access the online application. Be absolutely sure to read the instructions! Don’t take shortcuts and assume you can skip these as you are likely to miss something important and then get stuck in the middle of the application process or fail to complete necessary sections or steps. If you are close to the deadline, this will only frustrate you. If there is a tutorial, read it first. You may be able to go back to it to read during the process. Complete all sections unless there is an area that does not apply to you and then input N/A. Do not leave any section completely blank. Make sure the dates of employment listed on the application match what you put on your resume. List all the computer hardware and software you have used in any capacity. Pay attention to what is being asked and follow suit.
Just because you plan to attach an extensive resume, don’t succumb to laziness – do not add the words, “See Resume” to the job description section of the online application. This could get you rejected as an incomplete submission. Many online applications are considered the official and legal record of application for a position so the more job-related information you put into the application, the more likelihood you will be screened in for an interview. A resume is not considered the primary application material and is often viewed as “inflated” so fill out the application fully even though it may seem you are repeating what is in your resume. Most screeners will read the application first and then view the resume for additional information.
Include your knowledge, skills and duties briefly for each job title, using similar words (keywords) and phrases to those listed in the job description where appropriate; for example, if the job description states, “Prepares Excel spreadsheets”, and you have done this, use a similar phrase such as, “Created and updated spreadsheets with Excel”. If you used a different type of spreadsheet software, mention the software because this shows you have knowledge of using spreadsheets and would likely be able to learn to use Excel software. Many skills are transferable and screeners recognize this for the most part. Use action words to describe your skills and the functions you performed. Do not assume that the screener will know all or most of the functions you performed based only on the job title you had. An administrative assistant can perform many different functions in many different fields; you need to point out what you did.
List the names of your supervisors and their phone numbers and if you do not remember a name or phone number, do your research – check the Internet to see if the company has an online website where you may be able to access a staff directory, or at least a main contact number of the company. If the company no longer exists, state this but still list a supervisor name. Make it known if you do not want a supervisor contacted; there is often a box to check for this. A recruiter may call you and ask permission to contact your current or past supervisor if you specified no contact. Resist the urge to write, “References Upon Request”. List three or more names and contact numbers of people who have known you at least two years. If you become a finalist, these references will likely be called. If a manager has to contact you to obtain these and you miss the call, you may lose the opportunity for a finalist interview or that cherished job offer.
Most applications ask if you have been convicted of a crime. Do not leave this area blank if you have had a conviction in your past. If you omit this information and you are hired or recommended for hire but a background check discovers this information, you can be terminated or an offer rescinded due to “lying by omission”. Be honest but brief and state the nature of the crime, the status and the date of the conviction. Just because you committed a crime does not mean you will be automatically excluded from a position unless the crime is related to the position purpose; for example, someone who was convicted of a DUI will most likely not get a driving job but could be hired for different positions within that company. Do not include personal information in your resume or application about your hobbies, family, beliefs, age, social websites, or upload a photo as you may set yourself up for unintentional (or intentional) discrimination
When prompted, attach your resume and cover letter to the online application and any other document specifically requested. Do not attach unasked for information such as letters of recommendation, certificates, unofficial transcripts (unless the job description states a degree is required), etc. If you are selected for an interview you may bring these then and give them to the interviewer(s). Either “Cut” and “Paste” to the application or the system may require you to submit a word document in a different format such as Rich Text Format (Use “Save As” and choose the requested format in the drop down box).
Check for spelling, grammar or format issues and other errors, just as you should have done for your resume and cover letter! Do not rely only on the computer spell or grammar check – do an “eyeball check” and if you feel comfortable, have someone else look at it. There is really no excuse for spelling errors in a resume or an application as there are a many resources for you to check your accuracy. Being thorough, accurate and detail-oriented are important job skills. Explain any gaps in your experience and make sure dates are not inconsistent with your resume.
When you are ready to submit, be sure you click correctly. There should be buttons for “Save”, “Submit”, or “Save and Submit” or something similar. Click the correct one. Just because you saved does not mean you submitted. Check for a receipt or success notice. Sometimes you will get a warning notice that asks you if you are sure you want to submit. Do not be in haste. If you are not sure if it went through, you can call the company and ask them to check to see if your submission was accepted. Claimingignorance of instructions or failure to follow these is no excuse to blame the company software, especially if you left it to the last minute to submit your application.