Of all the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives, the way in which job seekers apply for jobs is one significant change. Social distancing is forcing many companies that in the past may have preferred in-person applicants — including hospitality, waste collection, retail, warehouse, manufacturing and security — to move their applications online. This means that it's critical that job seekers get up-to-speed on how to master the online job application.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 85 percent of company recruiters reported sourcing candidates from their company's website. With the shelter-in-place order in effect across the country, these numbers will likely increase over the next year due to health and safety precautions.
As helpful as online job applications are for employers, they can be tedious and time consuming for job seekers. While filling out an online application may seem straightforward, there are some potential pitfalls that could derail your chances of getting the job if you aren’t careful.
Here are 11 tips for filling out online job applications:
1. Get to know the online application process
Online application processes and requirements vary depending on where you apply. Job boards such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn or Indeed have similar processes: Sign up with your name and email, upload your resume, then search and apply for jobs. Each one has a fairly uniform application, no matter what company you apply to, but some jobs require you to apply directly on the company's website. To do so, you will likely have to create another account and then fill out the company’s application. These vary widely; some might consist of a few questions and the option to upload your resume while others might be several pages long and require you to fill out a lot of fields.
2. Read through the job description and the application
Read the job description and application carefully to be sure you meet all the requirements listed. After all, there's no point in applying if your skills and experience don't match the job.
3. Gather all the information
Gather the information you need to apply ahead of time. Requirements vary depending on the type of job and the industry, so check the job posting carefully to make sure you have the proper materials. In addition to a resume and a cover letter, you might be asked for the addresses and phone numbers of your previous employers; a list of at least three references, their phone numbers and email addresses; letters of recommendation; credentials and licenses; and military documents.
4. Make sure your resume is up to date and tailored for the job
An up-to-date, customized resume is critical if you want to stand out because it highlights your relevance to the position. Customizing your resume for each role can mean rewriting your Professional Summary, reordering your skills or rephrasing certain phrases in your resume to match the wording of the job description. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s time well spent as it puts a spotlight on the keywords that both recruiters and applicant tracking systems (ATS) look for.
5. Always write a cover letter
Write a cover letter and attach it to the application, even if it is marked as "optional." Recruiters are more likely to pay attention to an application if it includes a cover letter, and taking the time to write one shows employers you are willing to go the extra mile. It will also provide a way to add important keywords that emphasize your qualifications not only to the employer, but also to ATS programs, which use keywords to rank candidates according to keyword matches. Finally, a cover letter gives you the chance to explain possible concerns such as an employment gap or job loss due to COVID-19.
6. Follow instructions precisely
Failing to do so gives employers the impression that you don't pay attention to details or take direction well, and it could get you rejected immediately, even if you are the most qualified candidate otherwise. For example, online applications usually specify which file format the employer will accept for resumes and cover letters. Most companies will ask for either a Microsoft Word (.doc) or Portable Document Format (PDF) file, but some prefer plain text (.txt), since it is easy for most programs to interpret. Saving your documents in multiple formats ahead of time helps ensure you are using the correct format each time.
7. Give yourself plenty of time to fill out each application
Most online job applications will ask you to upload a copy of your latest resume as well as enter the same information manually. While re-entering your resume information seems redundant, it's important because it ensures your information is searchable and gets parsed correctly through the company’s ATS. Save yourself extra work, be consistent and avoid errors by cutting and pasting your resume information into the application’s form fields, one field at a time.
8. Use a plain text (.txt) version of your resume when copying from your resume and pasting into online forms
Plain text files remove extra characters, spaces, formatting and graphics from the original file and leaves only text. This ensures the company’s software and ATS programs can read what you enter into the online forms, avoids errors, and makes your application easy to read.
9. Save time and avoid mistakes with LiveCareer Apply
Some online applications use programs to automatically pull information from your resume into form fields for you, which can seem like a timesaver — but beware: This often leads to mistakes. LiveCareer Apply is a free extension for Google Chrome that accurately fills in forms on most job boards such as Monster, Glassdoor, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Dice, SimplyHired and CareerBuilder, saving valuable time so you can move to the next application quickly.
10. Always tell the truth
Since employers use online applications to run background checks, they can find out if you lie and remove you from their list of possible candidates immediately. If you manage to make it through the initial screening process and get hired, you could be liable to the company or even subject to criminal charges for misrepresenting yourself on your application, according to law experts.
11. Don’t forget to review your application
Approximately 77 percent of hiring managers immediately reject applications with typos and spelling and grammar mistakes, so take the extra time to make sure your application is error-free, accurate and complete before hitting "Send." Review each field carefully as you go along, taking breaks if you can to clear your mind, then go back and review your work with fresh eyes. Then check the whole application over once more when you’ve finished, just to be sure. Attention to detail is critical, especially in these unprecedented times.