Online Job Applications: How to Stand Out from the Crowd When You Apply Online

by Debra Boggs

Online Job Applications

A recent client referred to submitting online applications as a “fool’s errand.” This might be what it feels like for the vast majority of job seekers who are spending countless hours submitting resumes and filling out job applications online and hearing nothing back. Because of the increase in online applications, job hunting is now made convenient and accessible with a simple click of a button. The downside is that this often means there is a much larger pool of applicants for a single job posting and there is less ability to include a personal touch within the rigid systems.

The good news is that with a few helpful tips below, you can stand out from the crowd and dramatically increase your chances of getting an interview when responding to these advertised job openings.

Win at the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Game

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software programs that automate the resume screening process by scanning through hundreds of resumes and searching through keywords to spot the “best” and most qualified candidates for the job. An estimated 97% of applications for Fortune 500 companies go through ATS, so it is more important than ever to understand how to get through these systems. 

Resumes submitted through ATS, which is often part of the online application process, are scanned by the system before a human ever reads them.

You want to make sure that you have optimized your resume to rank in the top search results to increase your chances to get shortlisted.

Research is key in helping your application stand out. While there may be many other qualified applicants applying for the same position, the way you customize your resume and optimize it for the ATS can help you rise to the top.

Customizing Your Resume for ATS

Review each job description carefully and take note of the job description, qualifications, and skills specifically required. Include EXACT qualifications and skills (that you have) anywhere possible to help you get through the keyword search. This process is made easier by adding a “Summary of Skills” or “Core Capabilities” section to your resume that you can easily update for each position.

Optimizing Your Resume for ATS

Transform your resume into a more effective document and make it ATS-friendly by:

  • Avoiding Tables and Columns – Many ATS software either do not read or misunderstand tables and columns.
  • Special characters and symbols – Stick to standard fonts like Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Calibri, and Georgia.
  • Follow the Document Type Instructions – While a PDF resume preserves your intended formatting, it does not translate well for most ATS software.  Use Word or Text documents instead. However, make sure to submit whatever document type the ATS asks for when they list a specific requirement.
  • Avoid Graphics – Photos and even small icons can trip up the ATS and will not be included.
  • Use General Section Titles – Make sure that you use common section titles so that the ATS knows where to put your information in their system. An example would be to use “Professional Experience” instead of something more creative like, “Executive Achievements & Contributions.”

Keep it Brief and to the Point

Once recruiters get the top list of candidates from the ATS system, make sure that your resume is easy to read and does not require extra work on their part to review quickly and understand. When your resume gets in front of human eyes for the first time, they are scanning quickly (often spending less than 30 seconds per resume) to narrow the pool to the very best applicants. You want to make sure to make this easy on them by writing short bullets on your achievements in each position, writing a short overview of your experience at the top, and only including positions and education that are relevant to your current goals. An example is removing early career positions if they are older than 10-15 years.

Go the Extra Mile to Make It Personal

Do not just submit an online application and wait for the calls to start flooding in. This is what the vast majority of the other candidates are doing, and it will not get you noticed. Instead, be proactive! You can go the extra mile and get noticed by doing the following:

  • Reach Out to Recruiters – You do not have to wait for recruiters to call you. Many larger companies have in-house recruitment staff responsible for finding qualified talent. They often have the inside track on positions that are opening and what hiring managers are looking for within their organizations. Research target companies on LinkedIn to find recruiters. Send them an e-mail, call them, or send them a message on LinkedIn letting them know you are interested and briefly explaining your qualifications. They may have the ability to go around ATS altogether if your qualifications meet their needs.
  • E-Mail Hiring Managers Directly – 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. You can include your resume as an attachment. If your e-mail and resume pique their interest, they will look out for in their system. This may give you an edge or, at the very least, it shows them you are willing to do the extra work it takes to show real interest in their opening.
  • Let Your Network Know You Are Looking – Referrals from employees and others are great ways to get your foot in the door. People in your network may know of jobs that are opening up soon and can give you a boost of credibility or inside knowledge when you get ready to submit your application.

You are already spending a lot of time submitting online applications. With just a little more effort, you can significantly increase your chances of getting noticed and winning more interviews.

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