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9 Tips to Perfect Your Online Job Application

Online job applications aren’t a new concept. In fact, 73 percent of college seniors in the U.S. say they use online job boards, such as Monster or Indeed, to search for jobs, while 79 percent of job seekers say they have used the internet in their most recent job search.

Job seeker filling out an online job application form

With social distancing and shelter-in-place orders in full swing due to the coronavirus pandemic, these numbers are expected to skyrocket. Whether it's to protect the health of their workers, or to ramp up the number of resumes recruiters can review, more and more companies are asking applicants to skip in-person applications and instead apply online.

While online job applications are quickly becoming the new normal, not every job seeker is experienced with online job applications. To help, we've compiled 9 tips to help you stand out.

  1. Understand the application process and study the job description. The process of filling out online applications can be daunting, even confusing, since application processes and requirements vary, depending if you are applying through a job board such as Monster or on a company website. Job boards typically have one process for every job, but sometimes they send you to the company's website to apply directly, and those applications come in all shapes and sizes. Review the job description, and match your skills and experience against the requirements. This is especially important if you are trying to make it to the next step in your career. Make a list of your transferable skills to work into your resume If you are changing careers or industries.
  2. Patience is key. Online applications require focus and patience, so set aside time to give each application your undivided attention. You will likely be asked to fill out manual forms in addition to uploading your resume. While this may seem pointless, it helps you by making it easy for applicant tracking systems (ATS) to find your resume and scan your information for relevance. We recommend copying and pasting your resume into the form fields section by section to save time. A plain text format works best for this, as it avoids errors and makes it easier for ATS programs to read your resume. So, have a .txt file of your resume ready.
  3. Follow the directions. Employers prefer candidates who demonstrate they are detail-oriented and can take direction, no matter the job level. A recent study shows "attention to detail" is one of the top three traits hiring managers look for in job candidates. And as HR and management consultant Susan Heathfield notes, failure to follow direction when filling out a job application is often grounds for immediate disqualification.
  4. Review each form field and save as you go along. Online applications often autofill the form fields for applicants. While this may seem helpful in theory, it can sometimes introduce mistakes, so check each field as you move through the process. When using a job board such as Indeed or Monster, it's best to use the My Perfect Resume Chrome Extension, a free app that avoids mistakes by checking how well your resume matches the job description and then accurately filling in the forms on those sites.
  5. Be prepared. Requirements will vary per job, so it's best to be prepared for anything. At minimum you will need a resume and a cover letter, and you might be asked for a list of references, licenses, a portfolio link and other examples of work. We also advise keeping a list of your achievements such as sales awards and credentials on hand If you are leveling up in your career; the coronavirus shouldn't stop you from trying to reach your goals.
  6. Customize your resume and save it in multiple formats. Tailoring your resume to the position will show employers exactly why you are the best fit for the job based on where you are in your career. You can customize your resume by matching your skills to the requirements of the position, or by rewording your experience section to highlight the most relevant achievements for each job. It's worth the extra time because it can help ensure you get picked up by the company's applicant tracking systems (ATS) and it will get recruiters' attention. 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. Having all three saves you time and helps ensure you use the proper file each time.
  7. Have a cover letter ready to attach to the application. Even if it's not required, recruiters and hiring managers prefer online applications that include cover letters. So it's worth the time it takes to write one. A cover letter will help you stand out by personalizing your application while allowing you the space to explain to potential employers exactly why the job makes sense for your career goals.
  8. Don't lie, exaggerate or embellish. There are many ways for employers to find out if you lie, so chances are you will get caught. Companies often screen applicants using information provided on job applications, and will not hesitate to remove dishonest candidates from the applicant pool, even during these extraordinary times. If you lie and are caught after you get hired, you will lose your job. Lying can also prevent you from getting jobs in the future.
  9. Proofread the final product. You've been careful: reviewed every field on each form, saved your work as you went along, even took a break to refocus. You've made it to the   end of the application and you're ready to hit "Send." Stop right there. Details count and mistakes can cost you the job. You might have missed a typo, forgot the contact information for one of your references, or maybe your cover letter never quite attached. It's better to double-check than to cost yourself the job — you want to stand out for the right reasons, afterall.
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Kellie Hanna

Career Advice Expert

Kellie is a San Francisco-based writer and editor with a broad background in digital media. Hailing from Philadelphia, PA, she served as online entertainment editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area where she took on a variety of digital content roles, including: senior editor, writer, content manager and strategist for leading high-tech companies such as IBM, Xerox and SanDisk, as well as for several start-ups. Most recently, Kellie has written for Smart Meetings magazine, Chronicle Books, LiveCareer and Resume Now. She enjoys helping job seekers find their voice so they can develop their unique talents and love what they do. She has a B.A. in English with a writing minor from Temple University, where she was a member of the Honors Program.