Career expert shares tricks to acing online job applications
Posted February 9, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Mailing resumes and cover letters to potential employers has become less common these days, with more jobs asking candidates to apply online. While it may be easier and quicker to use the web, job experts say there are some tricks to making the cut.
Career counselor John O'Connor, with Career Pro Inc. in Raleigh, says businesses often use applicant-screening software that scans and automatically rejects some resumes.
He tells his clients to use key words and phrases from the job description when filling out the application, so they “will be picked up by the computer.”
When weaving key words and phrases into an application, job-seeker Jill Jordan says she tries to be creative to make it seamless, flawless and very natural.
To make resumes and cover letters easier to read, O’Connor suggests converting Microsoft Word documents into plain text. He also preaches the three P’s – preparation, powerful writing and patience.
Even with the right words and formatting, O’Connor says one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of networking. “An employee referral as you fill out an online application can be one of the keys that gets you noticed,” he said.
For job-seeker John Domalavage, he says one plus of applying online is the immediate response. “That's always the bright spot, that you get that email that says ‘We received it.' At least you're that far,” he said.
Three P's of applying for a job
With online application systems, or applicant tracking systems, it seems very mechanical and clinical, according to O'Connor. To gain an edge on other applicants, find out about what the company values in terms of new employees for the specific position that you’re applying for. That means, before you even start adding your resume online, you should find out if you're connected to or can have a conversation with any current or past employee. If you can, find out what they did to get hired. Did they do an online application alone? Did they put an online application in and also add an employee referral? Even a nearly perfect online application may miss the mark if you don't add networking fuel to the fire.
Don't just add key words or phrases indiscriminately to your online application. Be willing to rewrite both your cover letter and your resume in Microsoft Word before turning it into a scanable document. While writing your resume, add keywords or phrases but support them with specific examples and metrics that backup your persuasive written argument. If you prepared properly, you could pre-write some of the questions that these online applications ask for as you're going through the application.
These applications can be so frustrating that people give up before they certainly complete them properly. You'll need a great deal of patience as you go through online applications and applicant tracking systems. Be aware of quizzes, redundant questions and questions and answers. Don't lose your cool and fly through seemingly small items. Do you know the months and years of your employments? Have you studied up on the latest software that they're looking for? Have you allotted enough time to complete the application? Many online applications can be so cumbersome and frustrating that candidates rush through it and never give it enough time to complete it in the level of detail that will help the computer and ultimately a human being invite you in for the interview.
How to convert a Microsoft Word document into plain text
Save your Microsoft Word resume as plain text
- Open the Word document that contains your resume.
- Click the Office button (the logo in the upper left corner of your MS Word window).
- Click ‘Save As’ and select ‘Other Formats.’
- At the bottom of the window, type in a new name for this document in the File Name field, such as “V1PlainText.”
- Under this is the ‘Save As Type’ pull-down menu. Scroll down this list to select “Plain Text (*.txt).”
- Click Save to perform the conversion.
- The File Conversion window should appear. Then click OK without changing any of the settings.
After changing your resume to plain text, your resume won’t have any Microsoft Word based formatting. You still need to do a couple more things to clean it up before posting online.
There are no page numbers or lines to delineate pages, so clean up or delete references to pages. This includes notes such as “Page 1 of 2,” “Continued” and your name or header on subsequent pages.
Think about using uppercase letters for words that need special emphasis. This helps the “plain text” stand out, but don’t overdo this step. Some guides suggest doing this for words that were bold, underlined or in italics on your hard-copy version.
Replace each bullet point with a standard keyboard symbol. Replacements include dashes (-), plus signs (+), asterisks (*), double asterisks (**), greater than (>) and dash-greater than (->).