The online application process is a big frustration for job seekers. Many equate applying online to sending a resume into a black hole, never to be seen by human eyes. Some coaches advise their clients not to apply using online systems. Instead, they suggest an approach revolving around networking and accessing referrals from within companies to ensure that their clients' application materials land on the right desks and help their chances of winning interviews.
Statistically, networking and internal referrals account for the majority of job offers. Startwire, a free service providing job seekers automatic updates on the status of their job applications, quotes Shanil Kaderali, manager of talent programs at WellPoint as saying, "On average, 1 of out every 33 candidates is going to get hired from an online source—such as a job board or a career site. If you are referred, your odds go up to 1 in 4."
It is crucial for all job seekers to try to grow and leverage their in-person and online networks if they want to improve their chances to find jobs. However, there are times when applying online is the most feasible solution, and there aren't any realistic networking contacts.
Keep these points in mind when applying for positions:
Only apply for jobs meeting your specific qualifications. Most hiring managers are looking for an exact match for the job description. That means if you're overqualified—you have a Ph.D. and the job only requires a high school diploma, or you have 15 years of experience and it's an entry-level position—you probably don't have a good chance for an interview.
On the flip side, if the position requires a bachelor's degree, and you don't have one, you probably won't get an interview even if you have the required experience. Overcome this hurdle by networking and don't waste your time applying online for jobs you aren't exactly qualified to do.
Recruiters always prefer candidates who have experience doing the job. If you've been selling washing machines door-to-door for the past five years and the target job is running a cash register at a busy grocery store, unless you can show you have been managing cash registers in your free time, don't expect a call. Search for positions seeking someone just like you to help avoid being frustrated.
Do not say you can "do anything." It may be true that you CAN do "anything;" many unemployed people have multiple talents and could adapt to a variety of different jobs successfully. However, hiring managers want to know what you can do for them. Apply with a specific job in mind and avoid sounding desperate for work—even if you are desperate to land a job. Sending a cover letter noting you are looking for "any job" doesn't give the reader enough information. Explain what you offer and make a direct connection between the employer's needs and your skills and accomplishments.
When you find job descriptions that fit, target your resumes to each position. Recognize your application has two audiences: a computerized applicant tracking system (ATS) likely selects qualified candidates before a human being ever sees your materials. A recent FINS article quotes Sarah White, the principal analyst for talent acquisition at human resources research firm Bersin & Associates saying, "About 61 percent of North American companies surveyed have some sort of applicant tracking software in place, and small-to-midsized businesses are rapidly adopting them. More and more job seekers are going to start finding these systems in workplaces."
What does this mean for the applicant? Customizing your resumes to appeal to applicant tracking systems is your best chance to be selected for interviews. If you are well qualified, prove it in your resume. Do not expect anyone to read between the lines. If the job description requires management skills, you need to use the word "management" in your resume; don't assume the reader will know you probably managed people.
Skim the job description for key words, which include nouns and phrases highlighting technical and professional experience. Look for industry jargon and buzz words, accomplishments, projects, job titles, specific technical skills (software), degrees, and other job-related specifics.
Apply with a resume the ATS will be able to interpret. When you submit a resume, you may choose a Word (.doc or .docx), a PDF, or a rich text format. Rich DeMatteo, a staffing/human resources professional who blogs at Corn on the Job, explained how important it is to select the correct format for your resume when applying. He noted, "There are roughly 55 different ATS vendors on the market. Of those 55, only a few are able to translate the information from your PDF resume into their system. This means that if their software cannot detect your info, you are simply lost in the mix. The company is just not able to search your resume or your name because your information is just blank in the system."
He linked to the Fins post highlighting the debate about the best resume format to use when applying. The general consensus? It's probably safest to use a Word .doc format for most online applications.
Follow up. It never hurts to follow up with a polite phone call or e-mail several days after you apply for a job. Even if you don't hear back, following up is the right thing to do, and it will help you stand out from a crowd of people.
Using these tips, in combination with a networking strategy including online and in-person meetings, should make a big difference in helping you move from "looking for work" to "hired."
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.