How to Handle the Online Application ProcessYour application is most likely being fed into a computer system, so they need to repackage you and your background into handy-dandy storable data. But at some point, whatever you enter or attach, will wind up in human hands – if the system can access it easily enough to spit it out. This is a good reason to check carefully for keywords and key phrases they may be searching for. (More on this below.)
First thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Or two. Or ten. No matter how talented you are, no matter how much you can add to an employer’s bottom line, if they require you to do it this way – even after you’ve been recommended by someone – you might as well relax and go with the flow. I am NOT a fan of employers that do so much filtering up front, but if that’s the process they choose and you still want to apply, then this is not the time to let annoying processes stand in your way. As maddening as it can be, you’ll do a much better job if you aren’t screaming at the screen.
Next, make sure you are comfortable. While some companies are fine with just a few questions and an attached resume, other applications may take a good 10 minutes or more, depending on what they want you to do and how many questions they ask. Although uncommon, thirty minutes is not unheard of. Some companies even require you to take an online test as part of the online application.
Answer the questions as honestly as possible. If you think this is the time to throw in bogus experience or add a degree or two to your background, please think again. Any company that asks in-depth questions at this stage is going to do a background check. So you may as well tell the truth, and, if there is a place for you to add a personal statement or attach a cover letter (always choose to do so if that’s an option), that’s where you make your case for why you fit the job so well, despite any requirements (real or perceived) you may be lacking. HINT: Best not to emphasize the “lack” but instead focus on what you do have.
Proofread your entire application carefully. This is not the time for a typo or grammatical error. If you have someone who can review your application before you send, don’t be shy about asking. Two sets of eyes are always better for things like this.
Attach your resume exactly as they ask you to do. Be careful to look for any specific instructions, such as a Word or text document. If they ask for ASCII, that means you should save it in plain text, correcting for any format changes before attaching. Pasting a resume also requires you to check carefully and edit any format glitches. And remember to make sure your resume is error-free and tailored to the job you’re applying for; they shouldn’t have to work hard to figure out why you’re a match.
Include keywords and key phrases. As I mentioned above, what you feed into a system has to get spit out. Someone will “query” the job application system, asking for specific skills and experience they are looking for. Review the job description carefully, and make sure that on your resume you use the most applicable keywords and key phrases mentioned in their description, and also use them in the application, if possible.