Online Job Applications: 5 Helpful Tips

Screen shot 2013-05-27 at 10.34.27 AMHumankind has achieved many great things. We’ve been up into space and down into the deepest reaches of the ocean. We’ve cured diseases and built cities. We’ve mapped the Earth and the stars. We’ve done everything… except build an easy-to-use, fully-functional online job application system.

Not that every problem you run into is the application’s fault. No, it could be a design issue, a connection issue, a browser issue, a user error, or any mixture of those components. Still, these systems are not (and might never be) 100% reliable, so it’s good to be careful. Here are some quick and easy tips to help you avoid issues when applying for jobs over the web.

1. Save your stuff now, save yourself frustration later: Let’s say the job app requires you to answer an essay question. Well, if you’re in the middle of typing it directly into the text box and your connection goes down or the page times out or you hit “cancel” instead of “submit,” you’re up a creek. That’s why it’s always good a good idea to do your work in a document, save it to your hard drive, and then paste it where it needs to go. Then, if something goes wrong online, you’re just a control-v away from getting back on track.

2. Speaking of pasting, keep it plain and simple: Microsoft Word is a great program because it gives you a variety of different formatting options. The downside: when you copy and paste text from Word, it brings all that formatting along with it. Putting that formatting through an online job application is kind of like feeding duck foie gras to your dog; he’ll take it, but you’re going to like how it looks when it comes out the other end. Using a plain text editor like Notepad or TextEdit will keep the application from jumbling up your text (just make sure your plain text editor has spell check).

3. When you absolutely need formatting, PDFs are your friend: Sometimes you don’t get text boxes. Sometimes you’re asked to upload a file. In that case, save everything you need – your resume, your cover letter, your writing samples, etc. – as PDFs. A PDF locks everything into place: word placement, font, all that stuff. You’d be amazed at how different your Word Doc or InDesign file might look if the person who receives it uses just a slightly different version.

4. Don’t believe the auto-fill: Whenever your browser says that it can fill in your information for you, don’t just blindly trust it. Maybe you’ve moved since the last time you filled out a form, or gotten a new phone number or email address. But even less trustworthy than your browser’s auto-fill is this feature that some online job applications have where they read the resume you uploaded, take that information, and put it where they think it goes. ALWAYS double check this stuff; otherwise, you might submit an application to the job of your dreams with your name listed as “Amherst College.”

5. LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn: remember the Common App, the application that you could fill out and send to most of the colleges you were applying to? LinkedIn is like that for job application systems; you can often connect to your LinkedIn profile and it’ll grab your name, contact info, and employment history for you. By keeping that profile up-to-date, professional, and typo-free, you’re saving yourself a lot of time and effort that would otherwise be wasted retyping your personal information over and over again.

That’s my advice. Tell us about your experience using online job application systems in the comments.

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