Before you start applying to jobs online through job boards like Indeed or directly on the employers’ website, you need to know a few things.

Using online applications as your key job search strategy is not a good idea.

While it’s the easiest and most convenient way to submit your résumé, it’s also the least effective. You have a very small chance of landing the job this way.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t apply to jobs online – just don’t rely on it as a key tactic.

Instead, focus on networking with key people in your target field to uncover job opportunities. But that’s a whole other article.

In them meantime, if you’re going to apply to jobs online, there are some things you must do to boost your chances of getting your résumé seen and (hopefully) selected for the interview.

#1 – Read the job posting carefully

I’m convinced that one top reason there are too many applicants per job posting is because many/most of them don’t read the job posting from start to finish which is probably why most of them are not even close to being qualified.

Don’t be that person!

Before you spend time submitting your résumé and cover letter online into the ATS, you must first read it thoroughly from start to finish. I mean, read EVERYTHING. And then re-read it.

How interested are you really?

If you got a job offer would you take it? If the location is too far a commute that could be a deal breaker right there. I recommend you find out where the location of the job is and then decide if it’s acceptable before you apply.

How qualified are you really?

If you’re missing something important, you should come up with a strategy about how to address that in your résumé, cover letter, and in an interview.

How much time are you really committed to invest?

Does the employer specify what’s involved in the recruitment process? Is there a test and/or assignment?

If so, are you prepared to spend what could be hours of your time do these assignments?

The fact is more and more companies are expecting candidates to jump through all kinds of hoops even before there’s a phone interview!

Don’t miss key information!

If you don’t read the job description carefully, you could miss a key directive.

Some employers will purposely bury specific instructions in the content to determine if you actually read the entire posting. If you miss providing the requested information (e.g. 200 word essay), you would likely be automatically disqualified.

#2 – Focus on new job ads

One way to stack the odds in your favour is to apply to jobs that are new postings.

New means anything that’s been advertised for less than a few days. Okay, I know that’s not being very specific. The general idea is this – the newer the job posting, the better your chances.

Since most job postings get on average over 250 applicants, one way to increase your chances of getting your résumé seen by the hiring authority is to get your résumé in their system sooner than later.

If you wait too long to apply, the company has already identified more than enough candidates and are likely already interviewing.

If you see a job that you’re really excited about and you are certain you’re a strong fit, but the ad was posted more than a week or two ago, you might be wasting your time if you send your résumé at this late stage in the game. 

Before you invest time in tailoring your résumé, creating a custom cover letter, and completing the online application (which can take a long time!), you should contact the hiring manager (first choice) or HR (second choice unless your target job is in HR) at the company to find out where they are in the process and if it’s worth submitting your application.

If you decide you’re going to apply, it’s better to apply to the newer job postings first and leave the old ones until the end.

New doesn’t necessarily mean new

I’ve seen numerous examples of alleged “new” jobs only to see them re-posted countless times. Guess what? They’re not new. The employer is purposely recycling an old job posting from months ago to make it appear new.

It’s possible that they’re using a “fake” job ad (or a legitimate one that they filled ages ago) as bait and fishing for résumés for their database.

If you keep seeing the same job over and over, that’s not a good sign. Time to move on.

#3 – Send a customized cover letter

I’ve covered this off in previous articles.

Believe it or not, many recruiters and hiring managers read cover letters. In fact, they will oftentimes request them in the job posting or at the very least, expect a cover letter.

Don’t miss sending a cover letter, but you must create one that addresses the key requirements of the job posting, includes keywords/phrases, uses an interesting “hook”, and highlights your unique value proposition.

Sending a compelling and well-written cover letter can greatly increase your résumé’s chances of getting the right kind of attention.

#4 – Tailor your résumé to the job posting

This is another thing I’ve written about in previous articles.

If you’re sending the same résumé to different jobs even if they are the same or similar, you are significantly reducing your chances of generating interviews.

The fact is, the more your résumé addresses they key job requirements, the more likely the ATS will give it a higher score and ranking so that it ends up at the top of the pile and not at the bottom.

Now, this doesn’t mean you cut and paste the job posting and stick it in your résumé verbatim because that will get it automatically deleted from the system.

What it does mean, is that all the important qualifications and qualities that the employer is looking for must be in your résumé in the appropriate sections.

It also means you need to include specific and quantifiable accomplishments and metrics ($, %, #, timelines) where possible. This information will help to distinguish you from the pack and give you a competitive advantage.

There’s no quick fix

Tailoring your résumé to the job posting can be a labour intensive process. Expect to spend about one hour tailoring your résumé to each job posting. And that probably doesn’t include modifying the cover letter OR completing the online application form.

It can take up to 2 hours or more to customize your application for every job posting. If you’re spending much less time than this, that might be one reason you’re not getting good results.

#5 – Complete the application properly

Even though you’ve uploaded your résumé, cover letter, and possibly other supporting documentation, that’s often not enough.

Many employers will require you to complete a detailed online application which provides the same information that you already submitted.  

Yeah, I know… seems ridiculous but that’s the way it goes. Just grab a cup of coffee, tea, or a nice stiff drink because this could take you a loooooong time. 

Resist the urge to skip completing the application properly. In most cases, you won’t be able to move forward with the online process until you’ve provided all of the required information but there might be some systems that will let you do that.

My advice is to take the time and give the employer EVERYTHING they ask for even if you think it’s overkill. It could be a test to determine how interested you really are in the job since it can take quite a bit of time to finish the application.

You’ll have to do some editing

When you upload your résumé, some systems will populate the application automatically but in 99.9% of the cases, it’s missing information, or the information is in the wrong spot, or it’s screwed up the way the content is formatted in the work experience section, or something else.

Failure to complete all of the sections and make the necessary corrections (grammar, spelling) and adjustments could send your résumé to the bottom of the pile or kick it out of the system entirely.

Fill in the boxes!

The general rule of thumb is to not leave any box empty unless you absolutely have no choice. For instance, if the employer is looking for a degree and you have that degree, just be sure to include all of the details they want, like the dates, type of degree, name of the institution, etc.

If you were trying to avoid “ageing” yourself by omitting the years of your education, that could backfire. Something to keep in mind.

Pay attention to special requests

Many times, there are other boxes to complete, like “Message to the employer”, “Why do you want to work here”, “What makes you so special?” or something else. 

While you might be able to submit the application without completing those sections, I strongly advise you don’t do that.

Take the time to fill in all the boxes but also take the time to proofread for errors and inconsistencies. You could be judge on something as insignificant as a typo.

#6 – Be prepared for a test

Depending on the position you’re targeting, there might be a test that you’re required to complete during the time of your application. Sometimes, you can do the test later but there is typically a deadline to get it done.

The test is another way the employer filters candidates in or out of the process, so if you are highly interested in the role, I recommend that you complete the test but make sure that when you take it you’re not going to be disturbed.

#7 – Create only one profile per company

Most online applications will require you to create a candidate profile. If you’re thinking of creating more than one profile so you can apply more than once to the same job, think again.

One thing that can get you “blacklisted” by hiring managers and recruiters is applying to the same job multiple times. I know it can be frustrating to apply to jobs for months and hear nothing, but applying to every job under the sun and/or re-applying to the same job countless times, will get you on the naughty list.

The better strategy is to be selective about the kinds of jobs you are applying to.  Pick a specific target position, apply to it once, and then follow up with the hiring manager to make sure they received your résumé.

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