Oh, the agony of online job applications. You upload your résumé, diligently fill out the required fields, press submit — and then you wait. And wait. Chances are, all you hear is radio silence — until six months later, when you receive an email from human resources that begins, “After careful consideration….”
Discouraged? There’s hope. Lesley Mitler, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, which helps recent college graduates take launch, shines a great big flashlight into the black hole of online job applications. Here's what you need to know:
The system is rigged
Almost all Fortune 500 companies and most medium-sized ones use tracking systems programmed to scan for keywords to manage the hundreds of applications submitted each day, explains Mitler. “Before an application even gets to human eyes, the résumés are reviewed by these applicant tracking systems, which routinely eliminate up to 75 percent of the resumes that are submitted.”
So learn how to beat it
Because these systems filter and rank applications, make sure yours isn't being rejected based on inconsequential criteria. “Even things like formatting errors, size of margins, font that you use, using any kind of graphics, color, not putting an address on your résumé — these are all things that could eliminate you from consideration, even if you are the perfect candidate.”
Figure out how to stand out
If your application does get past the robot sensors, it must then appeal to a real live human. Make sure your résumé highlights “specific, tangible information — things that you’ve accomplished, not just things you’ve been responsible for.” Next, try going old school. Says Mitler, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody uses the phone anymore." If you leave an articulate message expressing interest, employers "might be impressed that you took initiative.”
Take it slow, but act fast
The upside of online applications is that job seekers can cast a wide net. The downside is the whack-a-mole pace at which jobs come and go. When applying to jobs, treat the process "as a job, and not something you can just pick up when you have some downtime," says Mitler. "You need to constantly be following openings you see online, because if you see a job that you like and you don’t apply to it quickly the company may pull the posting when it gets enough applications."
Then let your network work for you
Navigating social media channels for jobs is a given, but get specific on each network. "Instagram is a way to give people another lens into who you are. You show creativity and passion, they get a sense that you’re on top of trends, particularly in certain industries.” On LinkedIn, your profile, including "recommendations, people who can speak to your character, your work ethic, your strengths" must be fully fleshed out. It can also help to get a premium membership, which shows where you rank among other candidates when applying on the site.
If you do nothing else, take control of the narrative.
"Most people don’t look at the job description and their résumé, and try to say, 'OK, how can I tell the story in a way that will speak to what the company is looking to hire?'”