Modern job seekers have their work cut out for them. Although it's easier than ever to find opportunities online, candidates must wade through numerous job postings on multiple sites and customize their application to suit each job. How your resume is built, the way you conduct yourself online and the way you approach applying for jobs all affect the outcome.
From applying to jobs to following up after an interview, here's everything you need to know about successfully applying for a job in the digital age.
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Building your resume
The way you craft your resume for submission for an online application directly affects whether it will make it past any applicant tracking system (ATS). These systems determine whether your application is seen by a hiring manager or not.
According to Michael Krikheli, co-founder of ZipJob, the use of ATS software has risen dramatically over the last few years. More than 95 percent of large companies use an ATS, and the number of midsize companies using ATS has increased to more than 50 percent.
Krikheli suggests crafting your resume to be adjusted not just for the company, but also for the applicant tracking systems. Here are a few tips for the best chances for a follow-up:
- Ensure you have the correct keywords related to the position or industry.
- Make sure that there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Microsoft Word is not enough to correct all your mistakes; send it to a friend or a professional to review.
- Send your resume in a .doc or .docx file.
"Your resume should be optimized for the ATS, but keep in mind that someone will read the resume once it gets through," Krikheli said. "Ensure your resume is optimized for the ATS and is also easy to read and effective when a recruiter looks at it."
Ensuring you have a solid resume should be the first step, as this is the first impression you will make to the employer, Krikheli added.
When it comes to tailoring your resume, the first step is to thoroughly understand the job description, said Leah Paul, director of marketing at Mediabistro.
"Figure out what the most important skills are for the job and reorganize your resume to highlight those accomplishments in your experience first," Paul said. "You want to use the keywords used in the job description, but not verbatim."
According to Paul, there's no need to list all your accomplishments in each position if they’re not relevant. Any "soft skills" or secondary accomplishments that are useful but not priorities for the role can be listed toward the bottom in a separately labeled section, she said.
Applying to jobs
The use of online recruiting tools and technology has increased dramatically over the last few years. The near-endless options of websites and apps to use emphasize the importance of correctly doing so.
While there are multiple places to which you can apply, like LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Mediabistro, etc., candidates should first go directly to companies they're interested in. Check those companies' career sites and follow them on social media channels, Paul suggests. In addition to a presence on LinkedIn, most big companies have dedicated recruiting accounts on Twitter or Facebook that post job openings.
"Lots of smaller companies and startups might not have a careers page or even a dedicated recruiting team, so an alternative is to go to your favorite job board and set up a job alert," Paul said. "If you don’t have any target companies, but know what you want to be doing, conduct your searches on keywords and phrases that speak to the responsibilities you hope to have in your next role. Or search for the qualifications you have."
Tracking your progress
It's easy to get lost in the mix when you're applying. Firing off multiple emails a day without actually keeping track of your activity can mean a lost opportunity to follow up. To combat this, if you see a position that's listed on a job board, create an account with that [job board] to keep track of the jobs that you've applied to.
"If you’re applying via multiple sites, a good filing system is needed. I used to use a spreadsheet that kept track of the job title, company, link to the job posting and date I applied," Paul said. "Too often, the job posting would be taken down by the time the interview rolled around, and I didn't have the description to reference anymore."
So be sure to be cognizant of the description for a better follow-up, should the opportunity present itself.
Once you’ve submitted your application, you can use sites like LinkedIn or face-to-face networking events to build your professional network.
Paul suggests that you network with someone at the company to get yourself noticed and to give yourself a better chance for a follow-up.
"Don't try to get your application in via back channels before you’ve formally applied. Apply first, then try to get a leg up via your network," she said. "A simple note from an employee to the hiring manager or recruiter stating that they’d like to refer an acquaintance who has submitted an application is the best way to get your resume looked at. In those cases, even if you’re not selected, they will follow up with you or the referring employee, so you’ll get your chance to find out your status either way."
Mistakes to avoid
Like any skill, applying to jobs takes time and comes with a learning curve. Mistakes will be made. However, it's prudent to learn the best practices when you're submitting an application. You want to always come off as professional and avoid making common mistakes, which can often make you look unprofessional.
According to Paul, job seekers most often make these mistakes while applying online:
Edit your work. To avoid typos, be sure to spellcheck you work and have a second pair of eyes on anything you plan to submit. Be careful not to use language that's inappropriate or too casual. Those mistakes, specifically, will ruin any chances you have of making a good first impression.
Not reading the entire job posting.It is very common to just focus on the bulleted lists of responsibilities and qualifications, but the other details that are provided in the job description are important. Often, this is where specific instructions for applying will be mentioned.
Having a less-than-perfect online presence.In addition to your resume and cover letter, your online presence needs to be pruned before you apply anywhere. This is especially true on LinkedIn, but also on any other platforms where you have profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). If your resume does get noticed, the first thing a recruiter or hiring manager will do is Google you and look you up on social media.
Focusing too much on the job title.A manager at one company is a specialist at another. Job seekers should focus on the responsibilities of the role to determine if it’s the right level for their expertise and career goals, because you could be missing out on other opportunities that are perfect, but are just not labeled as you’d think.
Regardless of what you want to do, you should sit down and make a list of goals you would like to achieve, with an emphasis on what makes you happy, writes Catherine Fisher for LinkedIn. Include all of your goals, both big and small. If you need ideas for work goals, search on LinkedIn for people in the companies or industries you're interested in to identify the skills you need to grow in your career, as well as the various career paths others have taken — that you can take, too.
To help successfully drive your career, here's a breakdown of our coverage on job hunting:
- Social Media Success: A Guide for Job Seekers
- 14 Best Job Search Apps
- The 6 Fastest-Growing Freelance Jobs
- Job Hunters Favor Online Search to Networking
- Applying to Jobs? Don't Wait Until the Weekend
- 3 Subtle Things Successful Job Seekers Do Right
- 5 Ways to Stand Out in Your Job Search
- Diploma to Paycheck: Job Search Tips for New Grads