Tips for filling out online job applications
In order to take the stress out of applying online, here are a few things to take into account, both before you start your application, and while you’re submitting it.
Prepare before you apply
You have to work just as hard on an online application as you would on a job application that you would submit via email or post.
Do some research – check out the company’s website and read over it carefully. Make sure you visit more than just the homepage. Look at the company’s mission and values. If you can incorporate these into your own experience, or your cover letter, this will help you stand out from others who haven’t done their homework!
Read the job description carefully
Take the time to understand exactly what the company expects from applicants.
Read the selection criteria for the job carefully, underlining or highlighting the key words and required skills that stand out the most. Then match up your own skills and accomplishments with these requirements.
Many companies are now using automated online systems or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to handle and screen information in job applications. Some ATS software scans applications for certain words or phrases, and if you don’t mention the key words on required skills, experiences, attributes and values from the job description in your application, it may not get through the initial automated screening process.
Work offline first
Online applications must often be completed in one sitting – you may not have the option to save and return to the application later.
So if possible, print a hard copy of the online form and write a draft before completing the final copy online. Type up your answers to the questions offline first, so that you have thoughtful answers prepared. Make sure you are using the key words you highlighted from the job description.
Be sure to mention the company’s name – twice! Good applications clearly tailor answers to questions, and link them back to a company’s mission, values and current activities. Companies want to hear about why the role or area you have applied for interests you, and where and how this interest started.
Check your answers for grammar and spelling so they are ready to paste into the online form.
Estimate how long it might take to fill out the application online, so you have plenty of time to complete and check the application once you start.
Filling out the online form
Read the instructions on the application form carefully. If you don’t follow the instructions, your application might be rejected before someone ever gets to read it.
Answer all of the questions. Seems obvious … but some systems might automatically reject applications with blank fields. Just as some recruiters or hiring managers might skip over applications that aren’t complete.
When responding to questions or selection criteria, your answers shouldn’t be a simple yes or no. You should give as much detail as possible, including examples of how you meet the requirements of the job.
Fill out every field. By filling out every field, you are giving yourself the opportunity to stand out from other applicants, and also demonstrating your interest in the job. Stick to word limits, but make your answers as informative as you can, while keeping them short and to the point.
Use professional language. Many people also associate writing online with informality. But when you apply for a job online, you want to look professional and that means writing more formally. For example – you should write ‘chemistry laboratory’ and not just ‘chemistry lab’.
Creating a tone that makes you sound desperate to get the job is not helpful, regardless of how true it is. Make the company want to hire you based on your skills, personal attributes and values. Don’t ask them to hire you, just explain why they should want to.
Once you’ve finished filling in the form, take a quick break and then come back and read over it again – you might notice something that you’ve missed or overlooked. Once you think everything’s ready to go, read over the instructions one last time before sending, just in case you missed something.
Leave enough time to meet the deadline
Not only do you have to make sure you get your application in on time, but you also need to leave yourself enough time to do a good job. If you start working on your application early enough, you won’t have to rush to get it finished on time, and your application will be all the better for it.
Make sure the application is error-free
Before hitting the ‘send’ button, you should always check your application for spelling and grammar, and make sure there are no errors.
Once you have registered and applied for a vacancy, your details may be saved and used to automatically populate future application forms if you apply for a role with the same company. So your errors may ‘live on’ and potentially harm your chances of getting a job with that employer for much longer.
What about a cover letter?
Depending on the application, you might need to either attach the cover letter as a separate document (always check what file formats they will accept!), or you might have to type a cover letter into the application form. Either way, it’s best to write your cover letter offline, then cut and paste it into the form if you need to.
If in doubt, it is better to include a cover letter that addresses the selection criteria, as well as typing information into the form.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your CV
We’ve seen many online systems recently which want to use your LinkedIn profile to auto-fill fields. If you are going to use this, work on your LinkedIn profile first, and make sure it matches your CV, especially if you need to attach the latter to the application.
Clean up your other social media. Every company or recruiter will check your social media – and likely right at the start of the hiring process. Make sure you don’t have public images or content that would distract or even deter someone from wanting to hire you. Make sure your online data is working for you, not against you.
If you are going to be applying for jobs, it’s a good idea to set up an address that sounds professional. For example, your first name and last name with ‘@xmail.com’ at the end is going to look more professional in a ‘From’ field or on a CV than something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
An added benefit of setting up a new email address is that you can direct all emails to do with job applications into a separate email box or account, which helps you manage them much better and filter them out from your other personal emails.
Good luck with your job hunting!