5 Tips to Optimize Your Online Job Application

Job boards and career networking sites help people apply online for positions with as little as one click on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

The ease of online job applications has led hiring managers and recruiters to be bombarded with resumes. To help save time and streamline the process of sorting through hundreds of resumes, companies are implementing applicant tracking systems (ATS) to help recruiters work faster to find and place good candidates. Some applicant trackers are part of talent acquisition software solutions that may include other ways of screening candidates, including scanning social media sites.

According to resume builder site Jobscan, 90% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to sort through resumes and narrow down which ones are the best fit for the positions advertised. For example, car rental firm Enterprise uses talent acquisition software to sort through about 50,000 applicants a month, according to The New York Times. The software picks out those who meet the minimum requirements such as having a bachelor’s degree and satisfactory driving record, and forwards applications to recruiters.

This means your resume, cover letter and fill-in-the-blank answers are most likely reviewed by a software “robot” before reaching a real person.

“This is the part that can worry job-seekers,” said Gene Durkee, Director of Career and Life Planning at New England College.

“Simply put, when a resume is uploaded online for a specific position with a company, the ATS software ‘reads’ the resume, scanning for particular keywords that indicate a match between the applicant and the particular job or position,” Durkee said. “If the software doesn’t ‘see’ an appropriate amount of keywords (and resumes can be ranked in this way), the online applicant is automatically disqualified.”

How do you stand out when robots are reading your resume? Below are five tips to help optimize your online job application in the new age of digital recruitment.

Create and Update Your LinkedIn Profile

If you haven’t created a profile on LinkedIn, take a few minutes to join the world’s largest professional networking site. Not only can recruiters and hiring managers review information shared on your profile, some applicant tracking systems pull LinkedIn profiles into company databases, which are then combined with completed job applications for review.

A basic profile should include everything listed on your resume, a professional summary and a photo, preferably a professional headshot. Creating a profile on LinkedIn also allows you to share additional information not included on your resume like special projects, volunteer experience, and accomplishments and awards.

Research a Company Before You Apply

Learn more about the position and company you are pursuing. Information on the company’s website and LinkedIn profile could provide insight into its mission and values, which can be weaved into your resume and cover letter. It’s a great way to show a recruiter or hiring manager you are seriously interested in working at a particular company.

Use Keywords in Your Resume

Review the job description closely and identify keywords that can be included in your resume, cover letter and any other section of the application. According to Durkee, you can avoid creating different resumes for each job application by generating one with keywords that align to a specific function or industry, and sprinkling them throughout your resume and cover letter. For example, reviewing a few job ads for sales positions will reveal keywords like:

  • “building and managing client relationships”
  • “identify a target list” or “identify target prospects”
  • “proven track-record of meeting and exceeding sales goals”

Include a Cover Letter

Although cover letters may be optional for online job postings, it’s a good idea to include one. A cover letter will allow you to show your personality, sell your skills and expertise, and share your interest and passion for a position. A cover letter should not repeat the information included on your resume; rather, it should provide examples that support your experience and skills.

“Make sure that your letter expresses not only your background qualifications, but your motivations for wanting the job and for joining the company,” Durkee said. “Let them know why you want to work in a museum, or sell solar panels for residential properties, or work as a freelance reporter.”

Overall, a strong cover letter should address four fundamental questions:

  • Why are you writing? Are you inquiring about possible openings or applying for a position posted on a job site?
  • Why do you think you are a good fit for a position? Give examples of how you have demonstrated skills or characteristics that the employer needs for the position you seek. Durkee advises you to think of specific examples, such as:
    • Did you compete as an athlete during high school or college? (for a sales position)
    • Did you take a special course on manufacturing in New England, or on art history? (for a position at a museum)
    • Did you develop writing skills in any classes?
    • Have you ever made formal or information presentations at work or in clubs or civic organizations?
  • Why are you interested? Demonstrate how you have researched the company, and explain why the organization’s mission and/or goals interest you.
  • What will you do next? Indicate you look forward to a response from the company, or that you will follow up with a phone call or email to set up an interview, at the close of your letter.

Complete All Sections

It’s important to fill in all of the blanks, even if it means typing out your entire resume after uploading it as a Word or a PDF file. It can be tempting to leave sections blank if you feel you’ve already provided enough information. However, what you type in manually may be more visible to an ATS “robot” than a resume, so remember to tailor the information to match the keywords included in the job description.

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