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With so many people looking for work I decided to offer a Special Edition Monthly Memo and I found the perfect person to write it. My long-time friend and colleague John Menzies just finished three non-stop months in job search mode after about 30 years of employment. Thankfully John found a new job and now he’s ready to share with you some of the lessons he learned about applying for work in an online world. Thanks John!
-Cary

The online job application process can seem daunting. Some employers simply ask for an email (read: cover letter) with an attached resume, while others utilize online application tools with elaborate categories and fields requiring data entry. Regardless, the goal of applying online remains the same: to acquire an interview for the position.

Here are my Top 5 suggestions when applying online for a job.

1. Embrace the digital
Immerse yourself in this new frontier. Acquire a word processing program (you can find legitimate software with free downloads). Use Google, LinkedIn, and other resources to learn the names and correct titles of people referenced (or not referenced) in a job posting. Create a “Job” folder on your hard drive and maintain subfolders for each position you seek. Date each subfolder’s title and save relevant documents within for quick recall (i.e., the job posting, your resume, cover letter, info you gather about the position or the employer, and all email correspondences).

2. Tailor your resume to the job
This rule has not changed for the online world. Your resume and cover letter must reflect the qualifications the employer seeks. Include reference numbers, job codes, and any other clues within the job listing, such as keywords. Incorporate the wording used in the listing (the keywords) into your resume and letter — because some companies use automated resume readers to scan for keywords and determine an applicant’s merit. Create three documents for each job application: (1) your resume, (2) a cover letter and (3) a document with your resume followed by your letter (I recommend this for the application sites that allow only one document to be uploaded. If you’ve worked on a killer cover letter, you want them to read it.)

3. It’s okay to apply for more than one position at a company
Just remember to submit separate applications for each position, and be certain the details on the resumes do not conflict. One HR pro said applying for two different jobs is fine. HR staffs understand the environment in which we live, although one company prominently posted a limit of five applications per person. Write separate cover letters for each position and affirm what you bring to the company and the position.

4. Stay focused and remain patient
It can take up to an hour to fill out some online application forms. Online forms vary from employer to employer — there is no standard. Focus on one job application at a time and proofread everything before you start (I’ve heard some companies timestamp your application process from start to finish). The last thing you want to do is attach an error to your application, or take longer than necessary to accomplish the task.

5. Keep your references and resume handy when applying
Minimize these documents on your desktop for easy access. You never know when you’ll need to refer to, if not cut and paste, information during an online application. Assemble a master list for your references, including current address, email address, phone number, current job title and employer. Some online forms ask for these details.

One offline suggestion:
If you don’t hear from an employer after seven days, you can send a follow-up letter via snail mail to the contact person (or generic Hiring Manager). Inboxes can fill up, and networks and servers do crash. I mailed a follow-up to an HR director reaffirming my interest in a position, and she emailed me to say my name and resume were not in their database. She asked me to email my resume directly to her personal address. This was a company that was positioning itself as a new media enterprise. While their Web home page may have been cutting edge, their backend tools for HR and job seekers fell short.

Remember, HR departments are being inundated with applications. One HR pro told me she received 700 applications for one job in a two-week period. HR departments were lean and busy during the days of low unemployment. Things have only ratcheted up for them.

Don’t expect a personal response in today’s climate. Many companies do not send auto-generated responses to let you know they received your application. Be grateful for the professionals who take the time to reply, even if their email contains bad news (and vow to send handwritten Thank Yous after every interview).

Good luck in your hunt. You must always believe that there is a job out there waiting for you. Some days will be discouraging, but you cannot give up hope. Keep on typing.