Online Job Applications: 5 Helpful Tips

Screen shot 2013-05-27 at 10.34.27 AMHumankind has achieved many great things. We’ve been up into space and down into the deepest reaches of the ocean. We’ve cured diseases and built cities. We’ve mapped the Earth and the stars. We’ve done everything… except build an easy-to-use, fully-functional online job application system.

Not that every problem you run into is the application’s fault. No, it could be a design issue, a connection issue, a browser issue, a user error, or any mixture of those components. Still, these systems are not (and might never be) 100% reliable, so it’s good to be careful. Here are some quick and easy tips to help you avoid issues when applying for jobs over the web.

1. Save your stuff now, save yourself frustration later: Let’s say the job app requires you to answer an essay question. Well, if you’re in the middle of typing it directly into the text box and your connection goes down or the page times out or you hit “cancel” instead of “submit,” you’re up a creek. That’s why it’s always good a good idea to do your work in a document, save it to your hard drive, and then paste it where it needs to go. Then, if something goes wrong online, you’re just a control-v away from getting back on track.

2. Speaking of pasting, keep it plain and simple: Microsoft Word is a great program because it gives you a variety of different formatting options. The downside: when you copy and paste text from Word, it brings all that formatting along with it. Putting that formatting through an online job application is kind of like feeding duck foie gras to your dog; he’ll take it, but you’re going to like how it looks when it comes out the other end. Using a plain text editor like Notepad or TextEdit will keep the application from jumbling up your text (just make sure your plain text editor has spell check).

3. When you absolutely need formatting, PDFs are your friend: Sometimes you don’t get text boxes. Sometimes you’re asked to upload a file. In that case, save everything you need – your resume, your cover letter, your writing samples, etc. – as PDFs. A PDF locks everything into place: word placement, font, all that stuff. You’d be amazed at how different your Word Doc or InDesign file might look if the person who receives it uses just a slightly different version.

4. Don’t believe the auto-fill: Whenever your browser says that it can fill in your information for you, don’t just blindly trust it. Maybe you’ve moved since the last time you filled out a form, or gotten a new phone number or email address. But even less trustworthy than your browser’s auto-fill is this feature that some online job applications have where they read the resume you uploaded, take that information, and put it where they think it goes. ALWAYS double check this stuff; otherwise, you might submit an application to the job of your dreams with your name listed as “Amherst College.”

5. LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn: remember the Common App, the application that you could fill out and send to most of the colleges you were applying to? LinkedIn is like that for job application systems; you can often connect to your LinkedIn profile and it’ll grab your name, contact info, and employment history for you. By keeping that profile up-to-date, professional, and typo-free, you’re saving yourself a lot of time and effort that would otherwise be wasted retyping your personal information over and over again.

That’s my advice. Tell us about your experience using online job application systems in the comments.

The Interview: What is your greatest weakness?

4607149210_0d0882a0b8_mI never know exactly how to answer the question, “what is your greatest weakness?” and not because I don’t have one. No, quite the contrary, I have bunches and bunches of them, and I could (and sometimes do) spend hours cataloging each one. Still, I don’t think someone interviewing me for a job is really looking for stuff like, “I should do more push-ups,” or “I should eat fewer processed foods.”

But that’s just the thing: what is the interviewer looking for? Nobody seems to be very sure. You could ask ten different people how to answer, “What is your greatest weakness?” and get ten different answers.

Some people would tell you to use the “just jam a strength in there” approach. I.e. “My greatest weakness is that I get too invested in my work!” or “My written and verbal communication skills are so strong many people at lesser companies than yours find them intimidating!” But while putting a positive spin might seem like a good idea, it’s not. You don’t want to come off as someone who’s afraid to be wrong. The question is meant to gage your level of self-awareness; they want to know if you can admit to having flaws. By cheating the question, you’re missing the point and hurting your chances.

On the other hand, you don’t want to say something that totally ruins your image. Be confident, even when talking about areas you could improve in. Remember: you applied for this job because you thought you could do it. And you’re not the only one who thinks so, either. They don’t call candidates for an interview by picking names out of a hat. The interviewer asked you to come in because he or she thinks you show some promise. Don’t say anything to make him or her regret that decision.

So then, what should you do?

Here’s my advice: before the interview, look at the job description’s qualifications section. Skip the required stuff and go down to where they list what they’d prefer. Do you see anything there that you’re working on, a skill you’re in the process of developing? Focus on that. Because it’s preferred and not required, you can admit to not being entirely proficient in it without killing your shot at the job. In fact, that you’re working on a preferred skill shows you understand what is necessary not only to fill the position, but to excel at it.

That’s my take. What about you? How do you answer this question? Share your stories and pointers in the comments!

(photo by Flickr user bpusf used under a Creative Commons License)

When the Internet Speaks, Half-Listen

3445354287_eef9337fab_qAre we living in the information age or the opinion age? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Yes, there are innumerable resources available to us in as little time as it takes to type a few words into a search engine, but for each of those resources there are ten critics. And that’s fine, except for one problem: these critics don’t call themselves critics; they call themselves experts.

One such “expert” is Penelope Trunk, co-founder of the Brazen Careerist. The area of her expertise: why grad school is unnecessary. In her LinkedIn note, she lays out many of the common reasons why people go to graduate school and then explains why these reasons are stupid. These explanations are swift, simple, and if I’m honest, lacking in the thought department.

So your excuse is that your parents are paying? Penelope says, get your parents to buy you a company instead. So you’re going to graduate school for free? No you’re not, says Penelope; you’re spending time! You want an enriching, spiritual journey? Penelope has a great idea for that one: go to therapy.

Some of her conclusions are narrow-minded; in response to the assertion that not everything in life is about your career, she says, “Sure, when you’re a kid, everything is not about careers. But when you grow up, everything is about earning enough money for food and shelter.” Others of her conclusions are just untrue; in response to someone who is considering teaching, she says, “Forget it. There are no teaching jobs.” Are teaching jobs difficult to get? Sure. But there are a few of them out there; any job search engine will tell you that.

In Penelope’s mind, going to grad school is what people do when they can’t find jobs. And finding jobs is something that Penelope is very familiar with. Just check out her LinkedIn profile, and you’ll see that she’s been steadily employed since 1994.

Now, I want you to do something weird for me: try to imagine what your voice sounded like before you went through puberty. Can you? No, you can’t, because when things change, it’s hard to remember what they were like in the first place. This is Penelope’s problem. She can say, “It’s simple. Don’t go to grad school; get a job,” because it’s been a long time since she was a 22-year-old college graduate without any idea what comes next. The employed life is the only one she knows anymore.

Really what all this adds up to is, be careful out there. The internet is full of useful information, but some of what gets called information is really just opinion disguised as a series of firm statements. When you’re a blogger, comments are currency. And you don’t get comments by saying, “Hey, maybe think twice before you decide to go to grad school because it’s not for everyone.” You get comments by saying, “Don’t go to grad school.”

What do you think of Penelope’s arguments? Have you/are you planning on going to grad school? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by flickr user Jorge Quinteros, used under a Creative Commons License.

How public are you?

6829378917_6439415c2c_qImagine for a moment that you’ve just interviewed for what sounds like a great job. You go home and get on Linkedin and, GASP, the guy who interviewed you has looked at your profile! Exciting, right? He’s obviously there to check out your skills and experience and endorsements and recommendations! Or maybe he just wants your profile picture.

You see, Google has a feature that you might not know about: Search By Image. Essentially, it means you can use a picture as your search term. Kinda neat, huh? Well, as the Undercover Recruiter points out, this can be used as a (pretty creepy) way to look up job candidates’ social media profiles.

Now, this might not be a problem for some of you. Maybe you use Twitter as a repository for articles about viral marketing. Maybe you and your friends on Facebook have insightful and well-mannered discussions about the changing landscape of digital publishing. Maybe you don’t mind a prospective employer seeing all of your online activity, or inactivity if we’re talking about Google+. (Just kidding, people actually do use Google+… supposedly.)

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You are allowed to separate yourself as a job candidate from yourself as… well… yourself. And if that’s something that’s important to you, make sure that a) you’ve got your privacy settings where you want them, and b) anything that strangers can see is professional, appropriate, or, at the very least, not too scandalous.

How do you maintain your social media profiles? Do you let the world look in on your life or do you keep that stuff under lock and key? Let us know in the comments.

Photo from flickr user Victor1558, used under a Creative Commons License

Between the Quote Marks

225AM’s goal is to become the standard tool for college students, alumni and career service centers for managing and organizing the job acquisition process. Having created the category, 225am seeks to support the student internship and employment candidate from their first job through to mid-career transitions. 225am has developed and provided the first and only tool for helping the student acquire meaningful employment.