Why is applying to jobs online so darn…. complicated?
Don’t believe me? Try it. Visit an employer’s career portal and select a posted position. Then click the “Apply Now” button.
Buckle in, because this is where it gets rough. Prepare to be bombarded with an endless procession of requests, mandatory fields, and seemingly arbitrary data to complete:
—>Create a Username and Password (required)
—>Upload your resume (required)
—>Enter your contact information (required)
—>Enter your address (required)
—>How did you hear about this position? (required)
—>What are your salary requirements? (required)
—>What is your willingness to travel? (required)
—>What is your willingness to relocate? (required)
… and on. And on. And on.
Then you’re asked to enter all the employment and education data from your resume that the system seemed to parse out of your resume when you uploaded it. Manually. Field by field.
In the end, you’re looking at investing around 30 minutes for each online application you fill out. It’s a process that’s painful and demoralizing, especially considering that thousands of other job seekers are applying online to the same job and the chances of your resume being seen by a human being are pretty darn low.
Why would employers do it this way?
Why would they put in place a process that is so deliberately opaque and difficult to navigate?
As someone who spent almost two decades as a recruiter, I can assure you that companies usually try to build hiring process with the best of intentions.
They want to be an employer of choice, and they want people to feel good about applying to their company.
But they also want their recruiters to be as efficient as possible. And with the average corporate recruiter responsible for filling an active load of 20 or 30 open positions, maximizing their time is essential.
So companies invest in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). They use these system to store job descriptions, approve and process new jobs, and collect job applications.
The latest ATSs are pretty powerful technology. From an employer’s standpoint, one of the most valuable features of an ATS is the ability to incorporate extensive screening criteria so the system can review each application and rank each one against the criteria in the job description.
Look at it this way – how valuable is it for an employer to have the system sort through the thousands of applications, and provide the recruiter with a short list of 20 to 30 applicants who check all the boxes?
It’s great for the company in the sense that their recruiters are saving dozens of hours that would have been sifting through resumes. But if the ATS doesn’t have a strong data engine to parse, pull, and synthesize data from the resumes, employers will usually default to pushing that work on the applicants in the form of additional fields to complete. And ATSs make it very easy to add screening questions to an online job application – hence, the litany of qualifying questions and endless mandatory fields to fill in. This also doesn’t help the candidate experience.
Unfortunately, when it comes to companies that rely on ATS platforms for their hiring, there’s not much you can do to avoid the online application gauntlet. In fact, many employers tell applicants they won’t even talk to them unless they’ve first filled out an application online.
But there are actions you can take to make your online application more effective:
Make sure your resume is ATS-friendly. In order to make it easier for the ATS to parse the data in your resume and hopefully avoid excessive re-typing, use a single-column format. Don’t include large tables or graphics as these can make a resume hard to scan. Even if you follow these guidelines, there could still be issues parsing data – if so, try saving your resume as a .txt file and uploading that version.
Improve your chances with the search filters. You’ve heard about keywords - the technical and soft skills listed in the job description. Before uploading your resume, read the job description. Really read it. Identify the skills the company is looking for in this particular role and sprinkle these into the text of your resume.
Don’t rely on your online application alone – shake a tree. There’s a lot you can do to get noticed. After applying online (sorry, you’ve got to play the game), try to identify the decision maker for the position on LinkedIn. Then send them a brief note – via LinkedIn or through email – to inform them that you’ve applied online, you have the qualifications for the role, and would love to connect with them. Your well-timed message can potentially put your candidacy front of center, regardless of how the ATS scores your resume.
Work your network. It’s a big world out there, and there’s the possibility you know someone (or someone who knows someone) at the employer who can put your resume securely into the hands of the hiring manager. At many companies, good referrals carry more weight than a random online application.
Let LinkedIn do the work for you. This is about playing the long game, generating interest in employers so that they pursue you and you spend less time chasing online job ads. Companies pay a lot of money for LinkedIn subscriptions that enable them to mine the system for passive candidates. Invest time in building a strong LinkedIn profile, loaded with keywords and accomplishments so that you’ll show up in their searches. And constantly grow and nurture your network with high-impact connections so that you elevate your online brand.