Easing the Pain of Online Job Applications

So you have researched the company, found a job or jobs that you are qualified for and are now ready to fill out an application. Now you face the daunting task of using an employer's web-based application system.  Painful.  There is no other way to describe the process for submitting online job applications.  However, here are several helpful shortcuts that can make this process more effective and less frustrating. 

Short-cuts to Less Frustration and Better Quality Online Applications

Data Fields: Create and store on your hard-drive a plain Word/text document with all of the information that is typically required in applications.  This includes:  chronology of employment (company name, dates of employment, position title, job description, accomplishments, supervisor’s name and contact information, salary, reason for leaving); education (institution, city, state, area of concentration, years of attendance, graduation date, degree attained,); and, references (name, address, email, phone).  As you work through the online applications, you can often “cut and paste” whole sections from this plain text document to the online forms.  This not only saves time but improves the accuracy and consistency of the information that you submit to multiple prospective employers.

Resume:  Create a plain Word/text resume.  Eliminate any special formatting.  If you are given the opportunity to upload your resume, use this one.  Most of the online tools strip out all of the formatting.  Go back and review the resume online and add extra lines to make it easy to read. 

Detailed Guidelines:

  • Fill out the application as completely as required. Most online applications will not let you move forward if you have missed a “required field”.
  • Remember that your online application must exactly/very closely match your resume(s) and LinkedIn.  Employers look for inconsistency in your "story" - and you are telling your "life and work-life story" with your resume and application.  Tell it well.  
  • On the field regarding "salary required," leave blank if possible or fill in “negotiable”.  If a dollar amount is required, fill in $1.  The employer will know that you are open.  Some online applications require you to pick from a salary range, do so based on your knowledge of the job market for which you are applying (not your last job or career).  Do your homework using tools like Indeed.com and Salary.com - you only get one chance at this field.
  • Have a short but always truthful answer for “Reason left/leaving” former and current employer.  Whether you authorize your former employers to release information or not, the savvy Recruiter/Hiring Manager will figure out why you did leave!
  • If former job duties are asked for, do not put ‘see resume’.  Go ahead and fill in a summary statement or copy and paste from your tailored resume.  Make it easy on the application reviewer.
  • Supplementary information, i.e. sex, race, veteran status.  Most companies make this "optional" but not providing the information gives the impression that you are hiding something.  All government contractors are required to ask these questions and you do NOT want to appear contrary.
  • Many companies allow you to upload your resume and/or cover letter.  Follow their instructions precisely and utilize their preview tool to ensure that you have had a successful upload!


Having a diverse group of three to five individuals who are willing and able to give you excellent, relevant references, is an important part of the job search/job qualification process.  Today, most employers do take the time to contact your references.  However, recruiters and hiring managers expect those references you provided to give you an excellent endorsement.  If they sense some reluctance or shading of the truth, it is a real red flag.

To preclude a half-hearted and potentially damaging reference, confirm in advance the person’s willingness to provide an endorsement.  If you sense any hesitation, politely look elsewhere.  Ensure that the person being asked about your performance and your character is knowledgeable enough to provide a credible recommendation.  The recommendation should also be relevant to the position for which you are applying.

Finally, most employers do not check references prior to the first interview, so if you have been interviewed and feel you are still in the running, provide your references a heads-up so that they are not caught cold.  The more they know about the position you are seeking, the better their feedback will be.

Resist the Temptation to "Easy Apply"!

If you have found a position on one of the major job boards such as Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, ClearedJobs etc., you may see an "Easy Apply" button which will allow you to use your generic online resume to apply for a position.  Don't!

Whenever you have the option of applying directly to a company website, take it.  When you use the "easy apply" option, not only is your unformatted and sometimes, restructured resume submitted to the employer (along with a hundred others) some of these sites actually strip out qualifications such as military experience.

Additionally, if you use the "Easy Apply" option, the employer typically doesn't receive your personal email address or phone number.  The job board application process forces you and employer to communicate through the job board.  Your goal is to develop a one-on-one personal communications channel with the prospective employer, so apply (where possible) on the company website and eliminate the third party interference.

Job Hunting Realities

There are two common reactions to the online application process that I hear from our Veteran clients.  The first is that some believe that the number of applications submitted is an accurate measure of their job search effort and intensity.  I hear it all the time,... but I have submitted 25, or 50, or 100 applications!  

The reality of today's job search is that only about 4% of jobs are found online.  The vast majority of jobs are found through networking and referrals.  Therefore, it is imperative that you get out from behind your computer and engage personally and professionally.  Let friends and family (and former colleagues, fellow church members, other soccer parents...) know that you are looking for a new position.  Volunteer, participate in professional organizations and be seen as someone who is engaged in life and in the job search.  

Secondly, 99% of employers do not acknowledge online applications beyond a "thank you for your interest in xxx company" message that passes across the screen.  Many job seekers are appalled at this apparent indifference (and so am I).  However, for each open position, a US employer is likely to get between 150-250 applicants.  Their initial goal is to get that number down to the 10-12 "best candidates."  To improve your odds to be in that select few,  apply selectively for positions that are a fit for your skills, experience, education, and aspirations.  Read the fine print in terms of non-negotiable requirements such as Security Clearances.   Complete the online application completely and accurately.  

Finally, keep faith in yourself.  The job search can be an emotional roller-coaster.  The online application process is a necessary, admittedly frustrating, part of the process.  Stay the course.

If you are a Veteran and would like assistance with your job search, we at Still Serving Veterans are here to help.

Reflections by Paulette M. Risher (MG, US Army, Retired), Chief Programs Officer, Still Serving Veterans, prisher@ssv.org