Nearly every employer uses a job application form as a part of the hiring process. Some employers use software known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS systems) to create online job application forms candidates must complete for consideration before they can be invited for an interview. Other employers will schedule phone, or even initial interviews, solely based on resumes and cover letters, but later, they will then ask a group of finalists to complete a job application to move forward. These job applications may seem redundant to candidates, but employers will usually submit them to a third-party background check service to verify employment dates, as well as check criminal history and credit score.
Whether you find yourself applying for a position using an online job application form, or if you’re handed one after the first round of interviews, it’s important to complete your job application correctly to maximize your chances of landing a job offer. To do so, complete the job application with the same effort and diligence you used in crafting your resume, even if you’ve already given your potential employer a copy of yours.
Check In With References
If you’re in the market for a new position, check in with the people you plan to list for references before you add them to your job application. References can enhance your overall candidacy by emphasizing and reinforcing key skills that you’ve shared with your prospective employer. You should call each reference before you begin to interview and share with each one specific attributes you’d appreciate if they’d highlight.
If an employer calls a reference with whom you have not spoken in years, they may not share those key points. Moreover, they may, in fact, be irritated that you expect them to provide a reference without the courtesy of a call and provide one that’s a bit less than glowing.
Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts
Before you submit a job application, cover letter, or resume, you should review your social media accounts for posts and content that may make you less appealing as a candidate. Delete any posts that are racist, sexist, or similarly offensive. If your Facebook page has a lot of risqué photos on it, for example, make that page private or delete the photos. And if you share strong opinions some would consider controversial or offensive, make your page private. Hiring managers often check a candidate’s social media accounts to get a better sense of who they are as a person and whether they will fit into the company’s culture. But if they see content that conflicts with their organizational culture, corporate values, and mission on a job candidate’s page, they may very well pass on that candidate.
Now that you’re on to filling out the job application itself, first and foremost…
Discrepancies between a job application and a resume can torpedo your chances of receiving a job offer. Don’t include skills you don’t have to score an interview, as the interview or an onsite skills test may quickly reveal your deception. Make sure the information you complete is an honest reflection of your work experience and education. If there are gaps in your work experience, don’t fudge the numbers or lie. Chances are even if you don’t get caught immediately, discrepancies, omissions, and lies, will come back to haunt you at some point.
Provide Accurate Information
Make sure to double-check the dates of employment you entered as well as the years you attended school. Also, make sure you’re listing prior titles accurately. A third-party background check firm may raise flags with your potential employer if the information they gather is inconsistent with what’s listed on your job application. Even honest mistakes can call into question your integrity, professionalism, and attention to detail, so make sure that all the information you list is accurate.
Align with Your Resume
Make sure that you are employing the same strategies to showcase your background that you used on your resume. Even if it feels tedious to regurgitate what you’ve already uploaded or submitted, make sure the two documents are consistent.
On both documents, don’t describe your experience by adding generic bullet points that start with “Responsible for…” Instead, include tangible examples of the value you’ve created at your previous employers. Use numbers when possible. For example, if you helped develop a new pitch that the sales team used to have a record-breaking year, share how much revenue you helped your company achieve in dollars. This approach should be mirrored on your resume as well.
And like your resume, your job application should contain keywords and phrases that mirror those of the description of the job to which you are applying. ATS systems rank and sort job applications by how many of these keywords and phrases are found in the resumes they receive. The more matching keywords and phrases, the more prominently your resume will be displayed in the ATS dashboard the hiring manager sees. A hiring manager, pressed for time, may only choose from the first dozen or so resumes with the highest number of matching keywords and discard all the rest. So make sure that your online job application mirrors the job description (and your resume) as much as possible.