Last week’s article focused on positive and successful engagements with recruiters. A recruiter is often your link to a company, and can offer valuable assistance as a connection in your vast network.
At some point during your job search (more frequently for military spouses), you will deal with (or have dealt with) the job application process. Commonly referred to as an “ATS,” the applicant tracking system is often a complex computerized system with different meanings depending on which side of the fence you sit.
Within a company, a hiring manager, recruiter, or human resources representative utilizes the ATS to track job applicants in a customized database format. These systems, while complex from an information technology perspective, are vital lifelines within any organization. They track individual job applicants, allow filtering and sorting of key data, and to the hiring manager—provide that first look at you—the job applicant. They are often utilized from the pipeline of initial contact with a recruiter all the way to a time an applicant is hired for a position.
To the job applicant, the ATS is often a source of frustration, confusion, and bitterness. Every online job application experience is uniquely different and offers a set of challenges. As a military member in transition, or a military spouse in full job search mode, the last thing you need is another complex set of rules to follow—but you must get this right. Many job seekers view the ATS and the current electronic job application process as an uphill battle. This is a fair assessment. Some companies require you to complete pages of forms, upload a resume, and often duplicate information. Others simplify the process, only requiring you to submit a resume.
If you are currently in job search mode, you must carefully set a plan before submitting a single job application online. Gone are the paper days of visiting a company and filling out a paper application on a rusty clipboard sitting in a smoke-filled waiting room. Prepare yourself in advance by following these key tips:
1. Realize and understand the bigger picture. Looking for that gig at Amazon or another large, well-established company? That’s wonderful, keep up the pace; but remember, many if not thousands of applicants are targeting the same job. Review the company’s website to get a comfortable feel on how to navigate their system. Are you on your mobile device? Chances are, the site may look and feel entirely different on your desktop in your home office. Understand what you are getting into, before you waste hours of your time.
2. Follow the instructions! Military members and spouses know this too well, yet often overlook this important detail. As you begin to complete an online job application through a company’s ATS, read and re-read the instructions and ensure you understand them before moving forward. If the company asks for your last three positions and names of supervisors, provide them ALL of the information that is asked of you. If you skip or leave a section blank, there is a chance your job application will never be reviewed. Understand the differences between a mandatory and optional field. If an item is optional, consider it mandatory. If they company “asks” you for a cover letter, go ahead and submit a nifty cover letter. These items may separate you from the pack (see item 4 below).
3. Come prepared. Before you begin to submit any application, allocate the proper time. My advice is to set aside a solid three hours for each job application. While this may sound like a considerable time drag, work this into your schedule. You may have two or three job ads in mind—block some quiet and uninterruptable time away from distractions to keep you focused. Have your one-page resume prepared. Have your last several job positions ready (Word format works great). If you are near a printer, print out the job advertisement—it will help you with those key words. If the option is available, save your work often, or better yet, work in Word or another program. Cut and paste back to the application system. This may save you frustration of the dreaded time out errors on the websites.
4. Separate yourself from the pack. As you work through the ATS and job application, you have no idea how many other individuals have applied for that same position. Keep this in mind as you prepare a cover letter (mix it up a bit), and use key words from the job ad. Remember to “speak” in the terms of the company you are applying for and not military jargon.
5. Do not fire and forget. Once you have worked your way through the job application, take a pause and review. Check for spelling and grammar errors. Ensure all fields are filled out entirely. Ready to submit? Once you submit, check your email for a follow-up, but do not rest here. Stay aggressive and follow-up with the company. Have you made contact with a recruiter? If not, seek him/her out. Find them via LinkedIn (great resource), or via the company’s website. No luck? Find a local office, a 1-800 number, or a friend who works in the company. The key here is to introduce yourself to someone within the company. Tell them how you can solve their number one pain point—by hiring you for the job!
6. Document your progress. Congratulations on submitting a job application. Track your progress through a spreadsheet or journal. Keep good records of the exact jobs you applied for, the dates, and the company. You will want this handy when your phone rings to setup an interview. It’s a great idea to also track your thoughts on the company’s application experience. Was it very difficult? Easy to navigate? Could have done something different? Track these items, as they may save you time in the future.
For all those in full “job search mode,” remember to utilize your network. Utilize a company’s recruiter. Understand your strengths and experiences. Understand the complex world of the online job application process and make it work to your advantage. Days and months from now, when you are settled into your new position, look back on this process as a life learning experience—and pay it forward to others. It’s what we do for our fellow brothers and sisters in arms, including the military spouses!
This is a 3-part series that highlights navigation of the job market. Each article will focus on both the military transition as well as the military spouse.
By: Geoffrey Phillips
Mr. Phillips is an IT specialist and professional policy writer / content editor; a non-starving writer always in search of opportunities; a USAF veteran; and a devote Church Elder and family man. His passion is in the pen and the people; he absolutely loves to assist transitioning veterans, and finds himself at peace when he is doing some sort of writing.