26 August 2008

Applying for Jobs through the Web

Job applications have changed. In the past 6 months I have run across exactly one print form that resembled employment applications of my youth. As I have applied for jobs in the education sphere, I have used online forms and portals to submit my requests. Some have covered a lot of the same items as a traditional application, but some have been markedly different. When the hiring process went to the next step (approved for hire), I had to fill out and submit paper forms for IRS, payroll, and background checks. But notice that employers wait until the hiring decision has been made to process all that paperwork.

New tasks for boomers. I maintain that we boomers are ill-prepared for these new hiring processes. I didn't say we cannot learn them—just that we are caught by surprise. In fact, I found myself repeatedly caught by surprise and stumbling over these new ways until I developed my heuristic, my 75¢ word for "a way to do this."

1 - Preview the application page: When possible (and it isn't, always) I open the online application page and capture what is needed. Methods: copy/paste the page, take a screenshot, write or type a list of the headings. I then close the page and prepare my materials before re-opening for the submission.

2 - Read instructions: As we speed-read web pages, it's easy to skip over anything that looks like an instruction. But many web sites do spell out what is needed in order to make a valid application. They may even specify the type of file required—definitely worth reading. I print out instructions and use a highlighter to check off the requirements as I complete them.

3 - Create a folder on my hard-drive for every potential employer: When I create notes for transfer to an application form, I save the file along with the resume or C.V. that I submit. This means I have multiple folders with the same or nearly the same resume in them. That's OK. Some employers require multiple applications (in my field, maybe not in yours) and I need this historical record of what I've already said.

4 - Update or tailor my resume: Before every application I review my C.V. (curriculum vitae or academic resume) and update it. I keep it current to the month; usually that means I enter a date that a work was published or presented and remove the item from the "accepted" category. In my field, a C.V. is a pretty standard thing but occasionally I do tailor it for a specific job. That might be flipping the order of teaching experience and research supervision. Yep, pretty dry stuff.

5 - Prep resume in multiple file formats: I save the file as both a .doc and a .pdf (file extensions after a sound filename, like Mary-Bold-CV). I intentionally do not use the newer Word extension of .docx because I know that many, many receiving computers won't have the newer version of the software. So, I save the file in the older format and, in fact, I keep my software in "Compatibility Mode" most of the time. I also convert the Word doc to PDF because that's my preferred file type for submission and I like to have it ready in case it will be welcomed. My computer has a PDF distiller built in and I access it by selecting Printer > PDF in Microsoft Office applications. (There are also free web services for this; google "PDF file conversion" for options.)

6 - Prep text for a cover letter: Using Notepad on my PC, I create a plain vanilla text file (carries the extension .txt) with typical phrases that I would use in a cover letter. Some online application pages offer a text field for a cover letter or "message." Having a file ready for every application has a bonus: they serve as a pool of statements that I can re-use and re-fashion for different employers. A .txt file is ideal for copy/pasting to an online form because there is no formatting code being transferred with the characters. For cleanest copy/paste: even if I type in Word Wrap format in Notepad, I turn off that function before I copy/paste the text to another location. (Use the pull-down menu for Format and check/uncheck Word Wrap.)

7 - Prep text for a list of qualifications: On about half of applications I have had opportunity to answer a question such as "What qualifications do you have for this position?" I choose to reply with a list, not a cover letter, in order to provide a highly readable set of factoids. (A paragraph is not necessarily well-read. Anywhere. Which we all know from blog life.)

  • I entitle the list Summary of Qualifications and avoid writing an introduction.
  • I use short phrases that will appear on a single line.
  • If I must use longer phrases, I number the list and hit [Enter] after each entry. (I do not try to create bullets and I definitely do not copy/paste bullets from Word because they often transform into unintended characters.)

8 - Prep frequent entries to avoid typos: Again, using a .txt file with Word Wrap turned off, I create a list of address, phone, email contact, etc., that can be copy/pasted. Thus, I don't have to spend much time proof-reading a submission page.

9 - Prep URL links to my web pages: Using full addresses (starting with http://), I provide links to pertinent web-published materials. I prefer to use only the URLs that I maintain myself so that I know they will remain active. Sometimes I provide a link to a publication or presentation on a journal or organization site—but only if I am confident that the link will be alive for a long time.

10 - And what I would do if I didn't have a URL to share: I would make one. In today's world, job applicants are checked out on the web. You can conduct your own "vanity google search" of your name to see how/if you are represented on the web. You can create a web presence pretty easily, either with a profile page on LinkedIn or a web page of your own making. You don't have to enter personal contact information and, in fact, I don't recommend it. (Your purpose would be to provide samples or representation of your work with the URL you provide in the job application—so you will have already provided contact information on the employer's web form.)

  • User-friendly web page creation: Google Sites accessed with a free Google account. You can create a one- or multi-page website in just a few minutes. Before you share it with a potential employer, ask a friend or colleague to test the link and also proofread the text. While you may feel an impulse to populate it with graphics, resist that urge. Think staid and formal. Treat the web page as a business document that looks a bit like a resume but without the personal data.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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