Next to dwindling unemployment benefits and recruiters who don't return phone calls, the biggest gripes I hear from job seekers are about the online job application process.
Either the systems crash and lose all the brilliant answers you've just spent the past two hours inputting. Or they request personal information you wouldn't even give in a face-to-face interview, like your social security number. And, more often than not, there's no confirmation that your data was actually received.
Among the ways I've heard candidates describe these digital application tools: "despicable," "de-humanizing," "exasperating," "Byzantine," "barbaric," "invasive," "abusive," "nightmarish," "useless" and "clearly written by crazed, blind hermits."
"One application I gave up on was 72 pages long. Forty-eight of those were psychological profile questions," said a candidate who was trying to throw her hat into the ring for a retail job.
"You apply, apply and apply and hear absolutely nothing. The silence is deafening," said a job hunter who'd completed 400 online applications in the past year without hearing a peep.
"It's probably quicker and easier to be hired by the CIA," said another applicant.
So what's a job seeker to do?
I asked a handful of seasoned recruiters, HR professionals and career coaches for their top tips on saving one's time and sanity when applying for jobs online. Here's what they had to say.
Experts agree: If your initial point of contact with a company is your application hitting their database, you're going about this job hunting thing all wrong.
Your first step should be to "use LinkedIn, Facebook or other online sources to find and connect with someone within the company," said Lauren Milligan of ResuMAYDAY, a career coaching firm based in Warrenville, Ill.
Of course, you can't just waltz up to someone's Web profile and start making demands.
"Instead, ask them about their own experiences with the company and what advice they would give to someone seeking employment there," Milligan said. "If the conversation goes well, ask them to take a look at your resume and see if someone with your experience would be a good fit."
Then offer a heartfelt thanks and invite them to call on you to return the favor any time, she added.
Even if your BFF, next door neighbor or dear Aunt Susie hand delivers your resume to their company's HR department or hiring manager, there's a decent chance you'll still be asked to apply online. And if you want to be considered for the gig, you'd be wise to oblige.
When applying online, being more organized than you've ever been in your life is key.
"Have all of your information completed in an unformatted text document before you begin -- every single thing that you could be asked so you can cut and paste into the application as quickly as possible," said Sherri Edwards of Resource Maximizer, a career coaching firm based in Seattle.
Organizing your resume chronologically will make the process easier, Edwards said. Besides, it's a must for application databases, which don't look kindly on functional resumes (aka, non-chronological ones), she explained.