Job Hunting Online: Escaping the Nine Circles of Application Hell

Save every application detail into one document, from the e-mail address and password you used to access the system to any answers you provided that weren't on your master cheat sheet, Edwards said. Not only does this create a handy record of the jobs you've pursued, it can prevent you from losing your work if the system crashes mid-application.

As for those still grieving for their pretty, formatted resumes of yesteryear, it's time to embrace the 21st century and move on.

Any fancy formatting just gets turned into gibberish in these databases, said Kristen Fife, a recruiter at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Recruiters want the substance of your resume. They don't care what it looks like," she said. "Save your nice, formatted version for when you send your resume by e-mail or when you go in for an interview."

Customize, Customize, Customize

"Most people have one or two versions of their resume," said Peter Bell, president of Peter Bell & Associates, LLC, a recruiting firm in New York.

But this is often not enough.

Instead, Bell advised, take the time to research the potential employer and, using the job description as your guide, tailor your resume (and thus, your online application) so it conveys your direct experience.

Hopefully, by now you've heard about the role keywords play in this process. (In short, these databases are set up to search your application for job-specific keywords. If you omit these magic beans, you name doesn't get plucked from the digital pile.)

Triple Up on the Keywords

"The keywords will hopefully be right there in the job description," Fife said. "These are actual skills -- they're not marketing buzzwords."

Translation: "MBA," "marketing professional," "3 to 5 years' marketing experience" and "SEO" are keywords. "Successful," "award-winning" and "seasoned" are not.

Fife recommends using each keyword at least three times throughout your resume. "That indicates to a recruiter that you've had at least two jobs with that skill," she said.

Guard Overly Personal Information with Your Life

In printed applications and phone screenings, it's easy enough to say that you don't feel comfortable providing your social security number until being offered the job. But what about when an online application won't let you proceed without completing that nine-digit field?

"If a company insists that you give a social security number, make one up to get you through the form," Fife said. "Try 010-10-1010. Use something that is not necessarily going to be flagged as just repeating the same digit over and over."

What if the form asks for salary history?

Fife recommends researching the market rate for someone with your level of experience in your geographic region ahead of time.

"Instead of giving them your past numbers, especially if you know that your past numbers are too high or low, give a range," she said, explaining that companies ask for this data to see whether you're within the $20,000 to $30,000 salary range budgeted for the position.

How about the reference conundrum -- should you give them up in an online application?

Edwards says, yes, as long as you've called them ahead of time and gotten their blessing. (Unless you're applying for agency or temporary work, most companies won't call your references before getting serious about making you an offer.)

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