When you are looking for a job it can sometimes seem like everything is out of your control. You can be smart and talented and have lots of experience and you still don’t get a call. The company might have had a strong internal candidate, lots of applicants to choose from, or decided not to fill the position after all. There are many reasons why you didn’t get an interview that have nothing to do with you. It’s true, you aren’t in control.
But what if we told you that there is something you are completely in control of and yet nearly 50% of job applicants don’t do it?
They don’t follow directions when filling out an application.
A survey of HR, recruiters, and other hiring personnel said people don’t follow basic instructions when submitting their application. Usually it is omitting something. Something as simple as an email or a phone number, or bigger like a cover letter. The number for what are described as “serious” candidates is lower, roughly 30%. About 65-75% of them get it right, but that's still a lot of serious people getting it wrong.
The one thing that can be controlled 100%, and people are messing up!
It’s like a typo in your resume. Unless you're super amazing, it'll knock you out of the running immediately. Either the person looking at the application will reject you or these days, the online application system will. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a fact of life these days and they aren't programmed to be forgiving.
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So you can gain a competitive edge simply by following the instructions properly? Yes. If you simply follow the directions carefully, you'll do something plenty of others aren't. Why do so many people get it wrong? And what can you do to get it right? Here are some of the places that people end up making a mistake and how to avoid them.
Leaving out important information. Many applicants fill in their name and email but forget their phone number, or forget their email address but give the other two. Many online systems make certain fields required, to help you avoid making this mistake but other companies don’t. And what does this tell them about you? If you can’t follow instructions without the system’s help, it tells them a little about what kind of an employee you might be. Make sure you fill in all fields requesting information.
Uploading files in the wrong format. If it says upload your resume as a pdf, then do it. Don’t just assume that Word is ok. Just because the system will let you upload a different type doesn’t mean that you should. Lots of applications also ask that you paste your resume and/or cover letter as simple text into a box with no formatting. Do it. Give them what they ask for in the exact way they ask for it. Don't overlook this just because you've also attached them.
Skipping the cover letter. If they ask for a cover letter, give them one. And not just something that says, "I'm interested in position x and my resume is attached." You need to work within the spirit of the law. This goes the same for any other information they ask for. And the opposite is true. If they don't want a cover letter or references at this time, then don't give those.
Slow down. Take the time to read the instructions carefully and thoroughly. Read through it once completely before starting; if it’s online, read through the whole page before beginning. Rushing is a big reason why people make mistakes and overlook obvious things. If the application is complicated or long, consider taking notes, creating a quick checklist of what they need.
Have someone review the application. Just as you should have someone else proof your resume (it’s hard to review your own work), it can be really helpful if someone else reviews your application. They will bring fresh eyes and potentially catch any omissions or mistakes that you’ve made.
Take advantage of the save function on most ATSs. Even if you think you’ve done everything correctly, save but don’t submit. Take a break and come back to it in an hour or more. This will help you in two ways. One, it will allow you to wait until someone else is available to proof for you. Two, if you can’t get someone else to proof, then taking a break and coming back to it will allow you to be a better proofreader. A break distances you and gives you a chance to look at your own work with fresh eyes.
To be sure, some applications, particularly the online systems, can be a bit confusing and sometimes even contradictory. But the answer to this problem is not to take short cuts. There’s a lot that you can’t control in the job search process, so don’t mess up the one thing you control 100%. Slow down. Read carefully. Follow the directions. Accurately provide the information that is requested. It could be the difference between getting hired, or not.