Unsolicited Online Job Applications – A Bad First Date

By Denise Kalm, BCC, Career Coach

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Many new job seekers, and even some of the older ones, delight in the convenience of the online job application. Ensconced in the comfort of their house, dressed casually, tablet or phone in hand, finding a job seems so effortless now.  In a few hours, you can apply for 20 positions where the former, in-person approach would net you only a single, completed application.

Filling out unsolicited job applications is like a bad first date where you know nothing about the other person but what you see as she or he walks up to greet you.  You don’t know about the Mensa-level IQ, you can’t see the devastating sense of humor, you can’t pick up on their compassion.  Unavoidably, you get trapped into the ‘first impression blues,’ knowing the other person is using the same superficial categories to assess you.

Forms Are There To Eliminate Not Select You!

When you fill out a form online, remember that the goal of the form is to eliminate you, not to select you.  Most companies get 100’s if not 1000’s of applications per day.  They trust their software to eliminate most of them from consideration just as that blind date may be turned off by a superficial trait, like red hair or a pair of thick glasses.  What you are permitted to show on the application isn’t you and it certainly isn’t the best way to present yourself.

A few years back, I fell into the temptation to submit online simply because I saw a job that I felt was a perfect match.  I’m a career coach; I should know better.  I filled it out late Friday afternoon and got rejected on Sunday.  It’s impossible to believe that a real person reviewed it.  This was rejection by computer.  My sin? Most of these applications required a birthdate, and for older job-seekers, this is a land mine.  You can’t be asked your age in an interview, but you have to include it on the application. And yet, it might have been something else.  Still, I knew I had ceded control by filling out what they wanted to know, not what I wanted to tell them.

Being allowed to attach your resume probably doesn’t help. In many cases, the first elimination sort gets rid of you before anyone can download the resume. 

Try To Get The Same Advantages That Daters Enjoy Today

Nowadays, blind dates are rarely really ‘blind.’  Through the magic of online dating, you now not only know more about the person through their profiles, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social information dumps.  You are also likely to have texted, emailed or even talked to the person prior to the first date.  By then, you have the chance to establish a connection that will transcend the small ‘first impression’ imperfections.

Obtain the same advantages daters have as you proceed with the job search process. The application should be one of the last things you complete, not the first. Control the impression you make, define the terms and get the time to make a real connection. Exploit the value of your LinkedIn network to get introductions to hiring managers.  Lean on your friends.  Only use the online listings to discover jobs.  But keep in mind that recruiters estimate that 80% of job openings are never actually posted.  Your network can help you find these.

Is this harder than the online job application?  Absolutely, but the rewards make it worth the effort. Though there are those rare cases of getting an interview through an online job application, you’ll do far better with almost any other technique.  Don’t be a victim of the ‘blind date’ trap.  Control the conversation and your destiny.

Denise P. Kalm, Author of Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job and Tech Grief – Survive & Thrive Through Career Loss (with Linda Donovan). Follow Denise on @denisekalm


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