Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Being More Than Just Another PDF File in a Big 'Ol Database

Over the last few years, it seems like applying for jobs have moved into a realm of endless online forms, impersonal candidate reference numbers, and dead silence after submitting anywhere from a handful to a boat load of resumes. If you've been to a career fair in the last five years, there is a solid chance that you've been told "I cannot take your resume now, but please go to our website to apply online." Where do all of these online resumes go anyway? Down a virtual toilet? Sometimes it definitely feels like all your typing, pointing, and clicking can be a total waste of time. Today I'd like to focus on why companies are asking you to apply online and how you can stand out in a sea of electronic documents.

Are you completely sick of hearing "apply online" or "I cannot take your paper resume, please go to www.blahblahblah..."? The truth behind all this online application hooey is that companies are legally bound to having candidates apply online to prevent any age, race, or gender discrimination. For some companies, if you have not applied online, they are legally unable to offer you a position or hire you. I know it can be frustrating sending your resume out into cyberspace, but there are things you can do to stand out and alternative methods of pursuing jobs that can supplement your online job search.

First, let's look at what you can do to stand out with an online application. The essential documents you need to compile for an online application include a custom cover letter for the company you are applying to (avoid general cover letters or accidentally switching up two company's cover letters -- Company X does not want to hear about how you want to work for Company Y), a custom resume for the company and position you are applying for, and an unofficial transcript of your coursework if you are a recent graduate applying for an entry level job or a current student applying for a co-op or internship. Once you have all these documents together, you should be ready to rock the online application. If you read this little task list and thought to yourself, "Eva McSpartan is a total jerk. I have to all of this for each company?!", then what I have to say in response is "Tough Noogies!" If you are too busy, too proud, or too stubborn to put in the work to complete these documents, then have fun being just another PDF file in a sea of resumes.

The last component of the online application process is checking your work a second time to ensure that all of your information is accurate and up-to-date. It is very easy to transpose numbers or letters incorrectly after going through a blur of online applications. Check your work to make sure that all of your information is 100% correct. Taking the time to do so now will be of significant benefit for you overall. A wrong e-mail address or phone number could be the difference between you being contacted by an Human Resources representative or hearing crickets.

In addition to applying online, it is important to utilize alternative methods to communicate with a company. Here are some ideas of things you can do to get your name on a company's interview roster:

  • After meeting a company recruiter at a career fair, ask for their business card or contact information so that you can send them a "Thank You" e-mail with an electronic copy of your resume and a few lines about why you are interested in working for their company or expand on a topic that you discussed with the recruiter.

  • Talk to you local career services center and see when that company may be interviewing on campus and how you could get on that roster.

  • Find out if any of your friends, fellow students, advisers, or professors have worked with the company. They may be able to give you an employee's contact information.

  • Check your campus' or a nearby campus' events calendar to see if the company is hosting any upcoming information sessions or networking events.

  • Check the company roster on upcoming career fairs in your area. If you are a member of a professional organization that hosts a career fair, also check those company rosters. Organizations like the Society of Women Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Engineering Society of Detroit (just to name a few) have annual career fairs.

Hopefully all this information will assist you in becoming a well-informed, uber-prepared online applicant! If you have any additional questions, please shoot me an e-mail at

Like always,

Good Luck Job Seekers!

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