The Application Two-Step
By Peter Weddle
Consider this scenario; it’s a common one on the Internet today: You spend several hours visiting a number of employment Web-sites; at each site, you search through hundreds of job postings in its job database; and finally, after all that effort, you find exactly what you been looking for. There, right in front of you, is a posting for your dream job. So, what do you do? You apply, of course? You fire off your resume and wait for the phone to ring.
That’s how most of us think job application works on the Web. Job boards and company Web-sites make the process look easy and simple. And, unfortunately, it’s not. You see, applying for a job online is actually a two-step exercise:
- Step 1 is a test,
- Step 2 is the answer.
Complete the first step, and you will be considered an applicant; complete the second step, and you will get yourself noticed. Do both steps, and you’ll likely move to the head of the candidate line.
Step 1: The Test
When you see a job posting, you’re actually looking at a test. The purpose of this exam is to determine whether or not you paid attention in Mrs. Murphy’s kindergarten class. What was the first lesson you were taught there? That’s right: To follow directions. In essence, a job posting is, first and foremost, a test to determine whether you can (and will) adhere to the employer’s specified procedures for job application. These directions might be:
- Cut and paste your resume into the body of an e-mail message,
- Send your resume as an attachment to an e-mail message,
- Complete the online application form that the company provides, or
- Send your resume to the company by old fashioned postal mail.
Unless the employer explicitly states that it will accept applications several different ways, the one method it specifies is the only way it wants you to apply. So, the first part of the job posting exam in Step 1 is pass or fail; either you follow the employer’s directions and are considered a genuine applicant or you don’t follow its directions and are designated a “graffiti applicant.” The former gets you into the zone of consideration; the latter gets you tossed into the reject pile.
The second part of the exam tests how well you prepare your resume. In the good, old days, before resumes were done on word processors, you submitted a generic resume and used your cover letter to highlight the relevant details that made you the perfect candidate for a particular opening. Today, the strongest applications are those that have been tailored to the specific requirements and responsibilities of an opening. The cover letter (or message on the Web) reinforces those strengths, but it’s the detailed relevance of your resume that makes you a candidate worthy of consideration.
Step 2: The Answer
As soon as you have completed Step 1, begin working on Step 2. If Step 1 enables you to pass the test; Step 2 provides the answer that will ace it. Here’s what I mean: Recruiters are inundated with applicant resumes these days, so it’s very hard for any single person—even one who is perfectly qualified for an opening—to get noticed. To overcome that disadvantage, you must help your resume stand out.
The minute you have passed the test in Step 1, start networking among friends and colleagues to find contacts in the organization where you have applied. You’re trying to identify one (or both) of two kinds of contacts:
- Employees of the organization whom you know
- Employees whom you don’t know, but with whom you share an affinity (e.g., you are both members of the same professional association, alumni of the same college or university).
Networking to such contacts is not as difficult as it may initially seem, thanks to the Internet. Use online databases and directories at the Web-sites of such organizations as your professional society, college or university alumni association, community softball league, parent-teacher association, and community gardening club. Research shows that we are all separated by only six other people, and the Web is the best way to find the connections that will help you reach more of them.
The purpose of this networking is to ask your friend or contact to refer you to the appropriate recruiter in the employer’s HR Department. When they do so, they move your resume from one of hundreds or thousands in the organization’s resume database to one of a handful or less on the recruiter’s desktop. There, it will almost certainly get noticed and considered. Why? Because recruiters believe that the best candidates are those brought to them by the organization’s own employees.
Simple as applying for a job online might seem, it’s actually both the first assessment an employer will make of your capabilities as a prospective employee and a way to differentiate yourself from the other applicants who are competing for the position you want. All you have to do to pass the test and set yourself apart is follow the Application Two-Step.