In the old days before online applications, one could write up and submit a resume either by email or snail mail. A hiring official or recruiter would go through each application and either put it in the ‘approved’ pile or the trash can  – depending on how it compared with the requirements of the job. But at least each resume got, if cursory, a review by a human.

But in today’s world of hiring, at least 50% of mid-size companies and almost all large corporations have resorted to an applicant tracking system (ATS) that not only does the initial screening of online applications for current open positions, but also manages and stores applications for potential open positions in the future. Using an ATS saves a company the time of having an individual wade through mountains of paper trying to find the best applicants for a position. That shortlist of people can then move on to the next step, which is interviewing.

With an online application system, if your electronic resume does not contain the information the ATS has been programmed to search, your application will never get to a pair of human eyes to read it. And this can be a shame, because you might be the ideal person for the job, but because your application did not reflect what the ATS was looking for, you will never get to the next step.

However, there are nine things you can do to ensure your online application stays in the hunt. But if you overlook any of them, your application process could blow up in your face.

  1. Meet the requirements of the job. Screen the job listing before doing anything else to see if you meet at least most of the requirements of the job and that you can reflect those requirements in the experience and training portion of your resume. If you can’t, don’t even waste your time going any further with that job.
  2. Identify keywords. Most ATS programs are programmed to look for certain keywords specific to a particular job. Fortunately, job postings have this information interspersed throughout the listing. The key is to identify, extract and sprinkle these same keywords throughout your resume. If you are familiar with the industry, the keywords will be apparent; if not, ask for help identifying these keywords from someone who has worked in the same industry.
  3. Tailor your resume to the job. Sometimes it is tempting to submit a generic resume for the same type of jobs; don’t do it. Each job application should have a resume tailored just to it. If for nothing else, to ensure the right keywords are in it for that specific job as described in the step above.
  4. Include a cover letter if required. The job posting usually includes instructions on what to submit; read those instructions carefully. If it asks for a cover letter, then create one. And like with resumes, tailor it specifically to that job so that your accomplishments and skills line up with the job description. If your application does make the ATS cut, the cover letter is the first thing usually read … even before the resume. Without a proper cover letter, your resume may not make it to the next step in the process.
  5. Civilianize your resume. Since we went to an all-volunteer military, only about 16% of the population has served in a military branch. Consequently, the chances are good that the person reviewing you resume won’t know what military-specific acronyms and terms mean. Don’t make them try and guess, because they won’t. They will just move on to the next resume. For example, a Squad Leader could be listed as a Supervisor of a Team in civilian terms.
  6. Create only one profile per company. By having only one profile per company, you ensure that all your applications to that company are tied to your profile. If the hiring official wants to dig deeper into your profile, they will have the correct profile and applications tied to that profile.
  7. Fill out all applications fields. This does a couple of things. One, it shows your have a genuine interest in the position and two, sometimes a hiring manager will pull information from a certain application field, and if you did not fill out that field, it will not return information on you.
  8. Clean up your social resume. Because most hiring officials check out an applicant’s social media, make sure yours does not contain any information that could be damaging to your job application. Having a social media handle of “Party Animal” isn’t conducive to checking that box.
  9. Review all information before submitting. Before hitting the send button, do a final check to ensure you have submitted everything asked for in the application. Because first impressions are lasting, make sure yours is impressive (in a positive way).

Doing these nine things will ensure your online application has the best chance of making through the online application minefield and into the hands of a hiring manager.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.