Applying for jobs has become a complex process, because the Internet and email have revolutionized the ways we communicate. In the past, you would mail or hand-deliver your credentials to targeted employers. Now, you’re required to complete online applications and post electronic copies of your résumé and cover letter to company websites and job boards. In theory, technology should make the application process easier; but to many folks, it adds a confusing piece the mix.

You may not know this but some online applications are disguised as “computer literacy” tests. According to an article, “Beyond the Three R’s”, written by by Jim Pawlak: “online applications aren’t just ‘applications’ – they are designed as ‘computer literacy’ tests.” He says that many companies will evaluate candidates on how long they took to accurately and completely finish their applications.

Follow these tips, to complete applications correctly and quickly, the first time:

1) Scan through the application after you register on the site, so you know exactly what information is required. It’s okay to register first, logout, gather required information, and complete the application later.

2) Have copies of your résumé and cover letter open on your computer, for quick posting (uploading to the server) or pasting to required sections on the application.

3) Be sure you have a strong Internet connection to avoid unplanned “timeouts” which could erase your work. Save your work frequently, as you complete each section.

4) Use correct résumé and cover letter formatting. The requirements for online applications vary for each company, especially when you have to upload your résumé and cover letter.

5) Follow these guidelines to translate the format requirements from website instructions:

* Attach / upload your résumé and cover letter: This means that the only acceptable formats are Microsoft Word or PDF (sorry, WordPerfect or Microsoft Works users). Each company or job board may stipulate limitations about how many kilobytes for MS Word documents or megabytes for PDF documents, so check your document properties before you upload; otherwise your documents will be rejected by the server. When creating PDF documents, don’t use security features; otherwise, your documents can be opened, but not saved.

* Copy and paste your résumé and cover letter: These instructions provide a box to copy and paste documents. Don’t copy and paste Word documents here, because they’ll be stripped of all formatting. Instead use a plain text format (with line breaks) so your documents will be visible within the screen frame, instead of having lines wrapping beyond the margins.

* Create an online résumé: This means you’ll be copying and pasting sections of your résumé (and/or cover letter) into sections specified by the website. What you need here is a plain text format (without line breaks).

Download this quick tutorial for creating Plain Text résumés:

If you’ve done everything correctly, you’ll receive a confirmation email to acknowledge that the company received your application. Then, you can either sit tight until hearing back; or you can take the initiative to find an inside contact to check the status of your application. I’ll vote for the latter because the squeaky wheel usually gets the most attention!

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