More and more employers are moving their application process entirely online, so it’s important that you know the basics of filling out online applications. While every job application is a little different, there are a few things that are basically the same across most of them. In this blog series, we’ll discuss some of those similarities.
Before you start
Before you start on your online job search, you need some information handy to make applying easier. We recommend keeping a job search notebook, where you can jot down information like what jobs you’ve already applied for and whether you’ve heard back from them; usernames, emails, and passwords for various job search and application websites; and lists of your professional experience, as well as possible references and their contact information.
One of the first things a new job application will ask you to do is create an account. I like to think of passwords as a sort of “magic key” to websites that you can make yourself. They’re much easier to copy than a regular key though – and in fact, they can even be guessed! Here at the Career Center, we encourage patrons to think of a password that’s easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess. Ideally, you’ll have a separate password for each website you use, and that includes job search websites, too. You can write down your passwords, along with other information about each website, in your job search notebook.
If you want to know more about good passwords and how to make them, watch our video on the subject.
Legal mumbo jumbo
Almost all employment portals have a legal disclaimer or Terms of Service page that you need to agree to continue. We always recommend reading, or at least skimming, through the Terms of Service, and making sure you agree with how they’ll use your information, before continuing.
However, the fact of the matter is that you won’t be able to apply for the position without indicating that you agree to their terms (usually there’s a check box you can click) and clicking Continue. So read through the Terms, think about it, and make your own decision.
This is generally-applicable advice for almost any web forms you fill out, not just online applications. Some web form fields are required, meaning they must be filled out to continue in the form. Most application forms we’ve come across have marked those with an asterisk, like this:
*. Much of the time, that asterisk is red, as well. However, these are conventions, and some websites might indicate required elements differently! Be on the look out for instructions that let you know how the employer has marked required fields, and make sure to answer those. Otherwise, the application won’t let you continue.
If a field isn’t required, you don’t have to fill it out – and in fact, for some fields it’s better not to. These include questions like these:
- What do you expect to be paid for this position?
- What were you paid in your previous position?
- May we contact your current employer? (See below for more information on this question and the next one.)
- Why did you leave a previous position?
Demographic information includes data like your age, sex, and ethnicity. It is illegal to discriminate against these parts of your identity, and in many cases, for the actual employers to even see the data before making a hiring decision. Most of the time, when employers ask you for demographic information, it’s actually a third party they hire to compile that information for later analysis, or more recently, to apply for a federal tax break. You should never be required to input demographic data in a job application form.
Legal authorization to work in the U.S.
While companies can get in trouble for discriminating based on demographic information such as ethnicity, they can also get in trouble for employing someone without the authorization to work in the United States – so while this question may seem personal, they need to ask it. However, it can be confusing to know for sure if you are authorized to work in the U.S. Here are a few tips.
- If you were born in the United States, you are legally authorized to work in the U.S. You can answer Yes.
- If you were not born in the United States, but you are a permanent resident – that is, you have a green card – you are legally authorized to work in the U.S. You can answer Yes.
- If neither of the above are true: you should (hopefully) know about your immigration or naturalization status.
Companies love to ask about your previous employers and whether they can contact them. Unless you were fired for gross misbehavior from a previous job, it’s fine to put the employers’ number down here. Usually, prospective employers are routed to HR, where they’re only told that you did work there and your dates of employment.
Reason for leaving
Especially with your most recent employer, you might get asked about why you left. If you can leave this blank, we recommend it. Otherwise, try to think of the most neutral- or positive-sounding, while still being honest, version of why you left the company. An answer like, “I wanted more money,” is not a good answer, no matter how true it is. Try an answer more along the lines of, “A better opportunity presented itself.”
If you have a criminal record, it can be especially hard to get a job. Check out our video Special Resumé Rules for Ex-Offenders for some resumé tips.
Make any social media your employer may see as private as you can, or keep your feed as professional as possible. Imagine your boss (or prospective boss) is standing behind you and can see the posts you make and reply to. While it’s a breach of privacy, in our opinion, for employers to comb through applicants’ social media, they do and they’re completely allowed to. Plan accordingly. For more detailed information on this topic, check out our video Social Media Etiquette for the Job Search.
Make sure to keep an eye out for Part II of this series, where we’ll discuss which documents you should attach to online applications, as well as the dreaded Assessments!
Written by Case Duckworth