Many employers and recruiters ask you to submit your job application using an online application form instead of sending it via email. This form may be through their own website or through a job search website.
When you’re required to use an online job application form, make sure you follow the instructions carefully. You won’t be able to edit or resend your application once you’ve submitted it, so take some time to get it right.
Different online job application forms are set up in different ways. For some, you’ll fill in fields for your personal details, and then upload your resume and cover letter as files.
Others will have several screens of fields for you to complete. They’ll ask you to fill in detailed answers to questions about your experience. You’ll need to type your responses directly into the fields on the online form.
Online job applications are screened
Online job applications are often screened by software first, rather than a real human.
The software scans your application for keywords relevant to the position. It rejects the applications that don’t meet the employer’s criteria.
This cuts down the amount of administration for an employer. But for you, it means that it’s even harder to stand out.
Before you apply
Before you put your online application together, find out as much as you can about the company you're applying to work with, and what they're looking for.
Do some research
Visit the company's website and read it carefully. Make sure you visit more than just the home page.
You need to be able to show you know a lot about the organisation and explain why you want to work for them.
Read the job ad carefully
Read the job advertisement carefully. In particular, pay attention to the key skills the employer wants for this role. These are sometimes called ‘selection criteria’.
Not all job advertisements have selection criteria, but all advertisements will mention the key things they’re looking for in an employee.
Look for any keywords mentioned. Use these keywords or phrases in your application to increase your chances of getting past the screening software.
It’s impossible to know what the software is looking for, but in addition to keywords from the job ad, they may be screening for:
- minimum education level
- names of previous employers
- job titles
- skills descriptions
- how many essential criteria you meet
- how many desired criteria you meet.
Print out the application form, or copy and paste it into a word processing program or text editor.
Write down your answers using pen and paper, or type them out in a text file before you start filling in the online form.
This helps you write your application in a more thoughtful way, and it means that there's no way you can accidentally submit your application before you’ve finished.
It also means that if your web browser crashes, or you get disconnected from the internet, you won’t lose your work.
Follow the instructions
Read the instructions on the application form carefully. If you don't follow the instructions, your application could be rejected before a human ever gets to read it.
Completing an online application form
Here are some things to keep in mind when filling out the online form.
Tailor your job application
Tailor your application for the job. Using the same resume and cover letter for many different jobs may seem like it saves time, but it’s not an effective way to get to the interview stage.
Answer all the questions
Make sure you answer all of the questions on the form.
Before you submit it, take a quick break then come back and read it again. You might notice something that you've missed or overlooked.
Use the STAR approach when you give examples
If the form asks you questions about your experience, give examples using the STAR approach.
STAR stands for:
- the situation you were in
- the task you were given
- the approach you took
- the result of that approach.
If you briefly explain each of these stages, the STAR approach will ensure you give a detailed answer. It will help you demonstrate your skills and experience to the employer.
You can also use the STAR approach in your cover letter, if you’re asked to submit one.
Double-check the instructions
Make sure you've followed all of the instructions carefully. Once you think everything's ready to go, read over the instructions one last time before sending, just in case you missed something.
Leave enough time to meet the deadline
If you rush to get your application in before the deadline, you might make a mistake. Leave yourself enough time to do a good job. Start working on your application early.
Check spelling and grammar
Before submitting your application, check your spelling and grammar. Ask a friend, family member or teacher to read over your application.
At the very least, run a spellcheck before cutting and pasting your answers into the online form.
The online form may prompt you to upload a cover letter. Make sure you address the main job requirements or any selection criteria in your cover letter.
Your cover letter will most likely be screened by the software as well, so make sure it includes the same keywords you’ve used elsewhere.
Some online forms ask you to type your cover letter directly into a field on the form, rather than uploading it as a document. Either way, it's best to write your cover letter in a word processing program first, then cut and paste it into the form.
File formats for resumes and cover letters
Check the instructions to see if there’s a specific format that you need to save your resume and cover letter in.
Common file formats include:
- Word documents (.doc or .docx)
- rich text documents (.rtf)
- text documents (.txt)
- PDF (.pdf).
If a file format isn't specified, normally it's best to provide a .doc or .docx file.
Email addresses for online job applications
Before you submit your application, get a professional-sounding email address. For example, your first name and last name with ‘@xmail.com’ is better than something like squidgypants99.. @xmail.com.
Little details like this can make a difference and set you apart from other applicants.
After you've finished your online application
It may take a while for you to hear back about a job application. You might receive a generic rejection, or sometimes you may never hear back at all.
If you do hear back, you might get asked to come in for a job interview.
Remember that it's normal to apply for a job and not get it. The best thing to do is to keep on searching and applying for jobs online. Also remember that there are other ways to find work, including:
Our how to find a job section has more information on ways to find a job.