Ah Those Mystery Job Ads

Last week one of the people I was supporting in their job search brought to my attention a job posting where the employer had specifically requested no contact. That in itself isn’t anything new, as job ads have been instructing applicants to not place calls for quite some time. This one was different though, because it read, “No follow up phone calls please.”

This puzzles me honestly. I mean, yes, I understand that with the growing number of people competing for jobs, the organization would indeed have to devote a lot of someone’s time to respond to all the calls they’d get. On the other hand, I have always believed that employer’s are looking for people who show initiative, who have personal drive and genuine enthusiasm or passion for the jobs they apply to. So if no one follows up on their applications with a call, it would appear more difficult for an employer to separate those who really want the job from those who apply and then are content to just wait and see what happens.

Another reason that this puzzled me upon seeing it was that I’ve heard from some employers who have told me they value calls from applicants. Some have even told me that they built in a few days following an application deadline to determine who calls and who doesn’t; with the one’s that call getting additional marks for taking such initiative. Times change however, and whether this one ad becomes a trend or not we’ll see.

There are other tactics employer’s use that discourages applicants contacting them too. For a long time now, employers have been using Recruiters and temporary agencies to pre-screen their applicants. In the job postings that produce applications, the identity of the hiring company and their location is carefully omitted. While this makes it easier on the organization in that they don’t get walk-in traffic and phone calls following up on their job applications, it also has problems.

One such problem the omission of a company name and location has is that applicants can’t do their homework when it comes to researching company culture, values and see if their own aligns with this employer. This can waste both the time of an applicant and an employer if a well-qualified applicant applies in good faith for a position but upon learning the identity of the employer, pulls their application from the hiring process based on their own experience or that of others.

Dependability and reliability are two of the key qualities just about every employer desires in their workforce. For a majority of those who rely on public transit to get to and from work, knowing where they’d have to travel before applying would be helpful. Again, when an employer conceals their name and location, just as an applicant conceals their own address, a situation is created whereby wasted time is spent on both ends by both parties. Ironic isn’t it when an employer who refuses to identify their location makes an applicant’s address a mandatory field on an online application; we’re not telling you where we are but you have to tell us where you are!

Some job ads would almost be better thought of as a blind date. Sure there might be a face-to-face meeting or interview eventually, but the first contact will be one party (the employer), gathering as much information as they can about the other party (you) without revealing much about themselves. Yes they make the first step in getting the job posting out there via a temp agency but at the same time there is a vagueness to the actual posts sometimes that means an applicant can’t really get excited about the prospect of getting the job until they know the organization and along with that organization their reputation.

I’m looking at the way many employers are going about their hiring and seeing a disturbing trend developing. While it’s all good to remove potential bias, (heavens knows this is nothing but a good thing and needed for ages), employer’s who keep their identities known until personal interviews are set up unintentionally make things harder on themselves. Seeing applications with names removed, addresses removed, names of educational institutions removed (all by HR departments) contribute to a level playing field but can make selection of great candidates more challenging. If an applicant lives in their opinion too far away, they won’t know until they meet. If they organization has a distinct preference for a long-standing school with a solid reputation, they may feel they wasted their time seeing people from an upstart school struggling to gain credibility.

There are pros and cons to all hiring processes and I can usually see the good and the bad from each. As an Employment Counsellor working with the unemployed however, one of the things I’ve always encouraged people to develop and show is enthusiasm for the jobs they apply to. Hard to advise someone to get excited about an opportunity when two of the first things they ask is the name of the employer and where they’d work.

Oh and these long online applications they make applicants fill out? I’ve seen people with very little drive and sincere motivation sit for ages filling them out, getting help from others on what to say. Little drive and little interest.

Be careful employers…how you attract applicants does indeed determine the quality of applicants from which to hire.

Messy, Problematic Online Application Profiles

I sat down alongside an unemployed woman who is looking for employment as a Housekeeper just yesterday. Our objective is setting aside this time to work together was to both find suitable jobs to apply to and to then target a resume for one of those jobs. In this sense, mission accomplished. What happened next was – you guessed it – our mutual decision to tackle the online application.

Now if you’ve never applied for a job online and you’re looking for work, you had best read on for some illumination. If you’ve applied online already for employment, you’ll commiserate I’m sure with what occurred.

So, there we were on the website of an organization that provides residential care for the elderly. To the right of the job description and list of responsibilities, there it was in all it’s glory, the tantalizingly bright, “Apply here” button in all it’s beauty. As I hovered over the button, I suspected one of two outcomes; a quick application wanting her name, email and resume attachment or the longer, ‘complete your profile’ option. Sadly for us, it was option number two.

Okay, now I’m proficient on the keyboard, and as we were working in my office, I entered the information, checking with her all the while on things I didn’t know but needed to provide the employer with. It started out oddly and ominously. After asking for her first name, it asked what her preferred first name was. Huh? Then again after the surname, it asked what her preferred last name was. I suppose this is meant for those that were born “Smith” or “Miller” but always wanted to be a “Lennon” or “Gates”.

I was relieved when the option to upload a resume quickly appeared because not only do the best applications receive this information, they often extract and pre-populate many of the fields that need completing on the online application. While this was the case, I found something excruciatingly frustrating about the way the form was designed. For each job the applicant had on their resume – and she had six – you had to select the Country, Province and City. Now for most applicants, the country in which they are applying is in fact the country they were born in. However, I know many hotels employ people in their housekeeping positions who originated in foreign lands and came to Canada. I get that of course. It would have been nice however had the application defaulted to Canada after the first job and pre-populate the rest.

In short, (and I wish the online profile we were creating was) it took us 45 minutes to complete the profile. This is 45 minutes in addition to the hour and 15 minutes it took us to find the right job and tailor the resume to it for best results.

Here’s the kicker though. When we hit the ‘send’ button, it indicated that the email address we were employing (pun intended) was already registered with the organization. “Have you ever applied before on this website?” I asked. “Oh yeah I have” she replied. Oh no. You guessed it. In order to log in, we had to leave the page we were on; the one that had our 45 minutes worth of work on it. Did it open up a new page thereby saving all the information on a previous one? No it didn’t. You’re smart; you figured that was the situation I bet.

So not knowing we were going to apply for this position with this organization when she left home for our meeting, she didn’t have the password associated with this profile with her. It was at home. As the advice we always get and give is to create a unique password and username for each website we visit, she couldn’t guess what this one was. The end result? No application completed at that moment and she is left to return home, retrieve the password, revisit the site and start the profile on her own from scratch.

There’s a certain irony in how these online application profiles are created. For starters they will often intimidate and eliminate many people who start but don’t complete them. That’s good on the one hand if it eliminates some of your competition. However, some of the people with the most time to complete them are the very people an employer would NOT want to hire.

I understand too that as the ad called for English language basic skills, the profile might weed out those who don’t have those skills sufficient to even understand the questions being asked of them. That could be their rationale but who knows? Who designs these profiles and why do they really ask the things they do?

On the upside, having gone through it together, she has a really good understanding of what it will take to complete it on her own now. She saw how I was patient, diligent and determined to complete it and that rubbed off on her.

As for you my friend, when you are faced with the online application profile, grab yourself a soothing tea and maybe a raisin tea biscuit to go with it. Sink into your chair and make sure you’ve got a comfortable one as you’ll be there awhile. Keep track of your usernames and passwords on all the various sites you apply to and if you can, put these on your mobile phone if you carry it with you.

Most of all; good luck!

Complaining About Online Applications

This week and last, I’ve been instructing 8 people on the very basics of using a computer. We started at proper terminology and how to turn it on, and now we’ve transitioned to making a resume, creating emails, sending documents and applying for jobs. After all, making a resume and going through the job application process is a great way to both learn the computer and possibly get work at the same time.

Every day, there are breakthrough moments for different people when what was difficult to do just the day before becomes mastered, and I’ve seen more than one person throw up their hands and say, “I did it! Yeah for me!” I love that reminder of childhood innocence when accomplishing something without the help of someone else was a major victory. There are fewer opportunities to do that for some people so good for them!

So yesterday was the second day we managed to get to the online application process. At one point in the afternoon I gave the group 1 1/2 hours to find a job, edit their resume to match the new job requirements and apply for the job either by email or using the online application process; whatever the job called for. This activity gives those in the group a good indication to themselves if they can in fact independently use their new-found computer skills to accomplish a major task.

Staying in the room and observing, I watched them browse one of 5 websites I shared with them and find a job. Then I saw them print the posting, highlight the skills required, open their resumes, make some adjustments, save the document under a new name and then send it out. For some it was easier than others. The ones who succeeded were pretty happy with themselves, and it reinforced their confidence.

One fellow however had a different experience. The job he found required him to apply online. As it turns out, he was first required to create an individual profile with the company, (which he did successfully) and then complete a rather lengthy list of questions as part of the application process. It was this part that he rebelled against. “Why do I have to give them all this information? Why can’t I just give them my resume and they hire me because I’ve got the skills to do the job?”

Knowing nothing else, take a shot at guessing his age. Go on. Did you guess between 18 and 30? I bet you didn’t. I’m going to suggest you guessed an older person, perhaps 45 or older. He is in fact in his late 40’s. Now this doesn’t mean that everyone in their late 40’s or older rebels against these application processes, nor that younger people embrace them. But it does fit with a broadly observed pattern of the older generation longing for the good old days when you could just walk in, take the sign out of the window that said, “Help Wanted”, and tell the person working there that you’re their man. Bread used to be 25 cents too. Neither are likely to happen anymore.

Now as it happens, the class had been told once you go through the process, they could be on their way home. Do it quicker, you leave earlier. Take longer, you leave closer to our regular departure time. Everyone else completed their assigned work and headed out with their thanks for the day and stepped out into the sunshine. He and I however sat there talking. The conversation is one I’ve had many times before, but it was a first with this fellow on the topic of online applications.

What I was trying to ascertain was the real problem. So was it his reluctance to complete the process or his inability to use his technical skills? Both perhaps? As it turns out, he had been able to create his unique username and password for the site, and was paused at the screen that said, “Please allow 30 – 35 minutes to complete the application questionnaire. You can save your progress and re-continue at anytime.” So it was his frustration as a job seeker having to give this company information here instead of at an interview. “Why can’t I just give them my resume, they look at it and see I’ve got the skills, and they give me the job?” he asked.

Online applications that have a lengthy number of questions do weed out applicants who can’t be bothered to go through the entire application process. On the one hand, if I was competing for the job with this fellow, I’d love the length if it was going to keep him from applying; he might be better qualified for the job than me, but I’ll sit there and complete the entire application and he won’t. Of course this logic is the very logic he feels proves his point – and I don’t entirely disagree.

Yet most jobs do require some amount of computer knowledge and basic computer skills these days. Inventory in warehouses is computerized, so even the process of putting paint cans on a showroom floor requires that initially, you have to access the computerized inventory directory to find out if you have the right brand and colour of paint to fill the voids on the shelves and where it is located. You can’t count on someone else to help you go find it on the computer all the time.

He left eventually but plans on doing the entire application this morning. I bet he does just fine.





Employers Prefer You Apply Via Their Website

Okay so let’s say you see a job you are interested in applying for. Near the end of the posting, it gives you three ways to apply for the job; fax, email or online. Does it matter which you use to apply? According to several employers I’ve spoken with, it does.

Faxing or email usually results in people being interviewed who have not always taken the time to visit the website of the employer. Without that crucial visit, applicants are not then familiar with the values, beliefs, mission statements, and culture of the organization. This then leads to clients who pose questions to the interviewer that are covered on their company website, and sometimes applicants even withdraw from the job competition because new information is given to them in the interview that was and continues to be available to potential applicants on the website.

Visiting a company’s website and applying via it also demonstrates to the employer that you are quite possibly very interested in the employer themselves and not just doing that job for any organization. Spending some time online, reading about the products, services, delivery methods, key goals and how the company treats its employees and customers could tell you that you’d be a good fit or possibly this is a position that wouldn’t be right for you.

So where to start? If the job advertisement itself is electronic, you’ll probably find a hyperlink to click on, but at the very least you can search the company name and find their official website. Once you are there, you should look at the Homepage you arrive at. Without clicking anything immediately, observe several things about the page itself. What information is on that homepage, because this is the first page any visitor – applicant or customer – will see upon arrival. Are they selling you on products, services, location? Is it clear what that company does? Do they have photo’s or a single picture, and what do those pictures convey to you in terms of a response?

You can usually find a section called, “About Us” which once clicked on will tell you information like how long they’ve been in business, who calls the shots, their purpose, and facts about the company history; maybe even some numbers in terms of sales, position in the industry etc.

But your mostly going to be interested in the, “Careers”, tab. Whether it’s, “Careers”, or “Come Work For Us” or some other similar heading, it is here that you’ll likely find information about the kind of people who the company hopes to attract. They will often tell you the attributes they value most in the people they hire, and the qualifications those who are successfully given interviews and job offers typically have. Your resume, cover letter and online application had best mirror the things listed here so you match up best. And if given an interview, you can usually guess the questions you will be posed will call on you to prove you have the things they value most.

When you do start to apply online, you might be asked to complete a profile for the company first. You’ll have to create perhaps a unique username and password too. This process might be frustrating to do company by company and application by application, but it does weed out those that can’t be bothered. And from the company point of view, if you can’t be bothered completing an application to work there, well, then they don’t usually want you.

I myself usually zoom in on where I can upload my resume in the online application. By doing this early, I often find the software takes the information from my resume and pre-populates some of the fields for me. In other words, it fills out information such as my name so I don’t have to fill in all the empty boxes which are called, “fields”.

The fields the company has on the application tell the company things you would not normally include in your resume. So for example, you might be asked what days and hours you are available to work, state your salary expectations and more.

While time-consuming, remember that the next time you visit this website to check on your status or to apply for another job, you’ll simply have to enter your pre-chosen username and password and you’re in. You’ll then be able to track your application status for example, and if you do apply for a second position, much of your information has been retained and filled out, so you just need to adjust some of the fields to reflect the new.

One huge tip I want to give any online job seeker is to review each of your fields for spelling and grammar before you click the, ‘next’ button, or ‘send’. Poor spelling, not capitalizing proper names, poor vocabulary, and misused punctuation can reveal to an employer that you have issues in these areas, and they will make assumptions about your education level and even your intelligence.

Job postings contain only the most essential of information. The serious job seeker who wants to save time by getting more interviews will visit websites every time they can identify the company they are applying to. Do this well, and you can add, “While visiting your website, I was impressed to learn…” to your cover letter!

Frustrated With Online Applications? GREAT!

Suppose your skills are in the area of general labour. You’re used to working in factory settings, maybe assembly line work and computers aren’t your thing. And by that, I mean you can only use one finger on each hand when using the keyboard, and you have to look at the keys as you do so.

This is exactly the situation two people I’ve been helping to get a job recently find themselves in. In both cases, we’ve had to create new emails, learn and practice how to attach resumes, and of course how to find jobs online. Each one of these people had something happen to them yesterday that was one of those teachable moments. If you are looking for work and hate having to do it with a computer and apply online, read on and take heart!

Let me tell you about Susan first. She found a job she wanted to apply for and at the bottom of the posting it said applicants must apply online. So we went to the website together and it requires applicants to first register with the company prior to applying. That registering part means creating a profile where you literally fill out a form with your contact information, add your resume, create a user name and password for that one specific employer, and answer some questions. With her basic computer skills, it took an hour to get through it. That user name and password are only going to allow her to login when she visits this one company. Anytime she applies online with a new company, they may want her to repeat this entire process, and she’ll need a new user name and password for it.

In order to apply for this job, Susan had to first make some changes to her resume. Not big changes, but changes nonetheless. These changes meant she had to save it after making the changes, give it a new name after changing it so she could locate it easily, then upload it to the website. Spelling is a weakness of Susan’s but she go through it with some help from me and her great attitude.

Mike found that he too wanted to apply for the same job. He has spelling issues too, and he keys in things to the computer slower than Susan. Mike somehow lost all his information and returned to the blank application not once but twice during his attempts to register and apply for the job. What took Susan an hour to complete, took Mike 2 1/2 hours to complete.

I wish the employer could have been sitting in the back of the room as these two went about applying. What the employer would have seen is two people who have experience on a factory floor, but who struggle to complete their application using a computer; a skill the job description doesn’t indicate is required. But what they would have noticed is that neither of them got exasperated or upset. They just kept trying because they want the job bad, know they can both do it and do it well, and they both have a great attitude.

And there is one thing I told them both that helped them I think. I told them both that the people they are competing with for this job, may, like them, lack skills in completing an online application. They also may not make the changes on their resume to match up with the job description, because that after all, requires more work. And if like Mike, they get booted back to the start of the application not once but twice, many of them will pack it in and forget it out of frustration.

And as anyone who is job searching in a competitive market will tell you, anytime your competition packs it in, that’s fewer people you are competing with for work. That’s what’s great! I was genuinely proud of both them for sticking with it and finishing their applications. Just after completing her application, I joked with Susan that the employer was sitting stunned as she read her application, and was working up the nerve to contact Susan and offer her an interview because her application was awesome and such a perfect match for the job. Turns out I wasn’t far from the truth as her phone rang within the first hour after she had hit the ‘send’ button on her computer application. She has an interview today.

Now Mike didn’t get a call that I’m aware of yesterday, but that’s because we only finished his application minutes before we left for the day. For all I know he got a call or email shortly after they departed, and may tell me he too has an interview.

This is a good illustration of why it is important to learn some basic computer skills even if the job you want doesn’t require you to have computer skills. Being able to make and change your own resume without help, match it up for the job you are applying to, and then apply for the job on a company’s website is a required skill in 2014. If you have to rely on someone else to do all this for you, you’re in trouble.

I kept telling them yesterday – especially Mike – that while they were finding it frustrating, I was proud they didn’t show it. But more importantly Susan’s phone call proved it was well worth the effort where others would quit. All the best in your online job search!

Applying For Work Using Email

How far we have come in such a short period of time. How few years ago was it that if you were applying for a job you got dressed appropriately and traveled to the job site or the company and spoke to the person in charge if you could, and either gave them your resume or even said, “Put me to work” in the hope you could demonstrate your skills and be hired. Well I wish licorice pipes were two cents too but they aren’t and they aren’t likely to be again in my lifetime.

So when you apply or inquire about a job opening using email, one of your first decisions has to be that you actually use an email that doesn’t get you rejected just because it sounds ridiculous or gives your age away. I’m talking about jaredsmith1988@…., fluffybunnykins@….., studguy69@…. or juliewhite39@… Oh and just in case you think I’ve invented these, fluffybunnykins@ was the email a client of mine had been using up to the point of our meeting; her mom made it for her when she was 12 years old. Enough said.

When you apply, the subject line of your email should be the job title followed by the word, ‘vacancy’ or ‘position’ as in, “General Manufacturing position”, or “Financial Investment Officer vacancy”. Did you know that it is critical that you actually capitalize the first letter of the job title itself just as you would the first letter in your own first and last name? Because that is the standard measure of how to print or write a proper noun, you give away your lack of education or professionalism if you use lower case letters for each word. In other words, your words send a message that screams, “I don’t know basic grammar!” or, “I couldn’t care less even though I know how to do it properly”, or possibly, “I’ve been texting so long like a teenager myself I didn’t think anybody cared anymore!”. Hmmmm….they do.

In the body of the email, it is equally critical that you include a brief paragraph stating that you are applying for the job matching the subject line, that you are qualified, highly interested, have attached your resume and/or cover letter, and want an interview and provide your contact information. These couple of lines or a single paragraph show the reader of your email that you can string together a few sentences using proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. This reveals your level of literacy and will exude professionalism or smell of illiteracy. Proofreading this prior to sending your email is critically important therefore and you might get another pair of eyes to look it other before you hit, ‘send’.

Some people don’t think it necessary to actually include a phone number or email address in the body of the text, but if they can’t open your attachment, (or heaven forbid you actually forget to attach it at all!), they will have a number accessible to contact you. I would hope you aren’t applying for an IT position if you fail to include the attachment, but some careers/jobs that don’t require a high level of computer expertise are a tad more forgiving but best make sure you double-check that you’ve attached it to look competent. Failing to attach something as important as your resume, especially when you say you have, will reveal your lack of attention to detail, your ship-shod, sloppy way of doing things that are important, and probably rule you out from other moving forward.

If you include a cover letter, you have a choice to make. You can do one of three things really; 1) make the body of the email itself your cover letter, 2) have a single attachment being your cover letter and your resume further down as you scroll, or 3) have two attachments, a cover letter and your resume. So what’s best? Well first of all not all employers want to read a cover letter, so while you may get different takes on this advice, I’d avoid option #2. Because you don’t know the level of computer expertise the person has who is opening your email and how much time they will devote to it, they may actually not scroll down your cover letter to find the resume, and may assume incorrectly you included the cover letter only when you said you had attached the cover letter and resume. This would be their error, but your email gets deleted and they’ve moved on to other applicants.

The option of two attachments gives the receiver the choice of going right to the resume and ignoring the cover letter altogether, or opening both separately and reading them. As you don’t know when you apply if the employer appreciates a cover letter all the time, at least they can quickly open what they want and go from there. Should you opt to use the body of the email as your cover letter and have a single attachment being your resume only, it’s good advice to write a shorter cover letter that gets right to it and motivates them to move on and open your resume. A long cover letter may just be tiresome to read, overly wordy, and actually put them off.

Please use spellcheck features and proofread your document. Some people just rely on the computer to point out errors like incorrect spelling, but it will miss your use of an improper word that you have spelled correctly often. Because you will have the tendency to see the same mistake and miss it again and again, another pair of trained eyes is always a good bet.