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Getting Behind the Internet Job Application Screen

Decoding the online job search can feel overwhelming. UST professors and career counselor provide practice and advice.

Applying for a job can feel like an adventure in the Land of Oz. Often, your resume goes into cyber space through a human resources webpage and days, weeks or even months later an anonymous reply arrives in your electronic mailbox: You have not been selected for an interview but thanks for applying. Sometimes you hear nothing at all. It can make one wonder, who is the man behind the screen?

Helping students get past the mysterious application process is a major concern of all the departments in the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling. In coursework, student organizations, and advising, students are preparing for the job search through mock interviews, resume reviews and networking with alumni. Here is some of the best advice from faculty at the University of St. Thomas College of Education, Leadership and Counseling and staff at Career Services.

Make it fit

“Customize, customize, customize,” advises Amber Bienick Thom, a career specialist in the Career Development Center.

Tailoring your documents to each position is the best way to get past the initial screening, often done by a software program instead of a human. While a perceptive person may see your potential in each sentence, a logarithm sees words. Thom recommends looking at the job description and matching the terminology for the skills, populations and licenses the employer is looking for as closely as possible. For example, using the words “strategize” or “strategizing” could make a difference, but there is still no guarantee.

“These computer programs are a mystery to us as much as to the rest of the world,” Thom said. “They really don’t want you to know how they work.”

Dr. Kate Boyle, department chair for Leadership, Policy and Administration, also advises customizing your application to make a clear connection with the institution or company you are applying to. During her time as a recruiter for Marquette University, she read thousands of applications. The applicants who demonstrated both that they already understood the mission and unique features of the school and that they could meet or exceed the requirements for the position stuck out to her.

Both Dr. Boyle and Thom also suggest saving each cover letter and resume in its own file with an easily recognizable name. Uploading or sending off documents addressed to another institution or position is an easy mistake to make and the best way to get screened into the “no interview” pile. Additionally, to make the online application process easier, forego using an online template. Less is more when it comes to online applications because most electronic application portals will undo or misread formatting. Simplicity is key to making your resume readable.

The people behind the screen

Networking, however, is still the best way to land a job interview.

“The two—technology and networking—have to go together,” Thom said.

Hiring managers will watch out for, and even request from human resources, the resumes of people they know or applicants who have already been recommended to them.

Also, sites such as LinkedIn help students link to the wider world through their UST network. Professor Rama Hart has hundreds of former students as LinkedIn connections. Now professionals, they use the online network to promote open positons at their companies. She has also given recommendations and introductions through LinkedIn.

Nevertheless, Dr. Hart cautions students from relying too much on the internet for networking.

“Talk to someone. Use technology to reach out to people you don’t even know,” she said.

Don’t hesitate to send a cold email and ask someone with your dream job to meet in person for an informational interview or career advice.

Job fairs are also excellent networking opportunities. It’s a chance for both jobseekers and employers to make face-to-face connections and conduct initial screenings. Some employers, schools for example, prefer selecting candidates through this more personal method.

“We get feedback from schools that they are desperate. They want more students at the fairs; they want the face time to do a little interview,” Thom said. Having any connection made at a job fair often leads to a formal interview.

In some fields, with a little effort, job seekers can make a personal connection with a hiring manger even when they have no prior networking connection. For teaching positions, Dr. Lucy Payne, associate professor in Teacher Education, suggests calling the organization where the position is located and asking who the hiring manager is. The jobseeker can then follow up, send their resume directly and let the person know they have applied online. In a case where the job posting does not list a specific location or department but it seems obvious, Dr. Boyle recommends sending a blind email to a likely hiring manager. Send the cover letter and resume and let the manager know you applied online.

Any amount of direct contact will make it more likely that someone will pull your application out of cyberspace and place it on the desk of the hiring manager.

Learn more about career development at UST.