One of the most burdensome components of the job search process is filling out applications. Even on paper, many job seekers don’t take the task of filling out the application seriously. While this administrative task is a nuisance – what you may not realize is that this is often your very first test when applying for a position. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “do I really have to fill this entire thing out? Can’t I just attach my resume?” Ask those questions and you just failed the first test. If a company gives you an application –they expect you to fill it out.

But online applications can be trickier than their paper counterparts. Companies are using all types of different online application providers or building their own. Some ask for just basic information while others ask for everything but the kitchen sink. Some are really intuitive while others are a bit more complex. Just like paper apps – the online application is a test you can’t fail. Applications allow us to collect the information we need to consider you for employment – but they also show us how well you can follow directions, pay attention to detail, and use computers.

Here are some tips on how to do this right:

  1. Type properly. Proper names, place names, state abbreviations, etc. should begin with a capital letter. Don’t complete the application in all lowercase or uppercase. Neither is considered professional. Use the proper format for numbers – don’t type a phone number or social security number as just all numbers with no separation unless you are instructed to.
  2. Fill out as much work history as they allow or as much as is on your resume. Whichever comes first. Most employers are interested in your last three to five employers (more if you’ve had a lot of short term gigs). If the web application only shows enough for one job – there is probably a button to add another one.
  3. Uploading a resume is not an excuse to not fill out your job history. If they ask for it – fill it out!
  4. If there’s a place to include a cover letter – include one. It’s always better to include a cover letter than not, even if they say it’s optional. Well, it’s better if it doesn’t suck.
  5. Create a plain text resume. Lots of online applications allow you to cut and paste your resume. Often times, the formatting and spacing in your resume may affect how it comes through on the other side and make it complicated to read. Copy your resume from Word to Notepad and create a plain text resume you can use every time you have to copy and paste it into an online application.

Every part of the application process counts – so don’t lose out by not putting your best effort into this simple administrative task. While the amount of effort you put into this may not necessarily by itself propel you to the top of the list – a lack of effort will almost certainly have an adverse effect.


Mike Spinale is a corporate Human Resources leader at a healthcare information technology company located outside of Boston, Massachusetts and is an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University. He has over eight years of experience in HR and management including career counseling, recruitment, staffing, employment branding, and talent management. Mike has dedicated his HR career to modern views on the field – HR is not about the personnel files – it’s about bringing on the best talent, ensuring they’re in the right seat, and keeping them motivated and growing in their careers. In addition, Mike is the author of the CareerSpin blog where he offers advice and opinion on job search, personal & employment branding, recruiting, and HR. Mike is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Babson College. He is also a board member of the Metro-North Regional Employment Board, a board which sets workforce development policy for Boston’s Metro-North region, and an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Northeast Human Resources Association.