The wait to hear about an online job application is often too long, and the process is often discouraging. If you don’t have a personal connection to the employer, it will be difficult to get through the screening process without matching most of the job’s posted requirements. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply if you feel you’re a good fit, but rather that you should keep your expectations in check — and try not to do anything that will harm your application.
Do No Harm
Of course, you should try to find a connection through LinkedIn and your other networks. Although even if you don’t have a connection to help usher your application through the online gauntlet, there are things you can do to significantly improve your chances of getting it into the right hands. Here are just a few.
- Use a cover letter. If there is any opportunity to include a cover letter, do so! It is your first opportunity to give the employer a writing sample — and to present evidence that you can mount a persuasive written argument. If you can’t advocate for yourself, will they really think you can advocate on behalf of their clients?
- Fill in the blanks. If there is something in the job description that you glaringly lack, address it in the letter. If you have to substitute volume of work for years of experience, do so. If you don’t have paid experience in the field but you do somewhere else, utilize it. Just don’t completely ignore a potential elephant in the room.
- Make the match. In your letter, match experience you have that is similar to, if not equal to, the items mentioned in the job description. Give examples. It indicates reading comprehension and listening skills.
- Read between the lines. If the job description shrieks “long hours” and you are willing to put those in, or have done so in the past, say so. If the practice area signals the likelihood of travel and you are willing, say so.
- Leave no doubt. If you have the requisite experience level but it doesn’t completely match the practice area, include the compelling reasons that you want to be in this new area. They can come from your educational background or even your volunteer life. Make sure it is truthful.
- Avoid errors. Although I don’t advocate wasting paper, you need to print your resume and cover letter to proofread them thoroughly for typos — and then have someone else proof them, too, before pressing Send. Again, this is your first writing sample for the prospective employer and even little errors can cause harm.
- Think of the recipient. Don’t ask for special favors from the employer. A recent applicant wanted to know if he could just call and talk a little while about the position before he applied. What? How do you think the person receiving all those applications could do his or her job if it required a 10-minute conversation with anyone who was thinking of applying? It’s not about you — it’s about them.
- Name files properly. When attaching documents to an application, place your own name in the file names. Employers don’t want to have to rename a file you named “Resume 3” to fit their needs. And don’t call it something like “Litigation Resume,” either, because that will signal you haven’t even committed to an area of practice.
- Create your own receipt. Please don’t call to see if the employer has received your correspondence, or to find out where they are in the process. If you want an open receipt or a read receipt, set it up in the email. Otherwise understand that a call from you is not a reminder — it is an interruption. If you have a friend or colleague who knows the employer personally and can call on your behalf, that’s an entirely different story.
Best advice for how to handle the frustrations of online applications, and the long wait for a response? Spend more time in the search process on networking — an activity that’s much more likely to yield the outcome you really want.
Wendy L. Werner is a career coach and practice management consultant for lawyers and professional services firms at Werner Associates, LLC, as well as former Assistant Dean of Career Services at St. Louis University School of Law.
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