Applying for a Job Online

When you apply for a job online, what should you be doing on your application to increase the chances of you being called back for an interview?

Getting past the robots

In this economic climate recruiters are inundated with job applications. To improve the efficiency of their recruitment efforts they’ll often use HR Software to automatically screen the applications they receive.

This screening process can take a couple of forms:

One is using a screening questionnaire.

This is frequently used in online applications and usually takes the form of a series of questions each with binary pass/fail answers. For example; are you currently eligible to work in the UK? Yes or No? Enter ‘Yes’ and you’ll progress to the next question, enter ‘No’ and you’ll be thanked for your application but won’t go any further than that.

Often the screening software will keep a log of any changes to the answers you give, so before you think you can go back and change an answer to fool the system, think again. While you shouldn’t lie in your application this point should serve as a warning to double-check your answers before you enter them into the questionnaire.

The second type of screening involves using software to search for particular keywords in your CV. For example, if the job advert says ‘should be fluent in French’ then make sure you mention that you’re ‘fluent in French’ on your CV. If you don’t then you’re likely to fail any screening software the recruiter is using.

Another point to be aware of is that the screening system isn’t necessarily smart enough to look for semantics.

Where possible, try to mirror the words used to describe specific requirements in the job advert. For example, if the job ad says you should be ‘experienced in running PPC campaigns’ then make sure you use ‘PPC’ somewhere in your CV and don’t just mention that you’re ‘experienced with Google Adwords’.

While a human being who’s experienced in online marketing will know that these two phrases mean pretty much the same thing an automated system won’t necessarily make that connection.

Good design


You managed to get past the automated screening tests!

But your work is not done yet…The next hurdle, getting your CV read by a real person.

Studies show that recruiters will spend an average of between six and thirty seconds reading each CV they receive. That’s not a typo. I really did say six seconds….

How much can someone read in this time? The answer is not a lot.

It turns out that professional recruiters scan through a CV looking for key pieces of information. In a study, the information that recruiters were looking at for around 80% of the time was:

  • Name
  • Current employer and position with start date
  • Previous employer and position with start and end dates
  • Education

Beyond the above points the recruiters weren’t really reading CV – they were just quickly scanning for keywords.

  • CVs that had no clear information hierarchy and were extremely text-heavy were scanned to approximately half to two-thirds of their length. At best 30% of the CV was never even glanced at.
  • CVs that had been professionally designed were scanned in their entirety. These CVs used bold headings, lines to separate sections from one another, used bullet points and contained fewer words.
  • Photos in CVs distracted the recruiter from looking at the more relevant aspects of your CV and were detrimental to how much of an application was read.

The key takeaway here is that you need to make your CV as easy to read as possible. This means:

  • Use Bold Headings (Preferably Using Title Case)
  • Use Bullet Points Where Appropriate
  • Use Lines to Separate Each Section
  • Don’t Use Photos
  • Reducing the Amount of Text You Include in Your CV

House Keeping

The previous two sections will help you to get past the automated systems and should also get a recruiter to give your CV more than just a cursory glance.

Now a few housekeeping points:

  • Proof-read it and use a spell checker. If a recruiter spots a typo in your CV you’re toast!
  • Explain gaps. We know that one of the key things a recruiter is looking for is your current and past employment record. If there are gaps in your employment history they’ll spot it. You can’t hope that they ignore it; you need to explain it. Failure to do so is likely to put you in the rejected pile.
  • Quantify your achievements. Don’t just say that you devised and implemented a marketing campaign, be more specific. Did it win any new customers? How many? What was the ROI of the campaign?
  • Qualify your skills. Don’t just say things like ‘Team Player’, it’s better to say something like, ‘worked within a team of 10 people to…’
  • Don’t lie. It might get you the interview but you will get found out eventually.


The role of your CV is to show that you have the relevant qualifications and experience that a recruiter is looking for. Make it easy for automated HR software and human beings alike to see that this is the case and you stand a good chance of ending up in the ‘interview’ pile.


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