4 Online Application Mistakes To Avoid, with Elora Arding

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Applicant tracking systems make it easier than ever to apply for multiple jobs in one sitting. But is that the best way to go about getting your dream job? Not according to Find Your Dream Job guest Elora Arding. Elora says these systems are great for streamlining the application process, but only if you use them correctly. That starts with following all directions and customizing your materials for each position. Elora also suggests researching the company so that you can share relevant experiences and ask questions that show you know the company’s values and how you can contribute to their mission. 

About Our Guest:

Elora Arding is the people and culture manager at Portland Audubon. Her organization protects birds and habitats, fights climate change, and advocates for access to nature.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 450:

4 Online Application Mistakes To Avoid, with Elora Arding

Airdate: May 15, 2024

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Applying online has become a common part of the job search.

And as the practice has grown in popularity, employers say they see candidates make the same errors again and again.

Elora Arding is here to talk about four online application mistakes to avoid.

She’s the people and culture manager at Portland Audubon.

Her organization protects birds and habitat, fights climate change, and advocates for access to nature.

She joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Well, we’re talking today, Elora, about four online application mistakes you see candidates make regularly, but before we get to those, I want to talk about online applications in general.

How often is it today, Elora, for candidates to use the online application function?

Elora Arding:

It’s very common for candidates to use the online applications, just because I think paper files are tough to track and are easily misplaced nowadays. Everything’s a little more eco-friendly, I’d say. It’s much more common for people to apply through applicant tracking systems or emails rather than paper applications, nowadays.

Mac Prichard:

I have to ask; I know there’s a listener out there who’s thinking, “Oh, well, one way I could stand out is to send a print resume and cover letter.” Does that make a difference, do you think, when you’re reviewing applications as an employer?

Elora Arding:

I receive, maybe, just a very few nowadays via the mail, and I don’t know if it actually makes a difference because as long as you are following the application instructions and submitting everything that was asked for, typically, if you’re doing it online, it’s received a little quicker than if you were to mail it into us.

We do still accept applications via the US postal service, but I think if you want to get your application in on time, and you just want to be sure that we’re going to receive it, it’s much easier and much more common to do that through the applicant tracking system.

Mac Prichard:

Why do employers like applicant tracking systems and accepting applications online? What are the benefits to hiring managers?

Elora Arding:

I think there are definitely a few. I think it streamlines the hiring process. It makes it easier to manage larger volumes of applications that are received, and like I said, I’ve been in the game for a while, so I still receive paper applications, but we end up scanning them into our system anyway when we receive them, so it’s just an extra step.

I think also, when we use our applicant tracking systems and our HR information systems, we can include things like pre-screening or what I call knockout questions. Applicants can answer some questions from the get-go and we can kind of filter people out from the beginning.

Perhaps we have an applicant who is unwilling to relocate for a position or to travel for a certain position, and this position requires on-site presence or traveling, knowing that upfront for both us as the employer and for the the job seeker.

Mac Prichard:

What are the benefits of online applications for candidates, Elora? How does it help applicants?

Elora Arding:

Well, I think it makes it easier to apply for multiple positions in a shorter period of time, but it also, on the flip side, I think that can sometimes be a mistake. I think we’ll get into this a little later in the podcast, but we see a lot of one-click apply features nowadays in various applicant tracking systems online, and sometimes we see, even though it’s much easier for the job seeker to apply for multiple positions in a short period of time, that also can be seen as your resume being put out there and less, I guess, impersonal. It’s not effectively showcasing a candidate’s qualifications for a specific role.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk a little more about that because, as you know, there are candidates out there for whom it’s a strategy. They think, “Okay, it’s a numbers game. If I send out a large number of applications and the technology makes it easy for me to do that, eventually, I’ll get interviews and maybe even an offer or two.”

From your perspective as a hiring manager, Elora, what are your thoughts about that strategy, and can you tell when you are getting applications from someone who’s doing that?

Elora Arding:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve also been a job seeker, so I really appreciate the easy, one-click apply features that we now see on websites like Indeed or Glass Door, the easy apply functions on LinkedIn.

It can be daunting to have to go to a website every time to fill out the same answers for the same questions, but what I see happen is people are using that one-click apply, and sometimes they’re applying, let’s say, for different positions at the same organization, and they’re using their same resume that is generated by these websites that use the one-click apply, and rather than tailoring their resume to moreso fit that specific role, they are just submitting the same application or the same resume and even sometimes even the same cover letter.

They aren’t tailoring it to the specific role. I think taking the time to customize your application materials is crucial. Especially when you’re applying for multiple positions at the same company. I see people make the mistake of addressing the wrong hiring manager or addressing the wrong role when they’re applying for multiple positions within the same organization.

Mac Prichard:

One-click apply is actually number one of your list of four common online application mistakes to avoid, and let me clarify, you encourage people to avoid the mistake of sending the same material to different employers. You say the better approach is to customize your applications.

Let’s talk about that. Why shouldn’t you use the same materials when applying to multiple employers, and what are the benefits of customizing your application to each position?

Elora Arding:

I think what ends up happening with the one-click apply feature, rather than looking through the entire job description or job announcement, they see a job title that relates to the current role that they’re in or the current job that they’re seeking, and they’re like, “Okay, yeah, I’m gonna apply for this,” rather than taking the time to look a little further.

Who is the organization that’s hosting this position? They’re not doing their research, and a lot of the time, I can tell you from personal experience, we use a system that pushes out our job openings to websites like Indeed or Glass Door, and people are using the one-click apply feature, but they’re not reading through the entire job announcement and most of the time our application instructions are listed at the bottom of the job announcement.

They’re using the one-click apply, and they’re only submitting their resume, but our application instructions actually ask for answers to these additional questions, include a cover letter, and professional references. People are essentially just skipping through that, and what happens is when we’re going through to review candidates, if they haven’t completed that entire application process, then they’re most likely going to be filtered out of the process.

Mac Prichard:

Hold that thought. We’re going to take a break, Elora.

Stay with us. When we come back, Elora Arding will continue to share her advice on four online application mistakes to avoid.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Elora Arding.

She’s the people and culture manager at Portland Audubon.

Her organization protects birds and habitat, fights climate change, and advocates for access to nature.

Elora joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Now, Elora, before the break, we were talking about four online application mistakes to avoid, and the first one that you called out was using the one-click apply instead of customizing your resume and other application materials for every job.

We talked about the importance of doing that and how it can help you as a candidate.

Number two on your list of four common online application mistakes to avoid is not telling your career stories.

Why is it important, Elora, to share your career story in your online application?

Elora Arding:

Yeah, I think it’s extremely important to highlight your experiences, your achievements, and even mention some of the challenges you’ve experienced all throughout your career journey, all the way up until the point of you applying for this position and why you’re applying for this specific position that you’re interested in now.

When you’re talking about your career story, you’ll want to use specific examples from either your current or previous employer. Maybe you left a previous employer’s operating procedures in a better place than where you found it.

Mac Prichard:

Talk to us about the benefits of a candidate telling their career story, Elora. How does that help you, as a hiring manager, when a candidate does that?

Elora Arding:

Yeah, I think it’s important to do that because you can highlight your starting point to where you are now. It’s always important to show the obstacles and challenges that you’ve overcome. Career progression is really important to highlight.

I, for example, started out in customer service industry, sales associate, and realized that I wanted to continue working with people, and maybe not in the customer service industry itself, but that is how I got my footing in human resources. I continued to grow from there. I went from assistant positions to associate-level positions, and now I’m in a manager position, and really illustrating that progression is important for applicants to share with employers.

Mac Prichard:

Why does that matter to an employer, understanding a candidate’s career progression? What question is being answered when you, as an applicant, do that?

Elora Arding:

I think it shows your passion for the role that you’re applying for, and maybe even for the company that you’re applying for, when you’re able to show that career progression over time, and also able to highlight your dedication to the role, and showing your prospective employer that you want to be there and you want to continue to grow into that field, or even switching from one employer to another.

Maybe you’re wanting to switch gears and go from a for-profit industry to a nonprofit industry, and maybe the nonprofit world moreso aligns with your own personal values.

Mac Prichard:

Number three on your list of common online application mistakes to avoid is, and you touched on this in the first segment, are the candidates who don’t follow application instructions. What kind of instructions are applicants ignoring when they’re filling out their online applications?

Elora Arding:

Yeah, so most commonly, I see that they’re just not providing all of the materials that are asked of them in the application. So, if the employer is asking for a resume, cover letter, and the job seeker is only providing a resume, then it is likely that they’re going to be disqualified from the process from that point on.

I think it’s also important for job seekers to do a little more research. If they’re applying for a position, they might be a very experienced teacher or educator, and that might show on their resume. Maybe they have years of experience teaching school-aged kids, but if they’re not doing the research on the organization that’s hiring, maybe this is a teaching job for school-aged kids with a focus on science rather than writing, for example, and they’re applying for the job, not doing the additional research.

Then that’s going to, I think, backfire, when the employer starts to review applications.

Mac Prichard:

Why is that, Elora? Why will it backfire if you don’t do the research? Is it because your competitors are doing it? What’s going on there?

Elora Arding:

Well, that kind of goes back to not tailoring your resume to fit the role itself. You want to include keywords from the job announcement into your resume and really show the commonalities between your experience and what the employer is looking for.

Mac Prichard:

I want to return to a point that you made a moment ago about not including materials that have been requested.

You said that could disqualify you for the position, and while you’re not familiar with every employer’s practices, if you’re not going to follow all of the instructions, should you bother applying at all? Is it going to be a deal breaker if you don’t do all of those things?

Elora Arding:

Let me go back to the one-click apply feature again. We use a system that, like I said, people use the one-click apply to apply for roles that are open at our organization, and our system is, I guess, sophisticated enough to reach out to those people to remind them, after they’ve used the one-click apply feature, to also submit their cover letter and their application questions and their additional questions that were requested, and it will do that over a course of time until the deadline of the application hits.

I think you should just make sure to pay close attention to those application instructions and make sure that you’re receiving the confirmation email that you did apply for a position and revisit that. Usually, it will let you review your application and then you can go from there and see if you’re missing anything.

Our system does make it so we are able to filter out people that have not submitted all of the materials that were requested.

Mac Prichard:

The last of your four online application mistakes to avoid is ignoring questions or providing one-sentence responses to questions in an application form.

Why shouldn’t you ignore questions or give one-sentence responses, Elora? How is that going to hurt you as a candidate?

Elora Arding:

Well, I think, especially, if it is a part of the application process and it is one of the items that is listed as “required,” it’s important to answer them and to do it in a way that reflects not only your experience, but also how your experience ties into the role that you’re applying for.

For example, we often have a question or two related to diversity, equity, and inclusion because it gives us insight on the candidate’s perspective and understanding in these important issues, and it gives the applicants the opportunity to demonstrate their awareness and ability to contribute to a diverse and inclusive work environment, and for us, it’s really important that we are very committed to our equity and creating inclusiveness in the workplace, and so we want to also hire folks that share that same perspective.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Elora. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Elora Arding:

I would say, not for me specifically, but in early 2023, Portland Audubon, our board unanimously voted to drop the name “Audubon” and search for a name that better reflects our mission and values, and so after quite a long process of having conversations with our staff, volunteers, and our community, we have finally settled on a new name, and so we are going to be working on unveiling that name, and there are so many processes involved, rebranding, and everything.

That is what I will be working on with our name change committee, and I’m really excited about it.

Mac Prichard:

Well, congratulations.

I know that even after your name change, listeners can learn more about the work of your organization by visiting the Portland Audubon website at audubonportland.org and that you also encourage listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn. When they do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention that they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Elora, given all of the great advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about your four online application mistakes to avoid?

Elora Arding:

I’m just going to be going back to one-click apply. If you’re going to use one-click apply, make sure that you’re following up with your application and making sure that after using the one-click apply feature, that you are going back and ensuring that all of the application materials requested are submitted.

Mac Prichard:

Next week, our guest will be Andrea Yacub Macek.

She’s the founder and CEO of AYM Consulting.

Andrea’s company helps professional women show up as themselves and move forward and upward in their careers.

It’s time to change your job.

Maybe even your career.

But you can’t decide where to go.

Join us next Wednesday when Andrea Yacub Macek and I talk about what to do when you don’t know what’s next.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.