5 Secrets to Success for Veterans Applying for Jobs Online

(U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Mark Thompson)

It seems easy, doesn’t it: Just send one resume to many online open jobs and see whether one sticks. “Economies of scale,” right?

Except that’s rarely how someone gets a job interview, let alone a great job. Applying for jobs online should not be viewed as what’s easiest or fastest. You should give the effort the same strategic attention as if you were actually interviewing for your dream position at your dream employer.

What Happens When You Apply Online?

Most online job applications proceed through an applicant tracking system (ATS). In a very simplistic explanation, an ATS is a software that searches for matches on certain required and then preferred keywords (skills, certifications, length of time in positions) and other criteria as set in the job description. It’s algorithm-based and not personal or subjective. 

If enough “matches” show up, the ATS advances the application and resume. By organizing resumes, applications and candidates through the ATS, the employer (and its screeners, recruiters and hiring managers) can quickly sort through thousands of resumes to try to find the best fits for consideration. This also enables the employer to retain the organized resumes for later openings, if they should fit.

An ATS is a very efficient and valuable tool for employers. For job applicants, however, an ATS removes the qualitative aspects of a job search that are often necessary when transitioning from a military to civilian career. Unless your military jobs were completely aligned in the technology and systems used and the certifications, skills and experiences gained with what the civilian employer seeks, you could be quickly eliminated from consideration because of the ATS.

5 Secrets to Applying Online

There are several ways to cut through the impersonal nature of online applying, including:

1. Align with the Culture of the Employer. 

Even though the ATS will scour for keywords, terms and phrases, ensure your tone is positioned to match theirs. If the job description, the company’s website and what you know about the company shows it to be upbeat, happy and team-oriented, choose language in your resume and application that matches, where applicable.

2. Use Keywords. 

Ensure that the keywords listed in the job description are reflected on your resume, cover letter and application, wherever you can. For example, if they use “human resources” instead of “personnel management,” use the words they’ll be searching for. Only exchange out their words for yours where it makes sense and is relevant. 

3. Connect on LinkedIn. 

If you know the names of some people at the company, ask to connect online. Look through their LinkedIn profile and see what you can learn about them, their tenure at the company and any areas you have in common. 

In your request to connect, you could mention that you recently saw they’re hiring and would like to connect to learn more from them about their work. Not everyone will accept your request, but if you know people at the company, you can have inside advocates.

4. Ensure You Have the Skills.

While you might really want the job, remember their goal is to hire someone with enough skills, experience and the right personality to do the work. Review your background carefully and make sure you list as many of the required and preferred skills on your resume to give your application a good chance of being advanced.

5. Leverage Your Network. 

As you exited the military, hopefully you learned the importance of having a vast, intentional network of contacts. Now’s when you’ll need them. Ask any of them whether they’ve worked with the company, know people at the company or have insight that will help you apply to the open position. You might discover that someone in your network knows a decision maker there and can put in a good word for you. This is much better than just sending in a resume online.

After reviewing these tips, you can see why just shooting your resume off to every open job is typically less than productive. Instead, spend the time to learn about the company, the job and their culture and leverage every tool you have to help your resume stand out.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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