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The Online Application Tango

It's not exactly a news flash to me that job applications are now all digital. I had, after all, been on the other end of the process for years as a hiring manager. But things are very different when you are the applicant.
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My recollection from many years ago is that it used to be relatively easy applying for a job listing. You dusted off and tweaked the resume, scratched out a new cover letter, printed them both on the "special" letterhead, folded the papers neatly into an envelope, licked a stamp, popped it in the mailbox -- and, voila, you'd get a call back in a month or so (or not).

Maybe in those days it was your personal choice of elegant paper that would catch the eye of the HR director or hiring manager: "Ooh, such nice taste in ivory Southmark paper he has, the kind that Abraham Lincoln had used. And the texture -- it's rich, it has depth... It's like holy parchment! We must hire him immediately!"

Times have changed just a wee bit in 20 plus years. Not only don't you need the fancy paper -- unless you have an in-person interview, in which case you'd want a printout on the holy parchment -- you don't even have to lick anything. What time (and saliva) savings!

It's not exactly a news flash to me that job applications are now all digital. I had, after all, been on the other end of the process for years as a hiring manager. But things are very different when you are the applicant. From my current perspective, the convoluted digital application process only serves to make things easier for the employer, not the candidate. Now the applicant has to work harder than ever to find creative ways to stand out among the countless electronic submissions.

Since news of my layoff has spread, friends, family, former colleagues, longtime business associates and some very kind The Huffington Post blog readers have been extremely supportive and generous with advice and even job opportunities, for which I'm eternally grateful. I've made certain to follow up on each and every online lead, even if it doesn't seem to be an "exact fit" on first glance.

One such recommendation came by way of a wonderful editor/author friend who forwarded a "this job is perfect for you" email to me via a LinkedIn job posting. I read it over and thought it was interesting, even though I doubted the employer would see me as the "perfect" for them, given it was in a different field from my background -- but what the heck, I need a job. I followed the link and began the process of applying online.

I had no idea how much of a futile time sink this would be. LinkedIn conveyed some information from my page to the company's application screens, but the text came through all wrong and I had to retype it. No biggie, except the screens weren't exactly intuitive (for me, anyway) and I kept receiving big red "information incomplete" warnings and had to continuously redo it. It seemed like it was taking forever for each screen to load. So I waited... and waited... and waited.

Finally, my information cleared and the next screen appeared, prompting me to attach my resume. I did just that when I saw a tab offering a view of what my attachment looked like. It was a good thing I checked this out because the resume had come out garbled -- all of my fancy scripts, fonts, indentations, etc. had been translated to Greek characters.

After several failed attempts to reload the resume, I sought another route to post the resume: copy and paste it into the box. That worked fine, except for one thing: The box doesn't allow any fancy script, fonts, indentations, etc. Not only didn't I have the edge of fine Southmark paper, I didn't have the option of (as a former British boss of mine would say) "tarting it up."

Plain Jane it would have to be. It's about substance, right? All of my skills, accomplishments, years of experience...

I moved the cursor to a different box to type in my cover letter. This was pretty standard stuff, so after a thorough proofread and double-check of everything I clicked "send." Again the interminable wait. This time it became clear it really wasn't going through. What had I done wrong?

After several more minutes passed, a prompt appeared informing me you can't call the resume and cover letter boxes the same thing. Fine: I changed the name of each box from the title of the job listing to "Gary Krebs Resume" and "Gary Krebs Cover Letter." I clicked "send" a second time.

The delay happened again. The minutes went by with nothing happening until, finally, the dreaded Mac pinwheel of doom showed up. This is not good, I thought. And with that, Misty -- my majestic longhaired gray cat -- climbed onto the modem hookup, knocking everything down. The lights on the modem flashed error messages I couldn't begin to comprehend.

Needless to say, I had to shut down and restart everything. The computer worked okay -- thankfully, no further signs of the infernal pinwheel of doom -- except now I couldn't get online at all. I tried re-plugging the modem wires, but nothing worked. I restarted the computer several times. Totally dead. Who do I call to help me out? I don't exactly have access at home to an S.O.S. Helpdesk in India.

My wife came home to find her Spouse in the House helpless and frustrated, staring and cursing at the computer screen. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"The modem," I said with the sheepish look of the computer illiterate. "The damn cat knocked it over and it's busted. I just can't get it to work. "I've been trying for hours to apply to this job and now I've lost everything. I wasted the whole day without any time on my screenplay and I've gotten nowhere..."

"Let me see," she offered.

That is where I smartened up and left the office. How many times had we tried to work together to repair something and I would get all sensitive, defensive, worked up, and crazy -- as in: "I tried all that, what do you think I am, a total idiot?!!!"

I began to fix myself a snack in the kitchen when my wife casually appeared next to me. "Hopeless, right?" I asked.

"Nope, it's fixed," she answered.

"Fixed? But how...?"

"The orange wire goes into the orange input. You had it in the wrong one," she said.

"Wow," I said, deeply impressed. "Thank you."

I raced back to the computer and went online to try to reconstruct the job application. It was all gone, of course, and at that point I was no longer in the mood to face those impossible screens again. I searched for an email address of anyone who worked for that company, thinking that at the least I could apply through a simpler method. Unfortunately, after searching the listing many times, I couldn't find anything resembling an email address or contact name. I gave up: It was a long shot in a different industry anyway, I rationalized.

Instead I went on a different path, drafting my next blog installment online when, suddenly, BANG! The cat had again knocked the modem down. Before panicking or helplessly crying out for help, I noticed that the orange wire had again pried loose from the modem. "Aha!" I shouted. I immediately replaced the orange wire into the orange input, and I was back in business without losing any work. I had learned something that day, after all.

Feeling like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, I returned to work. It occurred to me, however, that I could use some extra dance lessons doing the Online Application Tango for future job applications. So next up: This former business publisher -- who over the years has put to market numerous bestselling job search books -- will review print and digital career advice content. Cue up the music.

For more by Gary M. Krebs, click here.

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