Tips | Applying for Jobs Online

These days, most applications are done online or via email. It’s important to understand how employers review these applications to increase your chances of getting an interview. 


1. Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Many organizations are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help in their resume screening. These systems help the employer save time by screening out unqualified applicants. Today, some ATS incorporate AI.


How Does an ATS Work? 

  • Recruiters will specify key skills and qualifications that they are seeking. The ATS will then conduct a search of all the applications for matches. The greater number of matches, the higher the score. 

  • Once this screening is done, the top-scoring applications will be reviewed by a person. 


How do You Know If the Employer is Using an Applicant Tracking System? 

The truth is that you may not know for certain, however, there are a few indications that they might be using this technology. These include: 

  • Asking you to cut and paste your document or asking that you submit your resume as a text document 

  • Having a detailed series of questions asking for similar information to your resume and cover letter 

  • The company refers to the software on their careers page 

  • You are applying on LinkedIn (the employer may not have their own ATS but could be searching keywords on your LinkedIn profile)


Technical Considerations for ATS

Applicant Tracking Systems can have significant technological challenges. Here are a few tips to help you avoid missing out.  

  • Avoid saving the document as a PDF as not all ATS’s have the ability to search keywords in these documents (however, if the employer asks for a PDF, please follow their instructions) 

  • Don’t put key information in headers (including your address) as the ATS can’t distinguish this information. 

  • Use a sans-serif font like Arial (avoid serif fonts like Times New Roman) 

  • Avoid graphics (including emoticons) and columns 


Writing Your Resume for an ATS

Simply put, the ATS has a scoring system based on quantity and quality of key word matches. This means you need to tailor your resume by: 

  • Reviewing the job description for keywords and use those words 

  • Incorporate hard skill and soft skill keywords in all aspects of the resume, including the work/volunteer/relevant experience section

  • Have a summary of qualifications/core qualifications that incorporates the key words 

  • Reviewing profiles of employees from the organization on LinkedIn to see how they describe their positions 

  • Spell out all acronyms 

  • Updating your LinkedIn profile to make sure that you have those keywords included (some ATS’s can automatically search social media profiles to see if the information is consistent) 

  • Have dates for all your experiences and education 


Don’t Forget the Human Factor  

  • Once your resume gets through the ATS screening, it will be looked at by a recruiter. It’s important to have a well-formatted and organized document. 

  • Avoid the temptation to “trick” the ATS by randomly putting in keywords (either visible or invisible) on your document. Employers will find this and, in some cases, flag you as someone to avoid in future hiring. 

  • Have a strong cover letter that highlights your interest and related skills. Many ATS’s aren’t able to review cover letters effectively and a strong cover letter will catch the recruiter’s attention. 


2. Using E-Mail During Your Job Search 

Tip: Leave the recipient’s address blank until you’re ready to send it, so that you don’t accidentally send your message before it is ready to go. 


Attachments – You can send resumes in a variety of formats, such as plain text, Word, PDFs. Try to determine what format the employer prefers, where possible.  Read the posting carefully, check the organization’s website or try to find out at an employer information session.  If the employer doesn’t specify which format, sending a PDF is encouraged as it helps you retain your formatting for the document. 


3. Email Etiquette

  • Don’t forget to include a cover letter to explain why you are applying for the position and how your skills and experiences will meet the employer’s needs.   

  • Stick to proper business communications including a salutation (e.g. “Dear Ms. Smith”), a standard closing (e.g. “Sincerely”) and include your full name where you would normally sign it.  Don’t use the emoticons and abbreviations that are so often used in everyday e-mails. 

  • Always include complete contact information with every e-mail.  You may want to create a “signature file” to be included at the bottom of all outgoing e-mail messages with your full name, complete address, phone number and e-mail address listed.  Use a professional-sounding e-mail address.  Don’t be “” 

  • Be sure that you are reachable and that your e-mail inbox is not full.  Employers won’t be impressed when they receive “message undeliverable” errors when your e-mail account is temporarily over quota. Check your e-mail often, including junk mail. 

  • If the employer prefers attachments, consider sending the cover letter as plain text in the body of the email message and attaching the resume as a pdf.  Leaving the entire body of the message blank may be seen as laziness and a lack of interest in the organization you are applying to.   

  • Include the position of interest in the subject line and label your resume attachment with your full name.  Make sure you attach the correct version of your resume and that it does not contain references to other positions. 


4. Applying Online via Web Forms 

  • Applying on the web is not the same as e-mailing your resume.  In addition to cutting and pasting your resume and cover letter onto the web form, you will also likely be asked to answer a series of questions specific to that particular job.   

  • In addition to basic questions such as filling in your GPA, you may be asked to explain your career objectives, highlight relevant skills, discuss extracurricular activities, etc.  Use every opportunity you have to showcase your relevant skills; don’t leave questions unanswered or boxes blank. 

  • The key is in your preparation. You must understand and be able to articulate your skills and how your education and experience relate to the position. 

  • In addition to the content of your answers, many employers are also assessing your communication style. Unless otherwise indicated, answer these questions using complete sentences. Obviously, perfect spelling and grammar are also key. 

Tip: Review the online application in advance and note down what questions are being asked; then draft your responses before submitting. 


Additional Resources 

  • Jobscan – free resume scanner for ATS Compatibility (for privacy reasons, we recommend that you remove your personal information (name, address and phone number)} 

  • How to Get Your Resume through an ATS (webinar on LinkedIn Learning) 

  • Resume Critiques - the Career Centre offers resume critiques. Please call us at 905-828-5451 or 905-828-5264 to set-up an appointment. 


updated July 2023