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Killer Apps

Christine M. Riordan

No, not the apps on your smartphone. I want to talk about something much more important in your life--job application forms.

You may not know this, but organizations typically use application forms as an initial screening device for applicants. What makes them "killer" is they too often ask for superficial information. Yet employers use this information to make deep cuts in the applicant pool, using applications to eliminate as much as 90 percent of the applicants, according to Robert D. Gatewood, Ph.D., author of "Human Resource Selection."

The general nature of many questions on applications and the lack of space for responses make it difficult for an applicant to show his or her relevant skills and knowledge. As an intelligent job seeker, you need to know what type of information will help you get an interview.

You can use some general strategies to overcome the limitations of a killer app. The following tips offer ways of providing more complete information about your skills and knowledge than most application forms allow.

1. Learn about the actual job and tailor your responses. First, learn as much as you can about the actual tasks of the job for which you are applying. The best way, of course, is to obtain a detailed job description. Some companies include a description when advertising the job. If not, contact the human resources department of the company to ask for one. If a job description is not available, search other references, such as The Dictionary of Occupational Titles website, which provides descriptions of hundreds of jobs common across organizations and within industry types. Alternatively, use popular online resources, such as CareerBuilder, Vault, WetFeet, The Ladders and Indeed, to search for sample position descriptions similar to the one for which you are applying. This will give you some insight into the success profile, skills and competencies that companies are seeking. You can then use this information to frame responses on the application. Examine the specific job task information carefully and list your work experience, training or education that relates to specific tasks.

2. Write a brief cover letter. A cover letter provides an opportunity for you to present the job-related skills that go beyond those mentioned on an application form. This letter should be short (a few paragraphs) and clearly indicate the knowledge and skills related to job tasks, e.g., "I am proficient in building websites because I have had three college courses on web design and have worked for two startups for which I was in charge of this activity." Do not be afraid to be specific, especially if listing those skills gets you an interview. Also, in one short sentence indicate why you are interested--answer the questions "why this role?" and "why this organization?"

3. Add information to the application form response. Gatewood suggests you add some additional details on the application when feasible. As an example, if an application requests a job title, you may use a task-related description such as, "Media Manager in charge of website design and implementation." When using this option, you should be selective and add information only to activities or experiences clearly related to an important job task. That's even more reason to know as much as you can about the requirements of the job and the skills that the organization requires.

4. Be complete and accurate in your responses on the application form. Even if the information is redundant with your résumé, complete all aspects of the application form. Additionally, double-check grammar and spelling. People will use small reasons to eliminate your application from the pile. Don't give them errors or an incomplete effort on the application as reasons for elimination.

5. Attach a brief résumé to the application form. The résumé should also be short and only include information directly related to job tasks.

6. Above all else, be honest in your responses. Do not claim to have skills or degrees that you don't have. There are many legal and widely publicized cases where applicants provided false information on the application form, such as the falsification of college degree by former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson. It simply doesn't pay to lie or stretch the truth.

7. Use your network. Hiring managers often receive a flood of applications. It may be to your benefit to use your network to get yours noticed. If you have someone who can advocate for you within the organization, do not be shy about asking your contact to promote a review of your application.

Christine M. Riordan, Ph.D., is the dean and a professor of management at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, an internationally ranked business school. Dr. Riordan runs an $86 million operation and leads a global network of more than 36,000 faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Connect with her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christine.riordan) and LinkedIn.

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