Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Battling HR firewalls

To those of us who are currently looking for work some employer's HR web sites can take on the appearance as a sort of firewall created to keep job applicants out, or at least it can feel that way. Let's face it, if you are unemployed and looking for work then you already have enough stress in your life. The last thing you need is more stress from a uncooperative HR web site when applying for a job.

I have found that the best way to approach these HR firewalls is to apply some common sense, and a little determination. Now that may sound like a "no brainer", but when you are going mano a mano against a difficult HR web site, and things are going from bad to worse you may tend to loose focus and that is when frustration can replace common sense and determination.

While I am not "expert" when it comes to dealing with temperamental HR sites, I do have some experience in dealing with them. I would like to share with you some of the things I have found useful when I encounter an HR firewall.

Now preparation is very important, and while this is obvious, I cannot stress this enough. Some HR web sites can time out on you before you finish your application, so being prepared and having everything ready to go can be the difference between getting your application entered the first time, or having to make several attempts to complete the task.

Here is what you need to have ready, and be prepared to do before you apply for a job online:
  • Resume: Always have the latest version of your resume available in both as a text file (.txt) and in a document format such as a Word (.doc) file. You may need both since some sites will have you upload your Word formatted resume only to have you reenter the data again, and this is where the text file comes in handy. You can copy and paste from the Word .doc version of your resume, but there may be issues with formatting, so the text file is best.
  • Cover Letter: Before you apply for the job, review the requirements and write your cover letter. Now the site may not require or provide for a cover letter, but it's always best to have one written, and like the resume have it in both .doc and .txt formats just in case either need to manually enter the letter, or you need to copy specific statements from it.
  • Be prepared to improvise. If you encounter a site that doesn't allow you to enter your cover letter, and you have not yet entered your resume, consider combining the two documents. When I encounter a site that doesn't allow me to enter a cover letter, I create a new section at the bottom of my resume called "Additional Information / Cover Letter" and add my cover letter. You can either do this with your Word .doc document, or the site allows just enter the two documents together into the text field for the resume.
  • Employment History: This is not the same as your resume. Even after you upload or enter your resume, many sites will require you to again enter your current or previous employers name, location, specific dates you were employed, your last manager, starting and ending pay rate, and contact information for both the company and your former manager. Now much of this information may be on your resume, but then again it might not, or at least not in the detail required by the HR site.For example most people tend to list on their resumes only the months and years that they worked for an employer, and some sites require specific dates. Having a specific document with all this detailed information organized together will save time searching through your resume, and help keep frustration levels down.
  • References: While it may not be in good form for a potential employer to ask for references at the application stage, some employers do. It is always best to check with your references and confirm that they are comfortable with being listed at the application stage. Identify on your references list which references are comfortable with being listed at this stage, and which ones are not. If you do list your references, always notify them so they are not caught off guard should a potential employer contact them.
  • Scratchpad: In this case I am referring to a blank text (.txt) file that you can use to save information too while you are online This is especially useful should it become necessary to recover information you entered. What can happen is that you can spend too much time entering data, or answering a specific question such as "Describe how you last saved the planet from evil aliens" that the session may time out on you. If you cannot use the back button on your browser to recover that excessively long paragraph you entered then you are out of luck. Now if you can go back with you browser then copy and paste the text into the scratch pad. A better solution is to always copy and paste specific information you compose for site in to the scratchpad prior to continuing or saving the data. This is another situation where being prepared to improvise comes in handy.
  • Skills Listing: Now your resume and cover letter may list all the skills you think are appropriate for the position you are applying for, and then again they may not. This may be due to not enough space on the documents to list all of your skills, or due to the fact that the information provided for the position didn't list all the skill requirements necessary for the job. Having a complete list of skills available in a easy to such format will come in handy for you, plus some job listings may jog your memory and you can add skills you forgot about to this list. Expect to be surprised when you enter an employer's HR site.
  • Take notes and remember trends: Many employers are now outsourcing their online application process, or using similar software packages to build their HR sites. These services and/or software packages have common behavior that depending on the implementation can be good or bad. I won't list any names here, but when I go to an employer's site and see the name of a specific HR hosting service either in the URL or somewhere on the site, I don't proceed any further until drawn up a plan of attack and I know I am ready to do battle with that site.
  • Avoid interruptions: While this may be nearly impossible to do, try to avoid any interruptions so as give yourself enough time to finish the task of applying for the job, and dealing with any problems that may arise.
  • Take a break if you need to: Didn't I just say to avoid interruptions? Yes, but if the problems you are encountering are wearing you down, stop and take a break. You may also need to walk about from the attempt, and try later on. If that happens you will at least be prepared for what the site will throw at you.
While I tried to list everything that would be helpful I know I may have missed a few things, so I will update this entry as I either remember the things I forgot, or others remind me or make suggestions. Email me or leave a comment if you have a suggestion for battling HR firewalls.

Hopefully things will get better soon, and many of you will no longer have to battle the HR firewalls, but until then I hope these article proves useful to you. Cheers ~ Jim

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