Navigating online applications – Ruth McGuire

Not too long ago, applying for a job was quite a task. You had to search through newspapers, journals or visit Job Centres or recruitment agencies to find vacancies. Once armed with the necessary details, you had to write or telephone the human resources or some other department for an application form and information pack.  Next, you had to complete several pages of an application form before posting your completed application form in good time to arrive by the closing date. Technology has streamlined the entire process. Now you can see a job vacancy, apply for it and receive an acknowledgement within hours.

Although, most companies and organisations ask and expect job applicants to apply for jobs online there is sometimes an option to have an application form sent out in ‘hard copy.’ The trend however, is for the ‘digital’ approach. This comes with advantages and disadvantages for both employers and prospective employees.

Advantages for job hunters

The obvious advantage for job hunters is that you don’t have to worry about spilling tea or coffee on your application form or in some other way ruining it. In most cases, you can complete and save your application form in stages and make numerous changes to sections of the form before submitting the final version. Digital job applications also give you the flexibility to use your tablet, phone, laptop or PC to complete your application from anywhere in the world – even whilst you’re abroad on holiday! The cut and paste facility of online applications is also useful as you can save standard information such as the chronology of your work experience to date, your education and qualifications and so on and simply paste into these into the relevant sections of endless numbers of application forms. Online applications are also much cheaper than paper applications. You can submit hundreds of application forms without paying out for envelopes, paper and stamps.

Disadvantages for job hunters

The obvious disadvantage to completing an application online is that midway through completing your application or submitting sections of an online application form, your computer crashes or your internet connection is interrupted and you lose everything and have to start all over again. Not all online applications offer a ‘save and return’ feature. There is also the risk that you might think you’ve submitted an application form, but for some reason such as not pressing the ‘submit’ button, your application is never sent.

It is also much easier to be lazy with online applications and to just keep ‘cutting and pasting’ into application forms without adjusting your responses to match the requirements of a specific job. You can also become over reliant on ‘spellcheckers’ and forget that they check spelling not context. For example, if you type ‘their’ instead of ‘there’ a spell checker would not identify the error.

As with any exchange of information that happens over the internet, there is a small risk of fraudsters quite literally cashing in on your quest for a job.  Action Fraud, the National Fraud & Cyber Reporting Centre has therefore issued a warning about ‘employment fraud.’ This occurs when ‘fake recruiters’ pretend to have jobs on offer but ask for an upfront fee for training, equipment or uniforms before you’ve even been formally offered and/or accepted a job. Alternatively some job ‘scammers’ ask you to call them to arrange an interview but use premium rate phone lines which can cost you a small fortune. In 2016, an estimated 700,000 job hunters lost more than £500,000 in alleged fraud more job hunters are being targeted by ‘fake recruiters.’  For information on how to stay safe when applying for jobs online visit

Advantages for employers

For the employer, digital job applications work well. It makes the recruitment process much more streamlined and manageable than working with paper applications. Online applications can be sorted and shared with staff from different departments much more easily than paper applications. Extensions to deadlines for applications or adjustments to job descriptions can also be made quickly. This gives employers much more flexibility when recruiting and selecting new employees and allows them to widen the net for prospective recruits. Online applications also give employers the opportunity to very quickly offer and confirm interview times with job candidates without incurring the costs of paper and postage. It also saves employers the cost of staff wasting time telephoning job candidates to arrange interviews when they could instead just send a quick email.

Disadvantages for employers

The benefit to job seekers of using ‘cut and paste’ for multiple applications can be a disadvantage to employers. They could be faced with too many ‘generic’ and bland applications that do not match the specific requirements for a job. Recruiters could also be faced with sections of application forms that have been “borrowed” from other people or from online sources. Employers counteract this by increasing the rigour of interviews and carrying out extensive reference and background checks. They increasingly also use social media to get a more rounded view of a job applicant’s character.

Social Media

Employers are increasingly using social media as part of their recruitment strategy. This helps them to learn more about prospective employees from the content of their social media posts or from sites such as LinkedIn. Some job applicants have had their job applications rejected purely because of posts made on social media sites. In some high profile cases, individuals who were offered and accepted jobs have either been forced to resign or been sacked because of the nature of the content of social media posts or text messages posted in some cases, several years previously.  If you’re not careful, having an online presence can cost you a job or reputation.  The solution is simple. Be very careful about what you post on social media sites and that includes photographs. Remember that whenever you use a computer you leave behind a trail behind that is very hard to permanently delete.

However, you can social media sites to your advantage by posting news about your successes or achievements. So if for example, you reach the top of Mount Everest, post that on your Facebook site! More realistically, more modest achievements such as taking part in charity runs or fund raising events are valuable as they provide employers with more insight into your character than you can express on an application form.

Handy Hints

 - Digital application forms are a substitute for paper but not for preparation. Prepare your answers well before pressing the submit button
 - Read instructions carefully and for example check whether you need to provide a covering letter to accompany your online application
 - Print a copy of the digital application form or take screen shots if for some reason it isn’t possible to print out the application
 - Plan your answers to match the requirements of the job
 - When describing your achievements and successes provide examples to ‘substantiate’ your answers
 - Read, review and proofread your application before you press submit and if possible print out a copy of your application
 - Be careful with your use of social media
 - Research thoroughly any company or organisation before applying for jobs and/or before you accept interview invitations
 - Never trust a prospective “employer” that requires you to pay any kind of upfront fee or asks you to ring a premium rate phone number


Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.