The reality is a growing number of job seekers are turning to the internet and online job boards to find a new position. Randstad's own research found that the two most popular job search channels were online job boards (58%) and company career websites (71%) — and that was before COVID-19. Now, with job fairs, conferences and networking events prohibited for the foreseeable future, the number of candidates applying for jobs online is only expected to rise.

Here’s the ugly truth about applying to jobs online, though – most job seekers take the approach of sending out as many online job applications as they can with one generic resume. In reality, however, sending out more resumes doesn’t increase your chances of getting hired. Instead, you may risk burning a bridge at an organization by sending an online application for a job you don’t qualify for.

With so many job seekers competing for a select number of open roles, how should you find and fill out job applications online? How do online applications work in the first place?

Here are answers to five common questions people often have about online applications.

1. who should i submit my online application to?

Before applying to a job online, look for contacts in the organization using your LinkedIn network. First, see if you know anyone who could assist in submitting your application for the role internally. If you don’t have a direct contact, follow up after your application by reaching out to the recruiter or hiring manager via LinkedIn or direct email.

If you’re applying for a job online via email, you might consider tailoring a short email message for the role based on the following template:


I’m writing to apply for the role of [JOB] at [COMPANY]. Please find my resume attached in both PDF and Word format, for your convenience. I’ll also plan to follow up with you in the next week to check in on the status of my candidacy.

Given my strong track record of success in this field, I feel that I am an excellent fit for the role — but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my candidacy with you further over the phone or via video interview. In the interim, I want to thank you in advance for taking the time to consider my candidacy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need any additional information.



Be sure to include the name of the role you’re applying for in the subject line of your email as well. Finally, if you’ve indicated that you plan to check in with your recruiter or HR contact in your initial email outreach, don’t forget to actually do so when the time comes!

2. how do i improve the visibility of my online applications?

Even if there’s not an available position that interests you, register and submit your resume within all of your target companies’ Applicant Tracking Systems so you’ll be in their database when they search for candidates. Be sure to refresh your resume regularly, and tailor it to specific positions for which you are applying.

3. is there a best way to answer a salary request?

Inquiring about pay history is now illegal in some states, but if yours is one that's not on the list, then you'll want to be prepared to handle this scenario. When a job board application asks for your desired salary or requests a salary history, you can answer one of three ways:

  • Leave this blank, or enter "negotiable."
  • If required, give exactly as asked. However, companies may make decisions that are not necessarily in your favor based on this option.
  • List your target salary or salary range in every salary box. Then, in the first open text box write: "all salary figures reported reflect my current salary target." While not a favorable option by some recruiters and companies, if accepted, the focus will be on what your expectations are instead of what you previously made.

If you need help setting a salary range, there are a variety of tools available online that can help you. Randstad's own salary comparison tool, for instance, will show you average pay rates in major markets across the U.S.

4. wait, there’s an essay question — what do i do here?

If you're required to write an essay, it’s because your potential employer wants to see your writing skills and find out how you express yourself. That shouldn't be too difficult, as long as you take your time. Be sure you follow the instructions, too. For example, try not to go off-topic in your essay, and do your best to stick to any l ength, formatting or font parameters that are provided as well. 

5. how do i address problems or gaps in my background?

Many people have issues they believe will hinder their chances of landing a job, including employment gaps, job hopping or appearing overqualified. But in today’s job market, these red flags may not be deal breakers, especially when you follow these general rules:

  • Be honest. Don’t lie, whatever you do. Your shortcoming may be overlooked if you are a strong candidate for the job, but you will be blacklisted if they find out you’ve lied.
  • Make up for your shortcomings. Emphasize the positives wherever and whenever possible.
  • Network, network, network! Find someone with a connection to the company, and ask him or her to assist in getting your application to the hiring manager.

key takeaways

Now you know the truth about applying for jobs online, how to apply for a job online via email, how to respond to tough questions — and more!

Keep in mind that you’ll need to be proactive in your job pursuit. Don’t just apply to a position on a job board and hope to get a response. It’s a good idea to start your online job search by registering an account with your target companies’ career pages. Continue to increase your digital networking and follow up after submitting an online application in order to maximize your chances of emerging as a top candidate for a position of interest.

Looking for more job-search guidance? Visit our Career Resources page for resume, interview, job search tips and more. You should also check out these simple tips for building a great professional resume in no time.