4 Steps to Stand Out in the Online Application Process

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Have you ever spent hours crafting the perfect resume, cover letter, and application?
You hold your breathe and click on the dreaded SEND button.
Your application has been submitted to the employer of your dreams.
It will be only be a matter of days before they call you, anxiously awaiting to meet you in person.
Then, you will land your dream job and live happily ever after.

Except,  none of that happens.  You never hear back.
Hours of your life wasted.  Energy and enthusiasm drained.
I say: NO MORE.

Having the perspective of the hiring manager, I’m happy to share a few tips and tricks that will help you get noticed both OFF and ON line.

Note: I am only sharing my opinions and observations from my own experience.   I’m not a HR generalist or specialist, just a parks and rec professional.

 Stand Out in Online Applications

1. Fill out the application completely and thoroughly.

This is the most important part to stand out during the online application process.

Most parks and rec agencies use an online application process.  On the candidates end, for most government jobs, this is often called GovernmentJobs.com (ironic, huh?).  The AWESOME thing about this online program is that you only have to fill out your education, experience, objective, and skills ONCE.  I recommend working on your profile while you have plenty of free time (not when the application is due in two hours).   If done well, it will take some time to complete this: a few hours, at least.  Once you complete it, it’s there forever (just as long as you remember your username and password).

BTW – If the employer doesn’t have an online application process, good luck.  Print off your application, go to a post office, and skip to step #2.

Based on my experience, governmentjobs.com is linked to a program called NEOGOV.  Neogov is the way that employers view applications, see candidates, and go through the hiring process.  NEOGOV has a whole system that grades your application.

Here are some tips to help you receive a higher score:

  • Complete your application.  You’ll be given a score based on your ability to fill out all parts of the application. That means that if you decide to only attach your resume (and leave the experience and education parts blank), then you are missing out on some serious points!  Go back and fill in as much as you can.  That means things that are often overlooked: objective, skills, preferences, and additional information.  This also means attaching a cover letter and resume.
  • Optimize your Objective.   I can’t tell you how much this stands out when looking at hundreds of resumes.  You see, when you click on a person’s name, the OBJECTIVE is the main piece of information that shows up before we scroll down the page.  DO NOT just copy and paste an generic statement. DO make it personable, professional, and specific to the job.
  • Answer all Questions with Detail. Sometimes, employers will ask specific questions at the end of the application to make sure you are qualified.  The best thing you can do is to answer them honestly and thoroughly.  Sure, some of the questions are multiple choice (there’s only one right answer), but you can make up for those points by answering the open-ended questions with lots of detail.  That being said, don’t write an essay.  Keep it to one or two paragraphs.  Make it worth their time to read it.

Don’t click submit yet!  You’ll need to make sure you have a detailed resume and cover letter, too.

 Always write a specific cover letter

2. Always write a specific cover letter for the job

My husband, who recently had to hire a new employee, told me about a few of the applications that he received for this new role.  He said that two candidates had used templates for their cover letters.  Nothing wrong with that – templates are a great way to make a modern resume/cover letter.   However, one of them failed to change the heading; instead of his name being typed in 20pt font across the top, the cover letter said “Header 1” instead.  Yikes.  The other candidate used a cover letter from a previous job that he applied for.  He forgot to change the name of the company and the name of the position.

The point isn’t to make fun of these mistakes – it’s to show that they happen all the time.  It’s the people who PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS and make these documents professional who truly stand out.

So, if you’re going to use a template… customize the template as much as possible.  Read it.  Reread it. Reread it again. And give it to a friend to proofread.  Just remember – if you forget these details now, it can’t possibly be expected that you would remember those details if given the job.   It’s true that your actions speak louder than words.  But your words definitely count.

The main point here is CREATE A COVER LETTER.  Make it specific to the job.  Don’t be generic.  Tell a story that convinces that employer that you are the best person for the job.  Pain Letters are also a great way to stand out.

Call the hiring manager

3. Email & Call the Hiring Manager (even if it says not to)

If you’re a millennial reading this, you just cringed.  Picking up the phone to call a stranger (who could be your boss) is downright frightening.  The online application should be enough, you mumble.

Not so – at least not in the “real world.”  Understand that parks and recreation professionals are incredibly busy.  Anyone managing camps, programs, sports, and facilities, have a thousand to-dos at any given time.  Hiring is just one step in that process.  They may not see your name for several days/weeks/months.  It could be luck that they find you.  Think about it from the employers’ point of view.

For several jobs that I posted, we received over 120 applications.  The only way to go through them at that point was either through NEOGOV scores (see above) or by going through each one, downloading the resumes/applications/cover letters, and dividing them out through a matrix of sorts.  It’s a VERY laborious process that is a huge drain on one’s to-do list.

So – how do you solve that pain?  You pick up the phone and you let it be know who you are and how you can help!

Have you seen the warnings on the applications that say “Please, no calls”? I have a few opinions about that.  I personally think that this is a warning from HR that prevents THEM from getting an influx of calls.  But as a hiring manager, I wanted SOMEBODY, anybody, to stand out from the crowd.  In fact, I actually hired someone simply because he called me multiple times (he also had a great resume and interview skills).  It was clear that he wanted the job and he demonstrated that through his actions.

Tour the building

4. Take a Tour of the Park/Facility

In nearly every interview that I’ve been in (on both sides of the table), there has been a question that asks about the candidates understanding of what that parks and rec department does.  It will probably be phrased like this:

“Tell us about your impressions about ____________”

“What intrigues you about working for us?”

“Can you tell us what you know about our ___________?”

This is where you either shine or sink.  Preparation is key here!  How do you prepare yourself for this question?  One great way to do this is by actually visiting and taking a tour of the facility.  Ask as if you are a visitor (because you are).  Pay for the day, take a class, and meet the instructors.  Be nice to the front desk staff and ask them about the membership options.  Take a look in the rec catalogue to understand the different classes and programs that are offered.  Go for a walk in the surrounding area.  Observe the people – what are they doing?  Who are they with?  Get your first impressions and shape them into interview worthy responses.  Of course, if you are out of state, or unable to visit,  there’s other ways to approach this.   At the very least, go to the website and read as much as you can about the department.  You’ll probably be overwhelmed by the information, so pick 2-3 conversation topics that would be good interview material.

Bonus!  If you end up going to the facility, congratulations!  You’ve made an impression.  If you want to REALLY improve your chances of getting the job, then ask for the manager.  Shake his/her hand.  Tell them who you are and what job you are applying for.  Give them a business card with your about.me profile list.  This is a great way to stick around in someone’s mind.  A warning, though… have some awareness here.  Dress appropriately.  Don’t take up too much of their time.  If they are in the middle of things, try again another day.  And if all else fails, then simply send them an email or call.   The point here is that you are making an effort.  That should be enough to stand out; just be aware of the fine line that could backfire if you call/visit/email too much.  Only you can be the judge of that.

In Summary

Getting a job in parks and recreation is incredibly rewarding, but you have to get your foot in the door first.  Follow the steps above to stand out from the rest of the online applications.

Be warned, the application process can take several months.  It’s common to not get a call back for up to a month (the job offer can take up to six).  If you didn’t hear back?  Well, it’s likely that someone just forgot, or they didn’t think it was important.  Maybe, that’s just the opportunity you need to follow up.

Use your best judgment, be thorough, and follow up.  

Good luck!

Becky Dunlap


PS- What’s your experience with the online application process?  Are you a manager – what tips would you have for potential candidates?  Are you looking for a job – what frustrates you most about this process?  Let us know in the comments!


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