10 Reasons NOT to Apply for Jobs Online

Applying online is a dangerous job search habit, and one that can really restrict your opportunity and chances of landing something that is truly a great career move. Even though job seekers are taught and told over and over again by career experts like myself that applying online is a last resort, it remains a go-to resource for job seekers.

I believe there are three primary reasons for this:

  1. In this world of instant gratification, it seems to easy to resist the low hanging fruit. It seems logical to assume that you have to “strike while the iron is hot!” It’s really a case of FOMO (fear of missing out.) The thing is, fear is not a good emotion to make truly logical decisions. I will lay down some logic here that I hope will strike a chord and make obvious that applying to positions you find online is really the last activity you should invest time in.
  2. Habits run on autopilot in your subconscious mind. You may just go on applying without giving it much conscious thought. When I work with clients on their campaign, coaching and habit tracking tools are necessary to install a new workflow that will eventually run on autopilot – one that actually produces great results, reinforces your value, builds confidence and hope, and generates momentum with even less time and effort. These positive results further reinforce the more effective workflow until they become automatic. This turns career management into a pull rather than a push. However, if people are unaware of their automatic programming, it will continue to run undisrupted.
  3. The investment of time in more proactive, targeted efforts to pursue a role seems to feel and look like a delay to being in action. People get antsy knowing there’s a desirable position open and they’re not on record as being in the candidate pool. It’s true – the alternatives to applying online can take more time than simply clicking a button to apply. However, sometimes online job applications are time consuming and they still don’t get you any closer to being considered, let alone being in demand.

Still, here are the top 10 reasons why fighting the impulse to apply online will help your chances of positioning yourself as a real contender for the ultimate offer.

#1 – The Chances Your Application is Seen by Human Eyes

The quality of online applicants compared to the quality of employee referrals, in addition to other metrics that are more frequently tracked like time to onboard, have taught astute hiring professionals that their time is best invested proactively pursuing referrals from trusted talent and contacts while applications roll in as a last resort. Candidates who apply online will often only get looked at after internal candidates, referrals from employees, referrals from friends, and submitted candidates from approved recruiting vendors.

If you are a “cold” candidate, you have to rely on luck and keyword optimization to push you toward the top of the results in the case that referrals don’t pan out. This makes your résumé a tool that can either help you or hurt you, depending on how well it is written to match keywords. This doesn’t give you a whole lot of power to make something happen.

#2 – The Chances of You Getting Hired

Then, if your application is seen by human eyes, those keywords better show up in a context to validate the strength of your qualifications, at a minimum, and your unique value and culture fit, at best. If there are any anomalies in your experience, such as gaps or shorter stints, you have to cross your fingers that there aren’t applicants who appear equally or more qualified, and less risky. You can be moved from a “maybe” pile to a “no” pile quickly.

#3 – Inadequate Competitive Positioning

Even if you do get into the “yes” pile, you have no idea what the human’s perspective is on what position you are in to get an interview. I hope your LinkedIn profile is branded to help you make a strong case for why you’re a great hire and that other candidates don’t come from more trusted sources. It’s not always beneficial to interview first, but if the interviewer doesn’t have any insight as to who you are beyond your résumé, the interview will be conducted somewhat generically compared to how they would conduct the interview if someone had given you a strong endorsement or even if you had been able to effectively endorse yourself in a cover letter. From this position, the interviewer is then more interested in selling you the opportunity than in validating your résumé and mitigating the risk of the unknown that cold candidates present.

#4 – Nullifying Employee Referral Bonuses

While so many top companies have employee referral bonus programs and cite employee referrals as their top source of great talent, they are often under-leveraged, poorly promoted, and disorganized efforts. That means that when there is an opening in a company on your target list, even if you’ve given someone there a heads up that you’re interested, they won’t be made aware of the job opening, and they won’t be proactively seeking out opportunities to refer people for internal roles. I have certainly informed several people who were unaware that their company even offered an employee referral bonus, even though it was on their company’s employee or career page.

We’re all time starved, so it often takes incentives to get people to act on your behalf. Some of these employee referral bonuses can be over $1,000. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want an extra $1,000 for spending a couple minutes referring someone. Of course, you will have had to reassure them that you will be a strong candidate and a good hire for them to stake their social capital on you.

If you are already an applicant, some employee referral bonus programs will not give credit to an internal referral source.

#5 – Disqualifying Recruiters from Presenting You

It’s certainly more beneficial for you to be recommended by an employee with social capital and clout, but some recruiters have done a fantastic job of building rapport and credibility with hiring managers. That’s why being presented for opportunities by a trusted recruiter may give you a bit of an edge over all the other cold candidates. A recruiter’s job, after all, is to weed out unqualified or unfitting candidates and whittle a candidate pool down to 4 or so top contenders.

When a great recruiter has a strong relationship and understanding of his or her client, the candidates submitted by him or her get top consideration. Of course, you’ll want to qualify your recruiters, and be forthright about where you have already applied. The clients will not involve themselves in any candidate ownership battles. Most of them are clear that only new candidates can be presented by their recruiting vendors; the company already “owns” candidates that come in directly through their career site or other job boards.

#6 – HR Arbitrary Check Boxes

As Liz Ryan pointed out on Twitter last week:


Why is that? Well, a number of reasons. Just like recruiters can have a solid reputation with hiring managers, they can also lose credibility with hiring managers. Still, they are required to comply with HR procedures, so they will pass along the minimal required details to get HR started on pre-qualifying candidates just in case their network or own individual efforts fail to produce quality candidates, who may or may not get a fair shake.

Another reason is that hiring managers are just more intimately familiar with the nuances of the job and what kinds of people, personalities, and talents lend themselves to success, but the internal HR system doesn’t allow for those nuances to be articulated. It can be too time consuming to communicate those nuances, or the hiring manager isn’t able to articulate them for one reason or another.

Still another possible reason is that passing along check lists is the only way companies have thought of to eliminate having to review unqualified people. They choose things they believe will help improve the chances of hiring someone able to ramp up quickly. At the same time, they systematically rule out people with unconventional careers who can add truly unique value.

A hiring manager has more latitude and perspective to see how out-of-the-box candidates might be able to add something to their team that conventional candidates can’t – IF they have vision, that is.

#7 – Time Suck

You might consider job activities a numbers game, but this is one of the huge myths that lead job seekers to become frustrated and discouraged. When it comes to ROI (return-on-investment) of time in your job search, online applications return the fewest results. Even the results they do produce can be a crap shoot in terms of opportunities that represent your best chances at thriving and succeeding in your new role.

If you invest time based on the probability of that resource producing quality results, you would spend 80% of your time networking (the right way) and 5% of your time on online job boards and filling out applications. After three weeks doing this, you will see your momentum shift at least 3 points on a 1-10 scale.

Limbo sucks. Change is hard. It might seem like applying online will be your best bet at a quick transition, especially if you have reached a senior level in your position. However, you will find that building momentum toward really GOOD opportunities takes more effort, more time and more energy when you’re spending most of your time online.

#8 – The Emotional Abyss

This is the real heartbreaking thing about online-driven job campaigns.  People start to question their worth, their viability, and their chances at improving their financial status. When online campaigns fail, people will blame themselves. This heightens the emotional stress of interviews, impeding your performance. Each interview feels like it “has” to work out. You may find yourself overselling yourself for opportunities that you wouldn’t even consider if you had a competing offer. You may even think you have to make yourself look less qualified. All of the visions of growing and developing in your career seem unlikely, like pipe dreams you have to abandon. You might feel like you’re letting your family down. Worse, you’ll feel like you’re letting yourself down.

In this emotional state, it’s much easier for unethical, inhuman employers to take advantage of your desperation. You may find yourself in a much worse situation, feeling stuck, feeling victimized – unaware that you can actually take control and make something happen.

It’s the whole negative tailspin of career confidence that is the worst part of relying on online efforts to produce results. You’ll never even know how great you could have had it, and you’re unlikely to believe you can have it any better.

Watching my mom go through this emotional abyss is why I do this work in the first place. It seriously breaks my heart.

#9 – The Flood of Irrelevant, Illegitimate Inquiries

I do recommend that my clients set up agents on job boards, and that they set aside 15-30 minutes twice a week to go through them all at once. This helps them better identify redundant postings, and decreases the chances they are persuaded by opportunities that don’t fit what they said they wanted.

Job boards are very misleading representations of how much opportunity is available. You might be tempted to pursue something that is not something you’d otherwise consider, as stated above, and that includes the flood of inquiries that you get to your profile on these job boards that are huge wastes of time disguised as “great opportunities for growth and income.”

Consider this – if technology has not progressed far enough to automatically send you relevant, legitimate opportunities that fit the criteria you entered, how well do you think it’s performing for recruiters in search of candidates? Even AI hasn’t yet made a dent in the quality of results.

#10 – It Is Passive and Inactive

Online resources keep you sedentary and tied to your computer, which isn’t great for your health or mood. Surrendering your power to some unknown force on the other end of an application also isn’t beneficial to you. The best job searches turn fun into results. Spend less time grinding away, and more time on self-care and enriching your life with new contacts.

If you don’t find networking fun, you’re probably not networking with your people. You also probably don’t know what to say that will inspire them to take action, and you were likely disappointed by people who weren’t able or willing to help you in the past.

Networking is not supposed to look like superficial schmoozing with people you don’t like. It’s more like a scavenger hunt that’s more fun with friends – a way to find the people who need you through people who like you and vice versa.

The bottom line when it comes to online campaigns is that there are just better, smarter, and more empowering ways to get yourself closer to the opportunities that are really right for you.

If you’re unsure what they are, I’ve embedded links to helpful articles throughout this post, but you can always reach out to me for some custom insights by scheduling a free consultation.

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

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