Dear J.T. & Dale: I have a question concerning online applications. When asked for starting and ending pay numbers, is it OK to leave those fields blank, or does this have a negative impact? - Matt



J.T.: The negative impact is that many companies will not bother to consider your application if you don't fill out every item. It seems suspect and/or lazy to them.

Dale: I took your question to Tom Boyle, an executive from SilkRoad, a company that provides employment software, including setting up online application procedures. He not only agreed with J.T., but went further: Sometimes there are 15 fields that you can fill out, but only five are 'required.' Do NOT leave them blank, even when they aren't required. That's because the software is going to convert your answers into a score, from 1 to 100. If you leave something blank, you're literally missing the chance to score points. If you don't shoot, you can't score.

J.T.: Which is also why you should, when given the chance, upload your resume and a cover letter - more opportunities to score.

Dale: By the way, being an overachiever type, I asked Tom how often he saw scores of 100. He replied: I don't think I've ever seen a hundred. A high score would be 60 or 70. I also asked what he thought of our advice to keep a resume to one page - after all, if you threw in everything, all your background and training, two or three pages' worth, you'd have more chances to score, right? And he agreed that maybe you could squeeze out a few more points - but there's a catch: Most recruiters are going to look at a lot of people with solid scores, and if they have to wade through a long resume, then it can become a negative.

J.T.: Even when there's a computer scoring system, you can't forget that you have to get an actual person to review your materials and make an appointment for an interview. Plus, hiring managers typically use the resume for the interview, and you want to guide them to helpful information. So your resume has to appeal to both the technological eye and the human one.

Dale: Which is where the cover letter comes in. Tom suggested using it as the vehicle to emphasize the language of the job listing, thus scoring points with machine and manager.

J.T.: And we scored bonus points for our readers: Tom offered to write up for us a list of pointers to use when doing online applications. You can find Tom's advice at, in our 'Career Resources section, and managers can find information on using technology to upgrade hiring at

Posted September 7, 2009 by sparktalk