12 Biggest Mistakes (and Solutions) When You Apply for a Job Online

Finding a good job is tough, so don’t let these common application errors get in your way.
Updated April 3, 2023
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african american woman writing on notepad in front of laptop

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To err is human, but that’s no excuse when it comes to job applications. People shoot themselves in the foot more often than you might think when they apply for a new position.

Some errors are innocent mistakes. Others stem from laziness or rushing to get your resume in front of a recruiter.

Whatever the cause may be, it is important to prevent such errors if you hope to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck

Following are 12 mistakes to avoid when applying for a job online.

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Addressing the wrong person

peopleimages.com/Adobe Confused man looking at laptop

Nobody likes it when someone gets their name wrong. If it’s a casual setting, you can be forgiven. But if you’re applying for a job, it could mean the end of the road.

So make sure you know the full name of the person who will receive your application. You can check LinkedIn for details as well. If there is nothing else to go on, “Dear (company name)” works.

Exaggerating your abilities

YURII MASLAK/Adobe team members in office retouching picture

The whole “fake it till you make it” thing is terrible advice when it comes to applying for a job.

There's a wide gulf between having a working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and being an experienced user. Cropping photos is a useful skill. However, if that’s all you know, don’t try to sell yourself as a graphic designer.

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Failure to follow directions

Blue Planet Studio/Adobe man filling modish application form on laptop

Every job post comes with instructions. A cover letter and resume are standard parts of any job application. However, prospective employers might want additional materials.

Make sure you understand:

  • The application deadline
  • Whether the company wants references or portfolio samples
  • The file format the company wants you to use for submissions

Read the posting in its entirety. Don’t skip anything. Create a checklist so you can cross off every single requirement.

Forgetting your contact info

Antonioguillem/Adobe happy african man talking on call outdoor

You’ve written a killer cover letter and your resume sparkles. Congratulations. That’s bound to make an impression on any recruiter or hiring manager.

But there’s a problem: They have no idea how to get in touch with you because you forgot to include your contact information.

Your name, address, email, and phone number should be on every document you submit with your application.

Grammar errors

uaPieceofCake/Adobe man under lining documents using red marker

Basic communication and writing skills are a must for any job applicant. Recruiters and hiring managers look closely to see that you are using proper grammar.

Terrible grammar — think errant commas, misused semicolons, periods in the wrong place, being confused about how to use words like “their, there, and they’re” — is a red flag.

Word and Google Docs both have grammar checks. There are also free third-party apps that can help, and having a family member or friend read your application before it goes out is always a good idea. Take the time to ensure (not insure) everything is perfect.

Pro tip: If you're struggling to land a good job and your bills are mounting, consider taking part-time work or starting a side hustle to generate more income. Once you finally get a great new position, you can cut back on or eliminate that secondary source of funds.


fizkes/Adobe young employee attending a video meeting

Lying about anything — especially basic facts such as where you went to school, what degrees you have, or what your previous jobs titles were — is a big mistake.

Don’t do it. It doesn’t matter how “little” the lie might be. Fibs and fakery can be easily discovered no matter how clever you think you are.

You will be found out and, in all likelihood, given the boot just as quickly as you were offered the job.

Misspelling the company name

BullRun/Adobe man removing glasses to read messages on mobile carefully

Be sure to get the company name right. Don’t guess whether you are applying to “Business Co.,” “Business, Inc.,” or “Business, LLC.” Instead, make sure you know.

The name should be in the job post itself. Failing that, check the company’s website. There should be a copyright with the company name at the bottom of each page.

If you can’t find it there, it will be on the About Us or Contact pages.

Misspelling your own name

Studio Romantic/Adobe young african american female working on laptop

Make sure your name is spelled correctly on your job application. While it’s unlikely that you would purposely misspell your own name, errant keystrokes can happen.

For example, “WIll” and “Will,” can look pretty similar if you aren’t paying close attention. It pays to take a breath and go through the application with a fine-toothed comb.

Knowing nothing about the company

Drobot Dean/Adobe beautiful young women shrugging hands in confusion

It’s your due diligence to learn as much about the company as you can. Make sure this is a place you really want to work, and that you're applying for a position that won’t make you miserable. 

You also want to show the company it is bringing on an employee who fits the firm’s mission and values.

Sending an empty email

sitthiphong/Adobe young woman on laptop composing email

Even after you’ve gotten all your application materials together, there's a chance you could hit the “send” or “apply” button before anything is attached.

This isn’t just embarrassing — it can also hurt your ability to land the job.

Typos in your cover letter or resume

bradcalkins/Adobe proofreading paper with red pencil

Everyone needs an editor. Proofreading is critical. Maybe you hit the wrong key when you were typing. Perhaps you didn’t check your spelling because you were in a hurry to get the application out.

Slow down. It doesn’t take long to proofread. Autocorrect will not save your cover letter or your resume. In fact, sometimes it can lead to bigger snafus.

Using a generic cover letter and resume

Mariia Korneeva/Adobe manager with different portfolios in hand

Don’t use the same cover letter and resume for every job you apply to. You need to customize these documents each time you apply. Remember, no two positions are exactly the same.

Look for ways to tweak your cover letter and resume to better match each job opening. Shifting keywords in your cover letter or highlighting different skills on your resume might be enough.

Bottom line

Gorodenkoff/Adobe african american woman on laptop

One of the easiest ways to make your job application stand out is to avoid the pitfalls that other job seekers get sucked into. Many mistakes can be avoided by taking your time and not rushing the process.

If making mistakes is human, grab your cape and be superhuman instead when you apply to a job. 

It will all be worth it when you land a role that boosts your bank account and moves your career forward.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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