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April 22, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Before submitting your application, read the fine print

After a few weeks of filling out employment applications, job seekers will notice a lot of similar wording in help-wanted posts. For instance, candidates must “have an eye for detail,” “demonstrate impeccable communication skills,” “keep calm in a fast-paced environment,” and so forth.

When it comes to instructions, the terms are usually the same: Send a copy of your cover letter and resume; include samples of relevant work; name the capital of Slovakia; provide at least three references; no phone calls, please.

Wait … what? What does Bratislava have to do with a systems analyst job in Seattle?

Well, nothing, really. But the question is there for a reason: To make sure you’re paying attention. With thousands of applications floating around touting nearly identical qualifications, some hiring managers will act like mischievous school teachers and toss in a simple, unrelated question (“How many feet are in a mile?”) or perhaps ask you to write a short sequence of numbers in the reply email. Those who don’t follow the rules are culled from the herd.

Fortunately, these little “gotcha” items aren’t nearly as difficult to answer as the dreaded “greatest weakness” question that often gets asked during job interviews. But this doesn’t mean you should just provide the bare-minimum answer. Without going too far into left field, see if you can create some kind of clever answer that ties the question into your abilities to handle the job requirements.

This is all part of a trend in HR circles that is slowly turning the job application process into a self-administered job interview process. Some job listings will ask for the usual cover letter/resume/references triad, but will then send applicants to another page to answer open-ended questions that reveal more about their personality or work style. Others will include forms that repeatedly ask the same questions, but with slightly different wording. This is designed to catch people entering fraudulent information, so be sure your answers are consistent throughout.

The good news is that these more complicated job-application questions are not being posed on the spot in a face-to-face interview. With the luxury of being online, applicants can take their time with their answers. This is your chance to let the hiring manager know how you think and why you’re a perfect fit, so let the creative juices flow.

As they say, when in Slovakia, do as the Slovaks do.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: HR, interviewing, job search

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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