When I was a young, fresh, eager recruiter starting out, I’d get into the office early on Monday mornings to view all of the incoming faxed résumés. The flimsy fax-paper résumés spilled onto the floor, as so many were sent in response to the advertisements we placed in the New York Times “Classified” jobs section. This was an improvement from when I graduated college and needed to physically mail a typewritten résumé to the company.
Things have dramatically changed over the last 20-plus years. Job classified ads in newspapers are a relic of the past. Now, we are able to easily submit résumés via our smartphones. There are huge job aggregation sites, such as Indeed, Linkedin, corporate job sections on their sites and a plethora of specialized job sites.
The result was that it became much easier and faster to submit a résumé—compared to dialing in a fax number and hoping it makes it to the company. The downside is that companies get inundated with résumés. To effectively manage the flood of submissions, companies purchased software, commonly called applicant tracking systems (ATS), to manage the non-stop flow of applications.
A new Harvard Business School report asserts that computer software programs, used by the vast majority of large corporations, are broken. The study says that more than 10 million workers are barred from hiring discussions because of it. The adoption has been widespread. The report said that ATS platforms are utilized by 99% of Fortune 500 companies and 75% of the 760 U.S. employers Harvard surveyed.
Job seekers have been complaining for years that the applicant tracking system used by businesses is cold, impersonal and overlooks their submissions. It’s become viewed as an evil blackbox tool used to prevent people from getting the jobs that they desire. This study seems to corroborate their viewpoint.
The software is used, in part, to rank people relative to the job that they are applying for. The ATS will search for relevant keywords, skills, college degrees, responsibilities, credentials and other factors that would indicate that the hiring manager or internal corporate recruiter would select the person for an interview. With so many résumees and the proliferation of companies using ATS software, it’s easy for a job prospect to get lost in the crowd.
The study misses an important part of the job search process. Sending a résumé is not the only way to find a job. Career coaches and recruiters recommend that people should actively network. Internal referrals account for one of the largest sources of hiring. It’s the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
You can successfully navigate the software systems. The first thing to do is apply for jobs where you possess the requisite qualifications. It’s fine to shoot your shot, but don’t get discouraged if you’re passed over, in favor of someone who holds all of the qualifications and is a better fit.
Tailor your résumé to fit the job description. Use the applicable keywords, plus the acronyms that mirror the job description. Avoid applying to too many job listings at one company, as it looks like you’re spamming and aren’t serious about a specific role.
Include all of your qualifications, professional experience, education, skills, software knowledge, responsibilities, licenses, certificates and all other credentials associated with performing the job. The robots will scour your document for these key phrases, as it relates to the job description.
Investigate the company’s website to ascertain its corporate culture. You want to see how they view themselves and what language, jargon, buzzwords and phrases they frequently use. The chances are high that the company programmed these types of keywords into its résumé screening software.
Avoid using tables, columns, unusual fonts, headers, footers, graphics or anything that could trip up an artificial intelligence bot that’s reviewing the document. Try not to lie or widely embellish, in an effort to exact revenge on the robots. When the résumé leads to an interview, you could be in for a very awkward conversation when pressed on the “white lies” and exaggerations.
Sometimes human interactions beat artificial intelligence. One of the best ways to conquer the evil robots reviewing your résumé is to find an actual human being. Find a person who you know that is employed at the company. Ask them if they could share your résumé with the appropriate hiring manager and put in a glowing recommendation. If you don’t know anyone, get in touch with your network to see who you know that may know someone at the organization.
Enlist the help of a recruiter who specializes in your field of expertise. Executive recruiters tend to have tight connections with managers, human resources and executives. They could keep you in mind when suitable jobs open up and help you get in the door. A bold move is to hit up the hiring manager or someone who looks like they’d be responsible for the job you want and reach out to them directly on LinkedIn with a personalized note indicating your intentions.
You may have a second or third chance. One you’re in a corporate database, it may remain there for a long time. Internal talent acquisition and human resources may pull your résumé for a job that you’re suited for months after you initially applied for the opportunity.