Today’s technologically sophisticated job applications often leave applicants wondering where their information ends up. As an unopened e-mail, buried at the bottom of a hiring manager’s overflowing inbox? As “new submission” entry #578 in an internal online database? Or perhaps as a bulletpoint on a low-level employee or intern’s to-do list: “Print and screen job applications.”
The answer to this question, it turns out, is even more disturbing, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Recruiters and hiring managers are overwhelmed by the volume of résumés pouring in, thanks to the weak job market and new tools that let applicants apply for a job with as little as one mouse click. The professional networking website LinkedIn recently introduced an “apply now” button on its job postings that sends the data in a job seeker’s profile directly to a potential employer.
While job boards and networking websites help companies broadcast openings to a wide audience, potentially increasing the chance the perfect candidate will reply, the resulting flood of applications tends to include a lot of duds. Most recruiters report that at least 50% of job hunters don’t possess the basic qualifications for the jobs they are pursuing.
To cut through the clutter, many large and midsize companies have turned to applicant-tracking systems to search résumés for the right skills and experience. The systems, which can cost from $5,000 to millions of dollars, are efficient, but not foolproof.
“I kind of wonder if some of the jobs I’m applying to even exist,” one Nevada-based software programmer said after a four-month job search. I felt the same way when I was searching for a job last year. The tracking systems may eliminate resumes based on criteria as irrelevant as the order in which you list data points, such as your former employer’s names and the dates of your employment there.
Despite their flaws, though, companies continue to be drawn to the systems because they provide a cost-efficient solution to dealing with the overwhelming volume of submissions for online job postings, which often draw hundreds or thousands of responses within just 24 hours.
Here are the WSJ’s tips for getting around the screens:
- 1. Forget about being creative. Instead, mimic the keywords in the job description as closely as possible. If you’re applying to be a sales manager, make sure your résumé includes the words “sales” and “manage” (assuming you’ve done both!).
- 2. Visit the prospective employer’s website to get a sense of the corporate culture. Do they use certain words to describe their values? If a firm has a professed interest in environmental sustainability, include relevant volunteer work or memberships on your résumé. The company may have programmed related keywords into its resume screening software.
- 3. Keep the formatting on your résumé simple and streamlined—you don’t want to perplex the software. With a past position, the system “sometimes gets confused about which is the company, which is the position, and which are the dates you worked there,” especially if they’re all on a single line, says Mr. Bersin. To make sure you hit all the categories, put them on separate lines. And “don’t get cute with graphics and layout,” says Mr. Rueff.
- 4. Some screening systems assign higher scores to elite schools. You may not have gotten your B.A. from a top-tier university, but if you attended a continuing-education class at one, include such qualifications on your résumé.
- 5. But don’t ever lie or exaggerate just to get through the screening process. Recruiters and ATSs are savvy about tricks jobseekers use (such as typing false qualifications in white font). “You don’t want to get through the black hole and find out it’s a worse hole you got yourself into,” Mr. Rueff says.