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4 Ways to Beat Resume-Reading Robots

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The dawning of the applicant tracking systems (ATS) has been both a blessing and curse for employers and job hunters alike. These resume-reading robots have allowed hiring managers to weed through an average of 250 applicants they may get for each of their job listings while maintaining compliance with certain laws against race and gender profiling. It’s estimated as many as 80 percent of all U.S. jobs use some sort of electronic process that filters out more than half of incoming resumes without any human eyes seeing them.

It may be easy to blame these tracking systems for creating the notorious resume “black hole” that exists for so many job applicants today but, the truth is, those who know how to follow instructions precisely and who are good matches for the job can benefit. Really!

Here’s how you can be among those successful job candidates:

    1. Do what the job listing asks you to do. Submitting the right information in the right format in the right way is the easiest way to make it through the first round of cuts. Fancy fonts, graphics, and other additions to your resume may affect its readability and get it thrown out of the system immediately—and many job listings will indicate that. Even if an ATS isn’t involved, clever hiring managers will interpret not submitting your information as instructed as a sign that you’re not good at following directions.


    1. Use the same keywords the job listing uses. If you’re submitting the same resume for every job you apply for, you’re likely doing it wrong. Tweaking your resume to match the descriptors and keywords used in each job listing is imperative because ATS systems—and even hiring managers not using an automatic system—will be looking for those keywords exclusively. If the organization is looking for someone who is “results-oriented,” use that same wording, not “go-getter” or “self-starter.” Or if the job requires an MBA, don’t list a “Master’s” on your resume. Small discrepancies like those could deem your resume virtually invisible.


    1. Take the standard application form seriously. When a job requires an online application to be filled out with the option of attaching a cover letter and resume, match keywords and mention all qualifications on the application itself. Don’t assume they’ll see it in the cover letter or resume—the hiring manager may never get that far.

      “The only two things I can officially use to evaluate candidates are their completed application and a matrix with scores assigned to each minimum requirement,” explains a hiring manager for the State of Texas. “A nice cover letter and resume won’t hurt, but it’s strictly supplemental. For example, one very qualified candidate was [recently] knocked out of the running because he did not include Microsoft Office or database skills on his state application. It was on his resume but, because that section of the application was left blank, 10 points were deducted from his score. The purpose behind all this is that the state has to be able to prove that all candidates were considered equally in the event someone challenges the hiring decision.”


  1. Get help. The HT Group recruiters can help you navigate these types of employment challenges and, in many cases, do the heavy lifting for you when it comes to getting your resume in front of hiring managers. Plus, companies like Austin startup Intry are working on tools that can help resumes out-maneuver the robots. According to Built In Austin, Intry uses machine learning algorithms to identify what variables prevent resumes from being pushed through a recruiter’s applicant tracking system (ATS). These factors vary among software providers but can include details as minuscule as font size. Intry’s platform uses this data to build resumes that adhere to popular ATS guidelines.

Today it’s safe to assume you’ll face some sort of auto-sorting for any job in which you apply. Don’t leave your odds of cutting through the clutter up to chance. Pay close attention to the details and instructions given within the job listing, tailor your submission accordingly, and—if you’re a good fit—you’ll go far.


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