If you assume only a small number of employers use automated hiring processes, you’d be very wrong. The truth is that job candidates are subject to automated processes not just for some but for most of the jobs for which they apply.
When it comes to applicant tracking systems (ATS) alone, at least 40% of employers use them, with the number jumping to 98% of Fortune 500 companies. More startling statistics: 75% of resumes are never seen by an actual person, and 62% of companies using ATS admit “some qualified candidates are likely automatically filtered out of the vetting process by mistake.”
If you do manage to make it through an employer’s ATS (or they don’t have one), other automated hiring processes could trip you up. Phone and video screening interviews and assessments for both hard and soft skills are also routinely automated these days, too. Here are a few tips on how to navigate your way through the Matrix to a job offer.
HOW TO SCORE WITH THE ATS
There are nearly 200 ATS options on the market, and none are the same but, regardless of those differences, there are still ways to help ensure you don’t end up in the digital slush pile. It’ll require you to edit your resume for every job, but it’s worth it. Take a look at:
- The font. While basic fonts like Times New Roman have been the standard in readability for decades, they may not go over so well to the robot eye—or even to humans reading it on a screen. Instead, you may be safer with a sans-serif font (a font that doesn’t include the fancy little lines that dart out from the letters). Monster.com recommends Calibri, Arial, or Verdana. Blogger Lezlie Garr goes more into depth on nine fonts that should work for ATS.
- The keywords. It’s essential to adapt your resume language to include as many relevant keyword phrases from the job description as possible. The exact wording is important. “People skills” is not the same as “interpersonal communications” and an “IT ninja” is not the same as an “information technology professional.” To test how well your resume matches up, dump the job description and your resume each into a word cloud generator like wordclouds.com and see if the most popular phrases match precisely.
- The format. Here’s where it gets tricky. Forget extra headings like “certifications” and, instead, group the information under “skills” and “work experience” (or whatever term is used in the job description). Whatever is listed under these main categories will be weighted the highest, while information under more obscure headings may disappear altogether. Even present and past tense verbs matter. This article by Jobscan offers advice on how to match experience in past roles to present tense keywords, like changing “managed a team of 15 engineers” to “brought in to manage a team of 15 engineers” to match the present tense of “manage.”
- The file type. It’s the classic mistake: sending a PDF when a Microsoft Word file will do. Only, 10 years ago, when you might have gotten a recruiter or hiring manager to politely respond with an “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a way to view a PDF. Could you send a Word file?” your application may now just be trashed. Look for submission instructions and follow them exactly. If you don’t see a preference, give yourself the best fighting chance: a simple Word file with text aligned to the left and one-inch margins.
HOW TO INTERVIEW YOURSELF
Perhaps one of the most awkward features of the new automated hiring age is the one-sided interview. Yes, it’s a phone or video interview in which you’re interviewing yourself. What could go wrong?
As interview expert Laura DeCarlo explains, “The employer can request a video from a job seeker, and the job seeker answers pre-scripted interview questions usually by a specific date that is the deadline for the interview. Then, members of the employers’ staff can watch (and re-watch) the candidate’s answers to the questions at their convenience.”
DeCarlo offers tips useful for any video or phone interview—automated or not—including following any provided instructions carefully, not being late/missing the deadline, dressing and grooming yourself professionally, choosing a good location with proper lighting and no distractions, looking directly at the camera (not the screen), and practicing your answers ahead of time.
If you’re lucky enough to get the questions beforehand, prepare your answers thoughtfully and jot down some helpful notes, so you don’t forget your key points. However, don’t over-stress or over-rehearse. Be yourself and be to the point (don’t ramble, which is what too many candidates tend to do when they’re alone with their thoughts and a camera).
Consider the chance to record an interview as a positive instead of being offended that you haven’t yet made it into a room with human interviewers. Sonru, a top video interviewing provider, reports that the process can be beneficial for candidates, too. More than 60% of candidates complete their interview outside of office hours, with 31% completing them over the weekend, meaning you don’t need to take time off of work to make it happen.
TACKLING UPFRONT ASSESSMENTS
How many pre-employment assessments have you taken this year? If you’re an active job seeker, you can’t avoid it. At some point, most employers will ask you to take aptitude, skills, and/or personality tests, and the trend is for those tests to happen earlier and earlier in the hiring process. Even Indeed has gotten in the business of offering assessments, which means many employers may never see your name pop up as a job candidate at all, depending on your assessment results.
This can seem incredibly frustrating, and you may be tempted to “game” the system by answering the way you think an employer wants you to answer. Don’t. It will only sabotage your chances of finding your ideal job. Instead, be prepared and take the process seriously—give yourself plenty of undistracted time to complete the assessment(s).
Depending on the employer and the process, you may be able to ask for feedback once the test is completed and you’ve been informed about not being selected to continue as a job candidate. If you have that opportunity, take it. It’ll give the recruiter or employer a chance to see for themselves why you weren’t selected, and they may find that they don’t necessarily agree with the criteria “the system” used either. If anything, it’ll give you better insight into how to take the test in the future.
Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), automated hiring is becoming more common. It’s futile to fight it. It’s equally absurd not to give yourself a fighting chance to make it to where you want to be: sitting face-to-face with an employer. If you work with a recruiter, find out how each employer handles their vetting process and if tools like ATS are involved. The more you know, the better you can provide information that satisfies their AI.