Developing Your Career

Prevent Resume Screening Software from Eliminating You

By Joan Andrews on August 13, 2012

Your resume has to do more than just capture attention and impress hiring managers. Your resume often has to first make it through recruiting software and applicant tracking systems that seek to eliminate unqualified candidates. Without the right approach, your resume may be mistakenly rejected.

“In many companies, software has replaced recruiters, so applicants rarely talk to anyone, even by email, during the hiring process,” says Peter Capelli in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Capelli is a professor of management and human resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who has written the book “Why People Can’t Get Good Jobs.”

In his research, Capelli was particularly surprised at the frequency of complaints about the now-ubiquitous use of software to screen applicants. Many highly-skilled and qualified applicants are being overlooked because a computer has thrown them in the reject pile long before human eyes ever have a chance to consider them.

In many companies, the first review of your resume will probably be done by a software program, known as an applicant tracking system (ATS). The insiders’ advice to conquer this obstacle has been to sprinkle key words from the job description into your resume. The older ATS software relied on semantic search technology that essentially counted the keywords.

While listing keywords is still important, the new version of the ATS software has become more advanced – and demanding. Now the ATS also wants contextualization that goes much deeper and examines factors such as how dated is a given set of skills or how much experience is demonstrated in a field.

“It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile, where if you put in ‘Java’ (as a keyword search), an ATS would automatically apply you to Java jobs,” according to Lisa Rowan, program director of HR, Learning and Talent Strategies for IDC.

Rowan, quoted in TheLadders article, also says, “It goes much further with the technology looking at descriptive materials and parsing things out like a human when reading it.”

So what are some tips to better the odds of someone actually reading your resume?

  • Don’t “choke the system”. Overly formatted resumes with things such as pictures, logos and graphics might be incompatible with some ATS software. In this case, the computer will reject before it even looks at it.
  • Continue to include key words. Some companies may be operating on the older version of the ATS – so get in those keywords. The newer versions of the ATS like to see them, too.
  • Use a targeted approach. You’ll get much better results if you apply for jobs for which your skills and experience are a close match.
  • Rather than sending in your resume via a job board, use your network and ask a current employee to submit it on your behalf. It may influence human screeners who have to handle it, but will definitely affect the computer, which will track it differently and apply higher values.

Remember that if your resume gets through the initial screening process, it’s then turned over to the human element, when you’ll have a better chance to impress a real, live hiring manager.


2 Responses to “Prevent Resume Screening Software from Eliminating You”

  1. Jane Jackson

    Excellent article. As an ex-recruiter who worked in an agency that used an ATS I wholeheartedly agree that ensuring the relevant key words should be included in the resume (as long, of course, that the candidate possesses those skills and experiences!). I find my coaching clients are surprised as how prevalent the ATS systems are however even human screeners will be looking for a match to their requirements and the key words make it easier for them to determine who goes in the “yes,” “no” or “maybe” list for more in depth review once initial culling is complete. Still, nothing beats a recommendation from your relevant network!

    • Joan Andrews

      Jane, thank you for your response and that real-life example. We want to do everything we can to get our candidates on the ‘yes’ list!


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