The battle between humans and machines isn’t just happening in movies. If you are a job hunter with an account on any online job application system, you are playing that game right now without being aware of it. And in all probability, you have been losing it and getting increasingly frustrated about losing your CV in the black-hole.
Thanks to the use of sophisticated online job application systems or applicant tracking systems (ATS), the resume that you so lovingly prepared and embellished with nice fonts, boxes and shading is consistently getting rejected.
Read on to understand how the resume screening software works within an online job application system and what you can do to improve your chances of getting called for an interview.
Online job application systems FAQ
What is an online job application system?
In the earlier days, the primitive versions of the online job application system performed a few simple tasks. All the paper CVs received by the company were scanned and stored in a central database. The entire journey of a candidate from screening the job application to tracking the interview status and finally sending out the appointment letters was managed using the ATS.
Modern day applicant tracking systems are far more complex and are being trained to mimic human behaviour. Scary!
They not only store resumes, but rate them as well based on many parameters including special skills, number of experience, past employers, qualifications and more. You are already ranked within the ATS along with millions of other candidates, as you wait patiently for some tender care and loving from a human being working in the esteemed HR department.
Why do companies use online job application systems?
According to estimates by IBM, a leading provider of online job application systems, over 90% of large (Fortune 500) companies use online resume filtering software tools. Despite the high costs involved in installing and maintaining these systems, companies feel there’s a solid commercial reason to do so.
These companies recruit tens of thousands of employees each year. Often the database of resumes that they tap into, host millions of resumes. Apart from using their own internal databases, they also reach out to job portals that enthusiastically broadcast the new opportunities.
It only takes a click for applicants to submit their resumes even if they lack the basic qualifications and skills for the job. To make matters worse, there are online tools that enable job applicants to upload and post their CV to hundreds of job sites. Imagine the amount of junk floating around in the virtual jobsphere.
The responsibility of filtering the barrage of resumes is not very different from finding a needle in needle-stack. Another HR consulting firm puts the average cost of hiring a new employee at over $3500.
How online job application systems work
Infographic Source: Wall Street Journal
How to increase your selection chances on online job application systems?
Most of the leading online job application systems rely upon a few basic principles to extract data from your resume and compare it to the job opportunity. If you are aware of them, you can tweak your resumes before submitting them to companies to get a leg up in the race.
Here are some tips to increase the chances of getting your resume selected by recruiters that use online job application systems.
Tip 1: Speak the employer’s language
Identify the keywords used in the job description and use them in your resume. If possible, show your compatibility with the firms culture as well. Their websites should give you an idea of what traits they value.
Instead of blindly flooding your CV with these words (i.e. it’s called ‘keyword stuffing‘), use them intelligently and naturally. Remember that it would also be seen by a human at some point in the process. It’s important for you to keep both (the machine and the human) happy.
Tip 2: Design your CV for semantic search, not just text search
Apart from using words and phrases used in the job description, also think about including the relevant industry terms.
For instance, if you are applying for a management consulting job, mentioning the name of a market leader (like McKinsey, Bain, BCG) that you might’ve worked for will get you brownie points.
Ditto for related skills (like strategy frameworks) and industry exposure (FMCG, Retail) relevant for the job.
Tip 3: Don’t get creative with the CV formatting
Avoid boxes, margins, cute images, smilies and any special character that may throw the resume reading program off the track. Don’t embed your profile photograph either.
Make it easy for the program to scan your resume and transfer the relevant components in the right database fields.
Tip 4: Go easy with the fancy fonts in your resume
Stick to commonly used fonts like Arial that are commonly available on the internet and decipherable by machines.
Keep in mind that the jazzy font you’ve used in the resume might exist only on your computer, but not on the server that’s dissecting your CV.
Tip 5: Skip the long paragraphs
Stick to short and crisp bullet points that use the high priority keywords specific to the job you are applying to.
The resume parser (the software that reads the raw data and fills up different database fields) could get confused when you throw too much text at it.
Tip 6: Create a different resume for each job
It’s so easy to have a single resume that you can blast off using the simple tools that job portals provide. That’s exactly what your competitors are doing and accelerating the speed by which they end up in the black hole. Don’t do it!
Painful as it may sound, take the trouble to customise your CV for every single job that is going through a company’s online job application system.
Tip 7: Apply as early as you can
Even if you design and post the most compatible CV for the job, the HR department might stop looking for more candidates if the first few candidates that the CV screening software has discovered meet the requirements of the company.
But in the race to be higher in the list of selected CVs, don’t compromise on the earlier tips.
Tip 8: Don’t try to cheat the applicant tracking system
Making your resume compatible with the advertised job is different from trying to game the system. The former is fine (and in fact encouraged), but the latter could get you in a soup.
Despite all the dependency on online job application systems and resume screening software, it would still be a good idea for you to create the resume keeping humans in mind and then tweak it for the machines. The automated robots are only the first stage of your fight for that dream job. Ultimately, you’d have to convince the people who’ve deployed the filter.
There you have it. Simple when you know the logic behind online job application systems, right?
But don’t assume that you’ve cracked the code by understanding how these online tools works.
Focus on the basics as well. If you are looking for a job or career change, there’s a lot of work to be done before you start sending out your CV.
Ask yourself all the introspective questions first about the following aspects:
- Timing: Is it the right time to look for a career change or too early/late?
- Relevance: What kind of jobs should I target that’ll help me achieve my long term goals?
- Capability: Do I have the technical and non-technical skills for the job? What can I do to strengthen my profile before applying?
If you need help with the introspection and preparatory aspects, you might find our careeer counselling service beneficial in validating, aligning and executing your career plan.
Play fair. Play smart. Good luck with your job hunt!