It’s Your Likeability Factor That Moves You Forward in the Hiring Process

Someone once asked me at one of my seminars if “impression management” meant she had to somehow morph her personality into someone or something she wasn’t in order to get a job offer. I was careful to not use the word “personality” in that part of the program because impression management isn’t about personality transplants; it’s about adjusting the level of your likeability factor to continue forward in the hiring process. It’s turning the volume up–or down–on certain aspects of your persona to guide or shape a desired outcome, which may be a second interview, winning a contract, or getting someone’s vote.

While I use the informal term likeability factor in my seminars, books, blog, articles, and keynotes, it is nonetheless a strategy to enhance the prospects of receiving a job offer. Who goes into a job interview unwilling to promote their accomplishments, expertise, and character? Only the perpetually unemployed. Behavioral approaches that indirectly influence hiring recommendations are called impression management. If you’ve ever shown up for a job interview wearing your best business attire, you have engaged in impression management. If you’ve been conscious about your vocabulary during a job interview or first date, you too have applied impression management. If you’ve turned on the charm to avoid getting a speeding ticket, you’ve used impression management. Your attempt to influence a decision or individual in your favor through visual, verbal, and written communication can be thought of as building rapport. You’re trying to raise your likeability factor, and we’ve all done it.

There are many variables in play before, during, and after the interview, not the least of which are nonverbal and self-promotion behaviors of candidates. These behaviors, as well as the nature of the position to be filled, shape the direction of the interview and how hiring managers perceive the candidates. Because the impressions people make influence how others perceive, evaluate, and treat them, individuals often adapt their behavior to create certain impressions in the minds of others. Conveying a favorable impression increases the chances that a candidate will achieve a preferred outcome, which may be a second interview, a job offer, a promotion, etc.

If the idea of impression management sounds like it smacks of behavioral manipulation, you’re right. In fact, psychologists claim that public self-presentation is almost always overtly manipulative because the intent is to maximize projected benefits and minimize expected penalties. But it’s nothing sinister at all. You are managing your impression by simply observing others and mirroring their communication style and demeanor in an attempt to connect with them on a relational level that makes you memorable.

It’s not difficult to embrace that different people have different approaches to processing information, developing ideas, and communicating them to others. Candidates fluent in the language of impression management have the ability to adapt to the communication style of the person they are trying to impress, rather than remain within rigid confines of their “comfort zone.” Communication may be taking place, but the message being sent must be received by others in the same context and the same frame of reference.

Given equal technical or professional expertise among remaining short-list candidates, hiring managers often ask: “Which candidate would I and my team prefer to work with?” So long as many hiring managers rely to varying degrees on gut instinct and personal chemistry when making a hiring decision, people will have to stretch (or contract!) themselves accordingly to remain viable candidates in the hiring process.

During interviews, someone who is typically sociable can appear to be reticent and withdrawn; another individual who normally is quiet and restrained can seem outgoing and present. Which candidate will have the advantage? In both situations, the candidates could be mirroring the hiring manager’s demeanor (body language, energy, vocabulary, etc.) or reflecting the tone of the social setting. The key to enhancing your chances of receiving a job offer is to be fully engaged in the interview environment and with the participants present. That engagement may require dialing your impression management fluency up (stretching) or down (contracting) a couple of notches with each person you are interacting with.

The language of impression management isn’t all verbal; it’s also partly visual, and both work hand in hand to create that favorable impression that helps get that second interview—or avoid getting that speeding ticket.

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Do Hiring Managers bypass Introverts for Extroverts?

A Huffington Post article entitled “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People” (http://tinyurl.com/psczejd) listed these characteristics:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch
  13. They balance passion and fun

Most of these habits could be found in extroverts; some align with introvert personalities. Clearly all of these habits are highly prized by many if not most hiring managers. In fact, personality factors appear to account for 20 to 30% of the variance in work performance according to occupational psychological research.

I was once part of a team charged with hiring a couple of applications engineers who would be providing phone/email/on-site customer support. One particular candidate was not shy about expressing his preference to support customers solely through email. “I’m not a people person” he told us. He had an impressive résumé but his introversion was expressed not only with his words, but by his attitude, his body language, and manner of dress. We passed on hiring him.

In an academic paper (2005) entitled, “Predictors of Objective and Subjective Career Success: A Meta-Analysis,” the researchers/authors suggested that the breadth and quality of one’s external social network may influence the type of career experience an individual enjoys. Research on the “boundaryless career” suggests that the presence of strong external networks are indeed related to career success (there’s also an organization contribution component). Generally speaking, extroverts are more likely than introverts to have strong external networks. The authors state that while career success is partly due to merit and job competency, another variable is obtaining organizational “sponsorship” that often reflects a more political explanation for career success. Other authors cited in the research report that individuals have to be similar to gatekeepers (managers), display a positive outlook, differentiate themselves from others, and engage in self-promotion in order to move ahead in their careers.

Not exactly the domain of introverts.

Susan Cain gave a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts) whereby the presentation tagline read, “In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.” Cain states that many successful achievers (in the corporate world) who are self-proclaimed introverts have learned to manage themselves as they extend themselves out of their comfort zone.

Well, that’s why “likeability” that I so often write about is also known as “impression management” and is most prevalent in the hiring process. Even extroverts have to gauge the strength and direction of their interactions, depending on the perceived reward (a job offer, a marriage proposal, a contract negotiation). As long as many if not most hiring managers continue to rely to varying degrees on intuition, gut instinct, and personal chemistry when making a hiring decision, people will have to stretch (or contract!!) themselves as necessary and as the situation dictates to remain viable candidates in the eyes of the hiring manager.

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On the Job: Avoid Seeking Affirmation and Acknowledgement of your Expertise

We all have some form of insecurity that is usually overcome with age and wisdom (the flip side of insecurity is confidence and that comes gradually and with experience for most people). Confident people are more likely to achieve success, enjoy fulfilling and meaningful relationships with others, command the respect of others, and understand that validation is something that is internal to themselves.

Insecure people on the other hand, usually encounter difficulties in many areas of their lives as they devote much time and effort with obtaining the approval of others for everything they do in their lives. Such a quest is often the root cause of many other problems as they pursue validation through external sources (accolades, attention-getting behavior, possessions). On the job, such behavior can limit career advancement potential.

A former co-worker of mine is an absolutely brilliant professional. However, he had a somewhat irritating need for constant affirmation of his problem-solving abilities, semi-witty emails, and conference-call and hallway-conversation comebacks. His “addiction” for others to acknowledge his expertise or his humor (matter of opinion) spoke to his insecurities about his own capabilities.

People on the team were getting tired of hearing “Hey, how’d you like my email reply to….” Or “How’d you like the way I fixed that problem with…” Eventually, team members started telling him in sarcastic tones, “Yes, Michael…you are great…” or “Yes, Michael…that was soooo funny…”

The sad part was that the sarcasm from others never affected his behavior. He never got the message that his remarks were over the top. Finally, I had to approach Michael’s manager and tell him that Michael’s need for constant affirmation of his technical prowess and sort-of humor is beginning to grate on people in the work area. Michael’s manager had a talk with him, and while the behavior hasn’t been eliminated, it has been reduced to manageable levels. Unfortunately, this insecurity will be an issue that will prevent his promotion to higher levels within the organization.

Here are some tips on how to address this issue if it’s a problem:

  • Learn how to handle criticism. Be open to suggestions for improvement without disagreeing or arguing.
  • Learn to be comfortable with who you are regardless of whether others like it (excluding outrageous behavior).
  • Learn to tolerate or even enjoy periods of silence during the day. Practice using more of your time listening to others rather than talking (especially about yourself), and don’t feel you have to interject your own opinion on every issue. Sometimes talking less says so much more about you than flapping your gums on every single major, minor, and inconsequential issue.
  • Understand where the acceptable level of on-the-job humor is and stay a few notches below it. Insecure people are constantly joking or trying to be witty conversationalists in every dialogue with others. Much of the time, their humor borders on the juvenile.
  • Confident people don’t have to talk about how good they are; they let their work speak for them. Insecure people need to be self-promoting all the time to over-compensate for their self-doubt.
  • If you are in a leadership or managerial role, be a facilitator of the success of others. Insecure people in positions of power often transfer their lack of confidence into an overbearing managerial style, thereby lowering morale and productivity of subordinates. We’ve all had bosses like that.

There are two times when a self-acknowledgement of your accomplishments and expertise works to your advantage: (1) when asking for a raise and/or promotion; and (2) during annual performance reviews. At most any other time, it speaks more to a lack of self-confidence than abilities.

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Fix the Hiring Process: Let’s Move to Results-Based Job Descriptions

According to a Gallup poll, 68% of the U.S. workforce is “disengaged” from their jobs largely because the hiring process still clings to the “olde” model of force-fitting candidates to the job description instead of customizing the job to the person’s unique skill set and expertise.  Getting employees engaged in their work/jobs leads to lower turnover. There are a few ideas that hiring managers can use to improve the quality of hires:

1. Understand the candidate’s perspective that assessing the merits of a new job or career opportunity takes some time; people needing a job will jump quickly (leaving you with just another employee); the problem solvers and game changers you want typically require more time to evaluate the position as it is presented, and how they can effect change that brings more value to the position.

2. Set aside for now any job applications or objective assessments of a candidate. A highly experienced, accomplished professional resents having to run that gauntlet before even being considered for his or her specific accomplishments and expertise. Save it for the final step before the job offer is extended, and shape the offer to address the candidate’s most motivating requirements.

4. Use a results-oriented job description rather than the usual boilerplate “duties and responsibilities” format. For many jobs, there’s more than one way to get to a solution to a problem or answer to a question; and often, the second answer or solution is better than the first that comes to mind. Tell candidates the expected results; let them apply their knowledge, skills, and expertise to get the results you need.

5. Managers who have a great track record of hiring and developing quality people are usually very good managers who understand the nuances of the entire hiring process and are aware of their own prejudices and presuppositions that may interfere with honestly assessing potential candidates.

NOTE: This blog will soon be moving to my website that is being updated…will give everyone plenty of notice before that happens.

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Why Using Social Media for Job Searches is a Trojan Horse

facebook-donotliketrojan horse

Last week I presented several talks at the 26th Annual Fraud Conference sponsored by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. One of my presentations was on using social media for job searches, but from a former hiring manager’s perspective. There are social media proponents who enthusiastically endorse social media sites (SMSs) for job searches, but most hiring managers will not drink the Kool-Aid. Instead, many if not most hiring managers will recommend networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and perhaps Google +. But let’s be clear–according to a recent survey of hiring managers, 50 percent use SMSs to exclude candidates from further consideration. While SMSs happily present your persona when everyone is watching, we want to know: who are you when no one is looking? Are you the same person on paper (cover letter, résumé) or in the job interview that you are on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and WordPress? The very nature of social media makes this a difficult task.

What’s the rest of the world doing for job searches? Ray Van Es, an international placement consultant, followed many professionals from university graduation into their professional careers. He found that:

  • Most who are successful and continue being successful are not active on the Internet.
  • Many do not have a LinkedIn profile, and the ones that do are not very active; social media use is restricted to interacting with a very small group of friends they know personally.
  • They are not jumping on SNSs for career purposes, but like to explore career-related apps on smartphones and other devices.
  • They build a strong profile (brand) before graduation and continue adding to it once their careers begin.
  • They prefer face-to-face networking to virtual networking

A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described a computer program that was able to better assess subject personalities based on Facebook “likes.” The software actually did a better job than the subjects’ self-ratings on predicting four outcomes: (1) Facebook use; (2) number of Facebook friends; (3) use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; and (4) field of study.

This research has important implications for data analytics playing a more comprehensive role in the hiring process, particularly in up-front candidate screening. The results of predictive analytics–and not individual content and posts–may drive hiring decisions in the future because…

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A TROJAN HORSE; it is a personal information capture industry where the front end is packaged as a free social interaction application while the data/metadata you provide is the prize to advertisers, marketers, and hackers.

With the advent of phony Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, “click farms” (digital middlemen) purchase “Facebook likes” (1,000 “likes” will run you around $30.00 U.S. while 1,000 Twitter followers costs about $12) and sell them to business to boost their online ratings. There’s even software to disable Facebook cookies so the suspicious activity can’t be tracked.

In 2005, 5.5 million people were Facebook users; 6 months ago, that number grew to 1.4 billion. If social media is the power behind today’s internet, then the reliability of that power is suspect. With the Facebook spam market worth between $87 million to $390 million, advertising on Facebook (and other similar sites) with a high percentage of phony likes, fans, and followers could threaten the entire business model that’s the back end of social media.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Realize the business truth behind the social media model—don’t embrace the groupthink that SM is the “new hiring model”—professional networking sites are but one tool to help you get into the hiring process
  • Limit your exposure to only a couple of sites frequented by most hiring managers and become an expert in their use
  • Build a solid profile and build a strong presence with your choices and drill down deep and wide by:
    –Joining forums and participating
    –Posting links to articles about your industry/your blog
    –Getting endorsements from your trusted network.
  • Recommendations:
    –LinkedIn and Twitter (and/or Google +) are where hiring managers troll
    –Add a Facebook business page if you are self-employed/own a business

(some information about Facebook spam and click farms came from an article in The New Republic.)

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How to Be the Hiring Manager’s Candidate of Choice

Speaking for a moment as a hiring manager, becoming my candidate of choice is not a matter of luck; it involves understanding my main motivation, which is to identify a candidate with a record of demonstrated—and where possible, quantified—accomplishments, which are strong indicators for future success in the position. It involves understanding that previous duties/responsibilities are of a lesser concern to me—unless those duties and responsibilities can be expressed as benefits of an expertise that led to valuable, higher-order strategic results for former employers. It means having some knowledge of my challenges, concerns, and expectations. And it means an awareness and understanding of my presuppositions, prejudices, and human factors that may come into play for evaluating potential short list candidates.

The job- or career-search strategy you employ must build on an existing professional brand that conveys to me an attitude of serving as my problem solver, solutions provider, and game changer who understands, anticipates, and responds to my business needs at every stage of the hiring process. In essence, the hiring process is always about me and what I (i.e., the team, the company) need, and never about you.

Becoming the hiring manager’s candidate of choice requires a basic understanding of an important marketing principle: What successfully connects the person with a need to the person who can fulfill that need is value. It’s the same whether you are selling vacuum cleaners, cars, or your professional expertise. If the person with the need perceives and believes that you offer real value, you have fulfilled that need and can make the sale.

The elements of the value you provide form a continuum of belief that strengthens your position as you move through the hiring process. As the hiring manager begins an assessment of your value through a cover letter and résumé, he or she begins the journey on the continuum of belief. Your value grows as you proceed to the interview stage and the hiring manager moves forward on the continuum of belief in that value you can provide.

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Is the Job Market Dysfunctional?

Dysfunctional

Some career management consultants believe that the job market is dysfunctional because the likeability/personality dimension of hiring is rarely addressed as a requirement in job postings. They claim this omission in job postings places candidates at a disadvantage. I disagree. Who goes into a job interview—or any social interaction—not aware of this aspect of interpersonal communication?

The human factor plays a significant role in every hiring decision, whether or not the required interpersonal skills are highlighted in job postings. Any dysfunction, when it occurs, may lie with either the candidate or the hiring manager, each of whom might fail to understand the importance of personality and likeability as they influence both the first impression and the final hiring decision.

The subjective nature of the hiring process in today’s job market is what it is, with each facet (objective assessments, intuitive reflection, subjective preference) providing the hiring manager a unique perspective on a candidate’s potential for on-the-job success.

In the grand hiring scheme, improving flaws in a cover letter and résumé are relatively easy tasks compared to eliminating personality and behavioral issues that could impede a candidate’s progress. A job interview is, after all, a social interaction, and the most salient behaviors exhibited by an applicant in such a situation are his or her social interaction skills.

Likeability is your first and last hurdle for any job or career pursuit. Likeability relates to friendliness, relevance, empathy, and “being real.” Likeability works best when it’s not forced or seen as an attempt to manipulate others. Likeonomics is simply a new term to describe the interpersonal and economic currency that connects people with other people, to new ideas, and to organizations where they share a variety of similar preferences. Likeability is connection driven. It’s a new global currency that isn’t made of paper or coin (or bitcoin) but whose denominations come in different types of relationships.

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Dust off your SAT Scores–Companies Hiring Want Them!

SAT1

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a number of companies, including elite banks and consulting firms are starting to ask job applicants for their SAT scores in addition to GPAs, extracurricular activities, and work experience. While the effort is aimed primarily at new college hires, some companies are asking for scores from candidates with 10 to 20 years experience under their belts.

Research indicates that SAT is limited to predicting a student’s early college performance, while some critics claim that the decision to use SAT scores as a factor in hiring is misguided.

“It’s a terrible idea. Even according to the test designers, this is supposed to predict, at best, grades in the first year of college,” says Joseph Soares, a sociology professor at Wake Forest University and author of SAT Wars. “This not supposed to be a test that captures how well you’re going to do in life.”

According to Glen Elert, who wrote The SAT: Aptitude or Demographics (http://hypertextbook.com/eworld/sat.shtml), “For 88% of the applicants, an SAT score will predict their grade rank no more accurately than a pair of dice.”

How’s that for an endorsement for using SATs to screen job applicants!

Here are a couple of questions that should be addressed by any organization considering the use of SAT scores in hiring candidates:

  • What about applicants who opted to attend a community college and didn’t require an SAT score for admission? Are they bypassed simply because they don’t have an SAT score?
  • What about applicants with 15-20 years of valuable experience and expertise–how does that factor weigh against an SAT score in the hiring decision?

While an SAT score may be good for determining a sense for general aptitude, it doesn’t do anything for evaluating ethics, emotional intelligence, executive leadership ability.

As I write in my upcoming book, The Art of the Unfair Advantage: Make Yourself the Hiring Manager’s Candidate of Choice for ANY Job in ANY Economy, hiring managers continue to rely more on their intuition and the personal chemistry that often develops between them and a candidate during interviews that can sway a hiring decision.

Companies need to remove administrators out of the hiring process and hiring decision. The one person best suited to know what expertise, experience, and skills are required for the position is the hiring manager.

Avoid Becoming a “Cubicle Crawler” at Your New Job

We’ve all seen them in the workplace… the co-workers who just have to flit from one cubicle to another to have their audience for whatever it is they need to interrupt you and others for, because what they have to say is always more important than any work you may be involved with. You unknowingly may be one or have been the victim of one.

Such on-the-job social butterflies rarely consider their sudden presence at your cube as an “interruption”—unless you specifically tell them that it is.

I am a morning person, and when I worked as a manager, I needed the quiet of early morning hours to write, edit, or plan out meetings and “to do” lists for myself and my team.  I do my best work from early in the morning to about 2pm, and then I hit the doldrums.

Early in my career when cube crawlers interrupted my work, that’s time I didn’t get back, which sometimes forced me to work through lunch, work late, or take work home. I later learned the only way to prevent such occurrences is to politely nip it in the bud early before it becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit with such people, it becomes part of their—and your—routine.

Most people realize intuitively the opportunities for socializing during work hours: getting coffee at the community pot, in the lunchroom getting a snack or having lunch, at the networked printer or copier—wherever people naturally gather in “common” areas. Your cubicle/office should not be one of those places on a regular basis.

Once you allow a so-called cubicle crawler to establish a presence, don’t be surprised if it turns into an infestation. Other cubicle crawlers have this uncanny knack for discovering new feeding grounds and pretty soon you have a crowd gathering.

It’s not as though these folks don’t have work to do; it’s just that their daily need for social interaction early in the morning (or any other time during the day) seems to outweigh your need for arriving at work early—to get work done. While such inconsiderate behavior may be oblivious to the offending party, others may notice it for what it is. Your submitting to these interruptions could be perceived as willful cooperation by others, so the best approach is to tactfully explain your reasons for coming to work early or for just not being open to interruptions when you are at work in your cubicle or office.

If you think you may have such tendencies, please respect the work habits of others; their presence at work is not for your indulgence. If you are being bothered by such behavior, the sooner you initiate the request to stop the interruptions, the quicker the situation becomes a non-issue for everyone involved.

My first experience with a cube crawler was a former supervisor of mine when I worked in the oil business. He walked the hallways with a mouthful of chewing tobacco and spit cup in one hand, looking for an opportunity to park himself in someone’s office and become an unwelcome addition to the existing office furniture. His topic of conversation typically focused on off-color subjects. I discovered that the quickest way to have him to leave my office was to ask a geology- or geophysics-related question, or to spread out my geologic maps on the work table and show him what I’d been working on. You could almost feel the breeze from the wake he created while exiting my office. Too bad he rarely took his spit cup with him on the way out. Eventually, everyone in the group developed coping mechanisms to keep this supervisor out of their offices.

My last experience was with a hiring consultant who was the first one in the office every morning at 6 am; my mistake was being the second person in the office right after him. You’d think this person would know better or have caught on early through my polite hints that I was busy from the moment I sat down at my desk. But no, he barely gave me time to turn on the computer and check email before he was at my cube with “Whatcha got goin’ on today?”

If I simply acknowledged him without turning around at my desk, he would stand there looking out the office window and tell me what the weather was going to do for the next few days, putting the Weather Channel forecasts to shame.  I either had to tell him I was too busy to chat or eventually he would get the message himself that I was in fact focusing on my work.

He got the nickname “coffee room troll” because as soon as anyone walked in the small coffee room near his cube, he was out of it in a flash trying to chat up another victim who only wanted some caffeine to kick-start his or her morning in solitude. He did cause some concern once when he would note when people arrived at work. He would corner them in the coffee room or hallway and say, “Looks like you got a late start this morning…you didn’t get your first cup of coffee until 8:35 when you usually get it at 8:17…” or “Are you keeping banker’s hours? You didn’t flip on the lights until 6:45 when you usually turn them on at 6:37…” That kind of attention was enough to warrant a conversation with upper management about that type of behavior. Soon after, his contract was terminated on the spot.

For the first few weeks, you’ll be under the microscope to see how well you fit into the team dynamic and the office or corporate culture. Focus on the criteria that helps you strengthen your personal brand and your place on the team.

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Rise of the Machines! “Job Bots” and Résumé Screening

Not all résumés get an initial screening by hiring managers or recruiters. Once the dumping ground for solicited and unsolicited résumés and job applications, many big company HR departments have been forced lately to devote more resources to employment law and related legislation, implementing the Affordable Care Act, and employee benefit packages. As a result, many HR departments are turning to résumé- and job application-screening software, thanks to the overwhelming number of such documents they receive. It’s a good idea to know how these systems (called Applicant Tracking System or ATS) work so you can make your résumé more relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Most of these systems incorporate a specific software application called a “bot.” A bot (Internet-speak for “robot”) is an automated application used to perform simple and repetitive tasks that would be time-consuming, mundane, or impossible for a human to perform. Bots can be used for productive tasks, but they are also frequently used for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or to launch denial of service attacks.

“Job bots” are software applications embedded in applicant tracking systems used by human resource departments or third-party providers since the late 1990s to screen pools of online applications and online résumé submissions. As far back as 2001, some job bots were able to search 300,000 résumés in 10 seconds. The Resumix system is used by the Federal Government to screen online applications and résumés. Resumix and other such job bots filter these documents through tens or hundreds of thousands of “Knowledge-Skill-Ability” terms (called KSAs) to determine whether an application or résumé meets the essential and preferable skills for a  particular job vacancy.

The automated application-résumé screening process is designed to reject as many unqualified applications as possible. If you’ve ever been surprised (or angry) when you received a rejection letter stating that you “did not have the required minimum experience,” even though you may have worked in an identical position for years, it’s likely you were the victim of a job bot. The job bot in the application tracking system is programmed to look for specific information (job title, functional skills, years of experience) and if your experience is not formatted in the expected manner, it doesn’t exist as far as the job bot is concerned.

How Job Bots Work

Here’s a brief overview of how the job bot software analyzes your résumé.

  1. HR receives your résumé (along with hundreds of others)
  2. Your résumé is run through a computer program called a parser, which removes styling and formatting (bold typeface, underlining, bullets, etc.), and separates text into recognizable strings of characters for additional analysis
  3. The parser assigns meaning and context to résumé content, separating phrases into information types, such as contact information, functional skills, experience, education, language skills, etc.
  4. Employer uses keywords to search candidates, matching terms are searched from the results collected in Step 3.
  5. Your résumé is scored based on relevancy, which is the semantic matching of employer search terms and your experience.
  6. (Optional): If it makes it this far, your résumé may be further “filtered” by persons who may or may not be familiar with your specific, unique knowledge or expertise. In such cases, they are instructed to forward to a higher-level reviewer  to determine whether it should be forwarded to a hiring manager. I don’t know about you, but leaving that decision in their hands makes me just a bit nervous.

Structuring your résumé really does require some forethought, the right experience, a distinctive writing style to overcome the barriers presented by these job bots. A résumé not optimized for these ATSs and job bots risks never being viewed by human eyes.

(More) Bad News About Job Bots

According to a 2012 CIO magazine article, job bots are error-prone apps that eliminate “75 percent of job-seekers’ chances of landing an interview as soon as they submit their résumés, no matter how qualified they may be.”  Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs states that job bots are inexpensive but “not very effective in finding the people companies want.”

Job bot accuracy depends on the decision rules used in parsing applications and résumés, which in turn depends on the quality and extent of research performed to determine appropriate KSAs for a particular function or position.

While the “scrubbing” of applications and résumés by many ATSs can remove potential bias (age, gender, ethnicity for example), it’s possible that information linked to these factors may not be ignored.

Another problem is that humans can spot talent better than any software algorithm, and this is especially true as more fields become technology driven where the types and degrees of specialization require a trained eye to spot.  According to an HR acquaintance, “A great résumé gets noticed, but at most companies it’s about who referred you.”

Getting Past the Job Bots

The goal is to get your résumé past the job-bot gatekeepers and low-level human screeners, and into the hands of a hiring manager. Here are some suggestions for getting your résumé past ATS and job bots:

  1. Don’t just focus on words in the job description. Read it carefully to identify themes, repeated phrases, and jargon, but key words are not always obvious. Without the right key words (or enough of them), your résumé will likely be rejected. Also important: proper key word placement and frequency to maximize their value, proper hierarchy arrangement of paragraphs.
  2. As I consistently counsel ACFE members, stay focused on what’s important to the person reviewing the résumé or the job bot scanning it–avoid additional irrelevant information that can distract from the position requirements as it could result in a rejection.
  3. Prioritize the words on résumé. The Résumé Help blog recommends auditing the job description to build a list of priority and secondary words. Priority résumé key words are those used in the job title, description headlines, or used more than twice. Secondary résumé key words make mention of competitor companies or brand name experience, keyword phrases, and notable industry qualifications (special certifications, designations).
  4. Consult an insider for help finding relevant words for a position of interest. Use your LinkedIn network to find (or connect) with someone in an industry group forum who can help with this.
  5. Pepper all job-related words across your résumé. Screeners factor in depth of expertise (years experience); use the same job-related words for all job positions. Order bullets in descending order of relevancy to the job description (same advice applies for human screeners, such as hiring managers).
  6. Create a relevant category expertise section, near the top 1/3 of the first page of the résumé. Similar to a functional skills table, populate this table with relevant generic category expertise, such as Finance, Accounting, Operations, Audit, Investigation, etc. Specific category expertise would include Risk Management, Financial transactions and fraud schemes, Fraud Prevention and deterrence, Construction Fraud, Medicare/Medicaid Fraud, Data Analytics.

One Last Tip

So, what are the chances your résumé will be evaluated by a job bot? That depends on the size of the company with the open position, whether that company is using a third-party agency to screen résumés, and the specific position for which you are applying. It’s important to understand that making it past the job-bot gauntlet only gets you to the next step in the hiring process: The job interview. That’s it. The skill needed for the job interview, and ultimately receiving a job offer, is what I call the “Likeability Factor,” which is beyond the scope of this post.

If you receive an email response immediately after submitting your résumé, then it’s likely it’s already been rejected. Continue tweaking your résumé and resubmitting until the autoresponses stop. When that happens, there’s a good chance that your résumé made it past the first hurdle and may be in the hands a human being and not a software “Terminator.”

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