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.
- HR receives your résumé (along with hundreds of others)
- 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
- 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.
- Employer uses keywords to search candidates, matching terms are searched from the results collected in Step 3.
- Your résumé is scored based on relevancy, which is the semantic matching of employer search terms and your experience.
- (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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.”