Tag Archives: ATS

20 steps to take during your job search

How should the job search be conducted? Everyone has their own idea. In this article, I present my idea of the steps job seekers should take to secure a rewarding job. Hint, I don’t feel that writing/updating your résumé is the first step. I think there are variables to consider. 

job seeker balck and white

One thing for sure is that no two job seekers are alike; thus, no two job searches are alike. How you conduct your search is going to be different than the next person, so you might skip some of these steps or embrace all of them.

1. Forgive yourself

If you haven’t already forgiven yourself for being laid off, let go, or forced to quit, it’s not too late. You may be experiencing guilt, self-doubt, anger, and despondency to name a few. When I was laid off from marketing, I remember going through all of the aforementioned feelings. Now I think it was all wasted energy.

If you are having a difficult time forgiving yourself, considering seeing a therapist, especially if these destructive feelings are hindering your job search. Most health insurance policies cover mental health. Look into the health insurance you or your spouse is purchasing.

2. Take a short break

I advise a few days off after you’ve lost your job. You need time to get your head straight. Your emotions will be frazzled. There’s also taking care of your finances, e.g., applying for unemployment. You may want to catch up on medical appointments that you’ve put off because your were too busy while working.

However, if you’re newly unemployed, now is not the time to take a three-month vacation with severance your company gave you or vacation time you’ve accumulated. This will put you behind the eight-ball in terms of getting into the job search and showing a gap on your résumé.

3. Dive into your job search with gusto

Now that your break is over, it’s time to put a concerted effort into your job search. Determine how you’re going to conduct your job search. Make a plan or have someone help you create a sound plan for your search. Many job seekers make the mistake of searching for work online as their only means.

I advise my clients that the methods of searching for work that are most successful from best to worst are: face-to-face networking, attending professional affiliations, utilizing a recruiter or staffing agency, combining LinkedIn with face-to-face networking, and using job boards. You don’t have to use all of these methods, as you don’t want to spread yourself thin.

4. Let others know you’re out of work

As simple as this sounds, plenty of job seekers are reluctant to tell their friends, neighbors, relative, former colleagues, etc., that they’re out of work. Not only should you not feel embarrassed, you are missing opportunities to network.

Most people understand that people sometimes lose their job. It’s likely they have also lost their job. It’s a known fact that people want to help you, so let them. Give them the opportunity to feel good about themselves for helping you. Look at it this way.

5. Be good to yourself

You’ve heard of work/life balance. I believe there’s also job-search/life balance. In other words, don’t burn out during your job search. In a recent job club meeting, I asked the members what they did during the Christmas holiday. Many of them talked about making connections with valuable recruiters.

But the ones who also impressed me were the ones who said they took some time off to decompress, sprinkled in with some job searching activities. You must remember that there are other important aspects of your life, such as family, friends, and events that you otherwise would have put off.

6. Don’t play the numbers game

At times I have to remind job seekers of this destructive practice, where they will say, “In a month I’ll have been out of work for more than a year.” Obsessing over the time you’ve been out of work will hurt your morale and, therefore, your job search.

Everyone’s situation is different. Your friend who is searching for an entry-level position will most likely land a job faster than you, if you’re looking for executive-level roles. In general, the average time it takes to find a job is 26 days, but again this depends on level of position and demand for your position.

7Know thyself

It’s important to possess self-awareness, if you want to conduct your job search effectively. This means thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What does this spell? SWOT. That’s right, do a SWOT analysis on yourself.

I have my attendees do a partial SWOT analysis in some of my workshops. I tell them to do a complete one on their own. You should write down 10 or more strengths, five weaknesses, three opportunities, and three threats. This will give you a better sense of what you can capitalize on and areas you need to overcome.

8. Take time to think about what you really want to do

All too often job seekers will settle for the next job that comes along. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. This stage in your life is a great time to reflect on what will make you happy.

If it’s a career change, think about how your transferable skills can make the transition easier, despite not having all the job-related skills. One woman I worked with had previously worked for Hewlett Packard in marketing. She joined our career center as a grant writer. Eventually she became the director of our Workforce Investment Board.

This article points out various self-assessments you can take to determine your interest.

9. Conduct some labor market research (LMR)

Now, you need to gather LMI on job availability, determining which skills are in high demand, and what salaries employers are offering.  One site that gives you a broad sense of your value in the labor market is Salary.com.

But the best way to gather LMI is by speaking with people in the know, who might include other job seekers or people who will grant you networking meetings, better known as informational interviews.

10. Create a list of companies for which you’d like to work

This is difficult for many people. The sharp job seekers understand the value of keeping a going list of 10 to 15 companies they research. This is also part of your LMR. Your research can tell you which companies are in growth or decline.

You also should identify important players in the companies, hiring managers, directors, VP, CEOs, etc. LinkedIn is ideal for identifying key players in your target companies. Networking is even better, providing you have the right connections.

11. Write your résumé and LinkedIn profile

Now it’s time to write your résumé. When others jump immediately to their résumé and LinkedIn profile, they’re flying blindly. They haven’t self-reflected, thought about what they want to do, and conducted their LMR.

To write your résumé right, you’ll write a tailored résumé for each job you can. A one-fits-all résumé won’t do it; it certainly won’t pass the applicant tracking system (ATS). Employers don’t want to see a grocery list of duties; they want to see relevant, quantified accomplishments.

Read this article to learn more about how to write your LinkedIn profile.

12. Networking is still your best method of looking for work

Approach connections who work for your target companies or people who know people who work for your target companies. Many job seekers have great success using LinkedIn to make connections at desired companies.

I strongly encourage my clients to attend professional association events, where they can network with people who are currently working. Those who are working might know of opportunities for you, or at the very least provide you with some sage advice. To find an association, Google your industry/occupation and your location. Here’s one I found for marketing.

15. Research, research, research

This part of your job search can’t be emphasized enough. One complaint I hear from hiring authorities is the lack of research candidates do. One hiring manager told me a person came to an interview and told the group that he was happy to be invited to (Company X), but he mistakenly called their company by the wrong name. Oops.

Be sure to research the position, company, industry, and even the people conducting the interview. Going to the company’s website is fine, but dig a little deeper. Read press releases and talk with people who work for the company at hand. One figure said 40% of candidates do one to five minutes of research before the interview.

14. Be prepared for tools employers are using, such as Applicant tracking systems (ATS)

The ATS eliminates approximately 75 percent of the applicants for a single job. It is a godsend for recruiters and HR, who are overburdened with résumés to read. However, for job seekers, it’s an impediment.

To be among the 25 percent that pass the ATS, you’ll have to write a résumé that is keyword rich. Unfortunately many candidates don’t know about the ATS and don’t optimize their résumés. Your best bet is to write keyword-rich résumés that are tailored to each job.

Jon Shields of www.jobscan.co explains the ATS in great detail in this post.

15. Pre-employment aptitude and personality tests

Employers have come to rely on aptitude and personality tests that can determine the candidates who’ll advance in the hiring process. Some employers will swear by them, believing that the software can do a better job of screening individuals than their own HR and recruiter.

Employers use pre-employment tests because they are objective and fair across the board—each candidate answers the same questions—and they’re a good indicator of job-related skills. These tests also measure character traits like integrity, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, etc.

This article talks about the most common types of pre-employment tests.

16. Telephone Interviews

Hardly new, the telephone interview is typically the first type of interview you will encounter to get to the face-to-face interview. The interviewer has two main objectives: getting your salary requirement and determining if you have the job-related skills to do the job.

However, you need to expect not only the aforementioned questions, but more difficult questions, such as situational and behavioral-based. Telephone interviews have also become more numerous. It’s not uncommon for someone to participate in three or more telephone interviews before getting to an in-person interview.

17. Skype interviews

Skype interviews are common these days. Employers use them to save time and, ultimately, money. As well, interviewers get to see your facial expressions and body language. They are akin to in-person interviews, save for the fact that candidates aren’t invited to the company. This means candidates must nail the following areas:

  1. Stellar content and demonstrated enthusiasm through your answers and body language.
  2. Professional attire. Dress as though you’re going to a face-to-face interview.
  3. All the mechanics are in check, such as lighting, sound, and background.
  4. Look at the webcam, not at the interviewer/s. Looking at them will make it seem like you’re not making eye contact.

Skype interviews may, in fact, be the final interview, which makes it even more dire for job candidates to be prepared for them. This is particularly true if interviewers are situated all over the world.

18. Video interviews

Job candidates are given a number of questions to answer and are timed during the session. At no point do they see the interviewer/s, unlike a Skype interview. My clients who have participated in video interviews say it’s like talking to a wall.

This might be a bit unnerving, but don’t let it rattle you. Have you ever answered interview questions while looking in the mirror? Think of it this way and you’ll be fine. One more thing, look at your computer’s webcam while answering the questions, just as you would for a Skype interview.

Matthew Kosinski from www.recruiter.com. rates the top five video interview platforms in this post.

19. Finally you make it to the big ball, the interview

Chances are you will have to interview in person with companies multiple times. Employers are being very selective because hiring the wrong person can lead to loss in money, time, and possibly customers. For this reason, you need to present your best self. First impressions do matter.

More to the point, the content of your answers need to answer one question, “What value can you bring to the employer?” Your experience and accomplishments have been stated in your written communications and during pre-interviews, but all needs to be reiterated while talking with interviewers.

Read this seven-part series on Nailing the interview process.

20. It’s not over until you follow up

All your good work goes to waste if you don’t follow up after a networking event; informational meeting; being invited to join someone’s LinkedIn network; and, of course an interview.

A thank you note is required after an interview. Not just a form note, but a unique note for each person with whom you interviewed. You had a group interview with four people, you send four separate notes. Try to make each special by mentioning a point of interest discussed during the interview. Yes, email is preferred.


One more: it’s never too late to volunteer

Look, I’m not trying to sell you out. It’s a proven fact that volunteering is an effective way to land a job. Consider these four reasons:

  1. You improve your skills or gain new ones. For example, you’re a webmaster and volunteer to revamp an organization’s website to learn ColdFusion.
  2. It is a great way to network. If you volunteer in the proper organization, you can make connections with vendors, partners, customers, and others in your industry.
  3. You’ll feel more productive. It’s far better than sitting at your computer for six hours a day applying online. As I tell my clients, get out of your house!
  4. It’s a great way to pad your résumé. Volunteerism is work, so why not include it in your Experience section.

Photo: Flickr, worldentertainments center

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7 tools employers are using to hire job candidates

Many of the high-level job seekers I encounter at an urban career center for which I work haven’t had to look for a job in 10, 20, 30 years, or more. For them, their advanced job search might feel like landing on Mars, as the job-search terrain has drastically changed. If you’re in this boat, this post will help you understand what you’ll encounter as you go forward.

Hands on Keyboard

Even if it’s been five years since you’ve had to look for work, you might not be aware of all the tools employers are using to find the best candidates. Employers are being more creative with their hiring efforts, while making it more difficult for job seekers to land a job. Let’s begin with the first and most well-known tool.

1. The applicant tracking system (ATS)

The ATS is one tool of an advanced job search that has many job seekers scratching their heads. When I describe it to my clients, most of them haven’t heard about this software which companies use to make life bearable for their HR staff and corporate recruiters. The bottom line is that the ATS eliminates approximately 75% of résumés that must be read for each job.

However, it’s a different matter for you. If you’re applying online for jobs where an ATS is used by companies, your résumé must have the required keywords, e.g., skills, job title, and even predicted skills to have it read by human eyes. Failure to include the required keywords on your résumé will most likely result in your résumé stored in the company’s database containing thousands of résumés that have been rejected.

Jon Shields of Jobscan.co makes it his business to know about the ATS. There are hundreds of ATSs out there. He claims 98% of large companies use an ATS. It’s also estimated that close to 65% of midsize companies employ one. Even smaller companies will outsource this technology.

2. LinkedIn’s mobile app continues to grow in popularity

LinkedIn is the go-to platform for recruiters. To engage in the advanced job search, you must realize that using only your desktop is not enough. You also need to install the LinkedIn app on your smart phone and access its features. Although the app’s features aren’t as robust as the desktop’s, they’re good enough to help you with your job search.

You can develop and nurture your network, access recruiters through Messaging, brand yourself with a video feature (not available on the desktop), and apply for jobs with LinkedIn’s separate Jobs app. You can do all of this practically anywhere in the world, even while you’re on vacation.

3. Live video interviews

Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, even Facetime have been a staple of the advanced job search. They’ve been a larger part of the hiring process, as they preclude the need for candidates to come to the company, thus saving time and money. However, these applications can cause some challenges for you if you’re not familiar with the technology.

Saving time and money are not the only reason employers conduct online interviews; they want to see you. Yes, they want to see your facial expressions and body language, and perhaps your age.

On your end of an online interview, you need to make sure you’ve covered all the technical requirements (proper lighting, clear sound, and tasteful background). Believe it or not, these technical requirements can be challenging for job seekers who don’t have the proper space for video interviews.

4. Pre-recorded video interviews

These are like live video interviews, save for the fact that you don’t see anyone on your computer screen. Instead, you’re looking at a screen that has questions written on it. Your answers to these questions will be timed and recorded. The final step is sending your recording to the employer.

Like an online interview, make sure you have the technical requirements covered and that you’re looking directly at the webcam to make it appear that you’re making eye contact with the people who aren’t there. That’s right; there’s no engagement required from the employer. They will simply gather your recorded answer and review them at their leisure.

5. Online pre-employment software

Hire Vue describes pre-employment software as: “… any tool or method used to evaluate job candidates with consistency. They range from hard skills tests (such as typing and math skills tests) to ‘softer’ tests, like personality batteries.” Many companies believe these tools are an accurate way to narrow the candidate pool.

Online evaluations get even more interesting. My valued connection, Mark Anthony Dyson, writes in his post on 14 Easy Modern Job Search Tips: ” With the arrival of AI, some companies are even implementing facial recognition technology to read candidates’ body language. Don’t get caught off guard by any of those cutting-edge technologies.”

6. Now it’s about your voice and image

If you’re comfortable with video, you’re in luck. Recruiters are looking at FaceTime Live and LinkedIn video features to assess candidates’ personality and technical abilities, both in the quality of your video and how you sell yourself. This advanced job-search tool isn’t a requirement for every occupation.

For example, if you’re a digital marketer and you produce a video that has multiple camera angles, effective lighting with a little music thrown in, and you let your personality shine; your video will impress the most critical hiring authorities. However, if you produce a poor-quality video, it may hurt your chances, rather than help.

7. It’s not only our kids who text

Recruiters are texting job candidates because of its convenience. Forget formalities. If they want your résumé “yesterday,” don’t be surprised to receive a text saying, “John from Company X wants to see your résumé today. Can you get it to me in an hour?”

Imagine you’re on vacation in Maine and away from your computer, but luck would have it that you’ve stored your résumé on your phone in Dropbox, Google Drive, or your iPhone Cloud. No problem just return it in a text. LinkedIn reports that employers and employees alike are using text, so get on board.

Sarah Johnson was a corporate recruiter. She explains: “When I was recruiting, my last hospital found that busy professionals were MORE likely to respond to a text vs. a phone call or email. I used TextRecruit to help me source for a few hard to fill physician specialties….”


These seven tools of an advanced job search that are not too difficult to take on. But you may have to take a few practice runs before you, for instance, send your video to recruiters. They may seem like a hindrance, but keep in mind that the job search has changed to make it easier and less costly for employers. It’s time to get with the program. You can do it.

This post originally appeared in Job-Hunt.org

 

Avoid résumé obsession by following these 6 rules

I’ve been helping a client with his résumé. Originally it was a sound résumé but weak in certain areas. He lacked a branding headline, so I suggested he use a headline similar to what he uses on his LinkedIn profile but stressed it needed to be tailored to each job.

obsessed-with-your-resume

He also needed to tighten up his writing, pay attention to typos, and avoiding being verbose. I also suggested he quantify his results. Mission accomplished.

Shortly after our meeting, he told me he would send me his “next” revision in a few days. In addition to the changes I suggested, he said he prettied it up a bit. They were aesthetic changes that probably wouldn’t play a big role in garnering him an interview.

I sent comments back to him, ending it with, “Ready to go.” He sent me two more updates, each containing minor changes; not much had changed. There was not much I could add.

He was suffering from résumé obsession.

While aesthetics are nice, your résumé needs to be much more impactful than pretty font, interesting layout, unique bullet points, etc. Here are six general rules about putting your résumé to best use.

1. Yes, a powerful résumé is necessary. A résumé should lead with a strong branding headline to capture the employers’ attention, tell them who you are and what you’re capable of doing for them. This is where you first introduce the job-related keywords.

Follow your branding headline with a concise, yet grabbing Performance Profile. All too often I see profiles with lofty adjectives that have no meaning. Your profile is the roadmap to your work history; whatever you assert in it, you have to prove in the experience section.

The work experience must demonstrate accomplishments that are quantified. Employers are looking for numbers, percentages, and dollar signs. Having accomplished this, along with an education section, your résumé is ready to go.

2. It’s only one part of your written communications. Let’s not forget a well-written cover letters that grab the employers’ attention with the first sentence. Forget the tired, “I was excited to read on Monster.com of the project manager position at (company). Please find below my accomplishments and history that make me a great fit for this job.”

You have to show the employer you’re the right person for the job. This includes highlighting job-related skills and mentioning a couple of accomplishments. Like your résumé, the cover letter is tailored to each job.

3. Send your résumé to the hiring manager. Some of my customers are shocked when I tell them that they need to send their information to human resources and the hiring manager. The reason for doing this is because the hiring manager may see something in you that HR doesn’t.

Another reason for sending your résumé to the hiring manager is because she may overlook the fact that you don’t have a certain requirement, such as education, whereas HR must reject you for this deficiency. One of my job seekers, a former hiring manager, confirmed this assertion, adding “experience trumps education any day.”

4. How you distribute it. It doesn’t end with hitting “Submit.” You can’t sit back and wait for recruiters and HR to call you for a telephone interview. Some believe that sending out five résumés a day is a personal accomplishment; yet they fail to follow up in a timely manner.

Worse yet, they don’t send their résumé and cover letter to targeted companies. This involves networking face-to-face or via LinkedIn to determine who the right contact is at the company. Distribute your résumé to the people who count when you can; rather than applying online and taking your chances with the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Note: one product I swear by to determine the effectiveness of keywords on your resume is Jobscan.

5. LinkedIn is part of it. Whether you like it or not, it’s time to get on board with LinkedIn. Countless success stories of job seekers getting jobs are proof that employers are leaning more toward LinkedIn than the job boards.

They’re enabling the Hidden Job Market (HJM) by not advertising their jobs; rather they reach out to you to have you come in for discussions first..

Your LinkedIn profile should mirror your résumé (branding headline, summary, work history, education) to a point. Each section on it will differ, plus there are sections and recommendations you can display on your profile that you might not on your résumé. There must be a harmonious marriage between the two.

6. Just get it out. I know this sounds odd coming from a person who writes and reviews résumés. “Are you suggesting I send out an imperfect product?” you’re wondering. Well, yes if it’s holding you back from getting a job that’s available.

All to often I see clients in the career center for which I work spend too much time trying to make their resume perfect. Days, weeks, months go by before they’re “ready to send it out.” Don’t sweat the small stuff, as they say. Because while you’re doing this, opportunities are disappearing.


Fruitless pursuit. Trying to perfect your résumé and neglecting the aforementioned steps needed to make it work is similar to cleaning every snowflake from your steps and neglecting your entire walkway. A great résumé is what you aspire to create; a perfect résumé is not possible. To aspire to perfection will most likey prevent you to send out your résumé all together, just like my former client.

Photo: Flickr, Jordan

5 pre-interview tools employers use to screen candidates

You’re probably aware of the order in which employers attempt to fill a position. First, they consider their own employees; second, ask for referrals from their employees; third, seek referrals from trusted people outside the company; fourth, hire recruiters; and lastly, advertising the position. Or they use a combination of all of these.

pre-employment test

There are many reasons why employers prefer not advertising an open position, including the cost to advertise, having to deal with a deluge of résumés, and interviewing people they don’t know.

In many cases advertising their position/s is unavoidable because all other methods of filling them have failed. Thus, they resort to tools to make sure they get the most qualified people entering their doors. You need to be aware of these tools.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS)

This is the beginning of the hiring process from the candidates’ experience. The ATS eliminates approximately 75 percent of the applicants for a single job. It is a godsend for recruiters and HR, who are overburdened with résumés to read.

To be among the 25 percent that pass the ATS, you’ll have to write a résumé that is keyword rich. Unfortunately many candidates don’t know about the ATS and don’t optimize their résumés. I’m astounded by the number of people who come through our career center unaware of the ATS.

Your best bet is to write keyword-rich résumés that are tailored to each job. Instead of using the spray-and-pray approach, be more focused on positions that are a fit and dissect job descriptions to identify the most important skills and experience required.

Jon Shields of www.jobscan.co explains the ATS in great detail in this post.

Pre-employment aptitude and personality tests

Employers have come to rely on aptitude and personality tests that can determine the candidates who’ll advance in the hiring process. Some employers will swear by them, believing that the software can do a better job of screening individuals than their own HR and recruiter.

Employers use pre-employment tests because they are objective and fair across the board—each candidate answers the same questions—and they’re a good indicator of job-related skills. These tests also measure character traits like integrity, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, etc.

Where these tests fail is measuring candidates’ motivation to learn job-related skills. This means if you aren’t completely proficient in a certain CRM software, for example, your ability to learn quickly isn’t factored in.

These tests can also encourage dishonesty. For example, you might get the sense that the test encourages outgoing, extraverted types; but you’re preference is for an individualistic work setting. Ergo, your answers won’t truly reflect your personality.

This article talks about the most common types of pre-employment tests.

Telephone Interviews

Hardly new, the telephone interview is typically the first type of interview you will encounter to get to the face-to-face interview. The interviewer has two main objectives: getting your salary requirement and determining if you have the job-related skills to do the job.

However, you need to expect not only the aforementioned questions, but more difficult questions, such as situational and behavioral-based. Telephone interviews have also become more numerous. It’s not uncommon for someone to participate in three or more telephone interviews.

LinkedIn’s report, Global Recruiting Trends 2018, states that telephone interviews are considered the least favorable out of the structured interview. This is probably due to the fact that phone interviews are conducted by agency recruiters who may know little about the job requirements and desired fit; thus producing less qualified candidates.

Skype interviews

Skype interviews are common these days. Employers use them to save time and, ultimately, money. As well, interviewers get to see your facial expressions and body language. They are akin to face-to-face interviews, save for the fact that candidates aren’t invited to the company. This means candidates must nail the following areas:

  1. Stellar content and demonstrated enthusiasm through your answers and body language.
  2. Professional attire. Dress as though you’re going to a face-to-face interview.
  3. All the mechanics are in check, such as lighting, sound, and background.
  4. Look at the webcam, not at the interviewer/s. Looking at them will make it seem like you’re not making eye contact.

Skype interviews may, in fact, be the final interview, which makes it even more dire for job candidates to be prepared for them. This is particularly true if interviewers are situated all over the world.

Don’t be surprised if an employer wants to conduct a Skype interview with you. One of the areas I didn’t mention is learning how to set up a Skype account. My efforts in setting up mine was frustrating, as I had a hard time figuring out how to access the free version.

Video interviews

Skype interviews can not only be challenging for candidates, they can also be time consuming for the employer, as it requires them to participate. Video interviews, on the other hand, don’t require employer participation, until the interviews are watched and graded.

Job candidates are given a number of questions to answer and are timed during the session. At no point do they see the interviewer/s, unlike a Skype interview. My clients who have participated in video interviews say it’s like talking to a wall.

This might be a bit unnerving, but don’t let it rattle you. Have you ever answered interview questions while looking in the mirror? Think of it this way and you’ll be fine. One more thing, look at your computer’s webcam while answering the questions, just as you would for a Skype interview.

Matthew Kosinski from www.recruiter.com. rates the top five video interview platforms in this post.


There you have it: 5 tools employers use to determine who to invite for a face-to-face interview. No method of hiring the right person is flawless, but employers feel like they’re making strives to accomplish landing the best candidate. It is up to you to do well in every aspect of the process.

4 reasons why the applicant tracking system is ineffective

My wife has an ongoing argument with Amazon’s Alexa. “Alexa, play WBUR.”

“I don’t understand your question.”

“No, Alexa….Play WBUR….Alexa, play WBUR.”

“Playing a station from Boise Idaho.”

“Argh.”

alexa

As I watch this interaction, it demonstrates how technology and humans don’t always jive. This transaction between my wife reminds me of how the applicant tracking system (ATS)—of which there are hundreds—doesn’t work for the following reasons.

People are only human

No matter how hard I try, some job seekers don’t send résumés tailored to specific jobs. Instead they send generic résumés to every job, exclaiming in aspiration, “Why don’t I get interviews? I’ve sent hundreds of résumés and gotten no interviews; not even a phone interview.”

For years I’ve been preaching to job seekers that keywords are the trick with the ATS. I tell them that they can identify keywords from the job postings by using software as simple as http://www.tagxedo.com or http://www.wordle.net to create word clouds, and then do the same to compare their résumés to job postings. Or they can use a more scientific method using http://www.jobscan.com.

Take the time to dissect the job post to understand the required major requirements and skills. Modify your Branding Headline, Performance Profile, Experience section, essentially everything to fit the job post.

The ATS is not human

The ATS can’t do human; it doesn’t know you as a person who has so much more to offer than the requirements for the job at hand. It is designed to do one thing: parse résumés for keywords. Only if your résumé contains the keywords—and density of them—will it be delivered to the hiring authorities who will read it.

Learn more about the ATS by reading 8 things you need to know about applicant tracking systems.

The ATS is so exact in the keywords for which it searches; there is no room for error. It doesn’t  digest the following words (in bold) in this sentence written by a job seeker: “Demonstrate organizational skills by coordinating events that garnered 98% participation from municipality constituents.

It recognizes the following words (in bold) from a job posting: “Must coordinate events for functions that attract an extremely high percent of participants. Candidates must be extremely organized

Here is where the job candidate fails in matching the three keywords.

  1. coordinating doesn’t equal coordinate.
  2. participation doesn’t equal participants.
  3. Organizational doesn’t equal organized.

The ATS promotes a failing system

The ATS is brilliant because it eliminates as many as 75% of hundreds of résumés submitted for one job. This makes hiring authorities’ lives more manageable and keeps them sane. Most large, and many midsize, companies use applicant tracking systems. One source rates the top 99 applicant tracking systems.

For years we’ve realized that the hiring process is deficient in various ways. When human meets machine, the process fails. You submit your application through an ATS, which does a great job of rating your résumé among others (remember keywords).

However, if your résumé doesn’t meet the ATS’s criteria, you’re out of luck for that job. What the ATS can’t determine is perhaps the most important aspect of a candidate’s potential, emotional intelligence (EQ). The ATS focuses strictly on the skills stated on your résumé; it does not sit across from you in an interview.

The ATS also delivers unqualified people to interviews. This might be attributed to career developers, such as myself, who advise job seekers on how to get by the ATS. (Surely not all people who can play the ATS game are unqualified.) The ones who are unaware of mechanics of the ATS, are being passed by for less qualified people.

The ATS perpetuates job boards

Job boards are chum line. If you’ve ever gone deep-sea fishing, you know what it means to use chum line. Scraps like squid, clams, fish parts, and basically anything that would attract large fish are thrown overboard. The bait attracts any fish who happen to be near the surface.

Hiring authorities reason that they might not get the perfect candidate, but there are job seekers out there who are qualified enough. In other words, what they don’t see, they won’t miss. This thinking is human nature, but it is also faulty.

The ATS allows employers to accept more résumés, convinced the most qualified candidates will be presented to them. Further, the résumés that don’t pass the ATS the first time will be stored for future perusal. Hiring authorities will have a trove a future candidates to look at. This is of no solace to job seekers who need a job now.

The job board’s success rate ranges from 2%-10%. The marriage between it and the ATS is a perfect union.


Friend or foe, the ATS is no better than Alexa. My wife eventually taught the machine to find the radio station she desired, but it took some teaching and frustration. Will the ATS be smarter? Will it be more human? More intuitive? If Alexa is any indication, there might be hope.

Photo: Flickr.com, Victor Gonzalez Couso

Keywords are important to have on your résumé

Dumping Ground

But don’t make it a dumping ground for keywords.

I don’t believe a résumé’s greatest attribute is its layout. Don’t get me wrong, how your résumé is structured matters a great deal; but content is by far the most important component.

Included in the content must be keywords and key phrases (KWs & KPs) that are related to the job for which you’re applying. They must be evident throughout your entire résumé.

We’re all aware that large-and mid-sized companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) which allows them to easily pluck the candidates, who possess the most KWs & KPs, from an unearthly pile of résumés.

Harried HR and internal recruiters type in necessary KWs & KPs, and the résumés that contain a majority of them are the first—if not the only—ones seen. It’s estimated that ATSs eliminated 75% of all résumés submitted for jobs.

While content is important—and having the necessary KWs & KPs is essential—where they’re placed is just as important.

Some assert that merely listing them in a section at the top of your résumé (this is where the Professional Profile lies) is the most effective way to get your résumé to float to the top of the employers’ list.

This is where I draw the line between playing the system at the expense of strategic layout.

The Professional Profile is a section of your résumé that needs to demonstrate your outstanding job-related and transferable skills, not be comprised of as many KWs & KPs you can muster up.

It must be written extremely well, providing compelling reasons why you should be brought in for an interview. Keep in mind the following objectives:

  1. You must prioritize your statements, matching the requirements of the position and other similar positions, not just all the KWs & KPs you capture from a job posting.
  2. The Professional Profile is a brief outline of what’s to follow in the body of your résumé. Anything you assert in this section must be proven henceforth.
  3. Consider using WOW statements or accomplishment statements. You’ll state other accomplishments in the body. This will certainly grab the employer’s attention.
  4. Do not offend the employer with empty claims of greatness by throwing adjectives around. Instead focus on action, e.g., (I) Direct teams of marketing and sales professionals to reach sales projections; exceeded goals by more than 85% in the past two years.
  5. Don’t write a novel. Your Professional Profile should not be longer than five or six lines. This may even be too long.

There is a better place for the key words and phrases. Where the KWs & KPs should be listed is in a Core Competency or Technical Skill sections below the Professional Profile. In this section you can empty the can and list the relevant KWs & KPs you’d like. However, don’t simply dump them there.

Martin Yate, author of the Knock em Dead series, writes in How keywords create a customer-centric résumé, “A Professional Skills section should list all the skills (keywords) required to execute the responsibilities of the job. It should come right after a Target Job Title and a Performance Summary at the top of your resume because the ATS programs that help recruiters search databases reward both the presence of keywords and the placement of keywords – those keywords found near the top of a document are seen to make that doc potentially more relevant to the user.”

The ATS will detect all the keywords and phrases throughout your entire résumé. Many recruiters encourages not only listing the job-related KWs & KPs; they recommend repeating wherever possible.

Density of KWs & KPs will also determine where your résumé lands in the pile. This means employing them in the Experience and Educations sections. Be sure you use the headers “Experience” and “Education,” as that’s what the ATS recognizes.

Another way job seekers try to to game the system is to write their keyword and phrases in white font at the end of your résumé. This trick is as old as the hills, and most ATSs can detect them and reject you.

Let’s not be too obvious about our intent. Simply write a résumé that shows you have all the skills and include KWs & KPs throughout your résumé.

The 5 steps recruiters use to select the best résumés

This year my son wanted a Christmas tree, despite the fact he’s allergic to them. I was game. Besides, we know this great tree farm that isn’t well known by other Christmas tree buyers.

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(You may skip this story and go right to the 5 steps recruiters use to select the best resume to present to hiring managers, if you’d like.)

My family and I arrived at the tree farm and weren’t surprised by the sparse group of people eager to find their Christmas tree.

Looking up the hill I saw nothing but rows and rows of Christmas trees and a few people, some with dogs, walking through rows of those trees. No one was in a hurry. Why should they be in a hurry?

You might think I was excited to see such an abundance of trees, which at a glance all looked the same. You are correct; I was thrilled to find the perfect tree to take home to our living room.

However, as I got closer to the trees up on the hill, I noticed that they weren’t all perfect. In fact, some of them were pretty bleak with their pine needles turning brown, and their branches missing here and there. In other words, this was going to take work.

What I began to think about was how this mass selection of Christmas trees resembled the mass selection of résumés recruiters get for one job. How they have to sift through all those résumés in order to select the ones to submit to hiring managers (HM). Here are the five steps they must take.

First, reduce the number of résumés to be read

By now you’ve heard about the applicant tracking system (ATS) and understand its purpose, to eliminate as many résumés to read as possible. Simply stated, it screens résumés for keywords and phrases. Those without the proper keywords don’t make the cut.

To give you an idea of the sheer number of applicant for each job: according to Jobvite.com, nearly 100 résumés are submitted for professional positions and 150 for other entry level.

The ATS effectively eliminates 75% of résumés submitted for a position, but even reading 25 résumés can be a burden. (Read 10 reasons recruiters and hiring managers dread reading résumés.)

Second, read the 25 out of 100 résumés chosen by the ATS

Even after the résumés have made it through the ATS, recruiters will take approximately six to ten seconds to read each one to determine if it’s worth a second view.

Recruiters’ job is to look for résumés to disqualify from consideration, rather than qualify them for consideration. It’s a process of elimination. Résumés that make the cut are placed in the “must read” pile.

Third, read the résumés in the “must read” pile

A closer look tells recruiters if the résumés have what it takes based on:

  • Readability: the résumés contain short paragraphs, with no more than three or four lines. Important points are bulleted. Important text is highlighted in bold to stand out from the rest of the text.
  • Accomplishments stand out: they are measurable with numbers, dollars, and percentages. Executive résumés, according to Laura Smith-Proulx are quantified.
  • Shorter is better—two pages—but I’ve spoken with recruiters who will read three- even four-page résumés. The more pages, the easier the ATS to see you, my dear.
  • Demographics: Determine if the applicants’ demographics fit the role. Does he live close enough to the company? Does his work history show too much or enough years of experience? What size companies has the applicant worked at?

Fourth, determine which two, three, or four résumés to submit to the hiring manager

The recruiter’s reputation is riding on the best candidates to submit to the HM, so the résumés must impress him. He must be sold on the candidates’ accomplishments, which must be relevant.

For example, although a candidate has outstanding accomplishments as an individual contributor—increased revenue 80% by generating business in uncharted territory—but the job calls for a person with management experience, he probably isn’t a good fit.

Personality fit is also key in the recruiter’s decision. But how does the recruiter see candidates’ personality in a résumé? It’s not an easy task for the job seeker to accomplish, but a résumé that demonstrates a human voice without use of fluff and cliches is preferred.

The use of personal pronouns is typically frowned upon, but when used sparingly can emphasize the job seeker’s skills and accomplishments. By sparingly I mean used only in the Performance Profile section.

Fifth, defend the recruiter’s choice to the hiring manager

A well written résumé should not be difficult to defend. After all, it has passed the ATS, the six-second glance, a more extensive review, has presented relevant accomplishments, and has given the recruiter a sense of the job seeker’s personality…as best it can.

But the résumé is a document that can’t reveal as much as the interviews conducted by the recruiter, HR, and the hiring manager. This is a the first step in the process, albeit a very important step. The recruiter must sound convincing when she presents her decision to the HM, perhaps second guessing the choices she’s made. Let the interviews begin.

Back to the story: The Christmas tree our family chose was one of the best in our family’s history. It was the ideal height and width. It only shed a few pine needles. But my wife wondered aloud if the short needles would be as good as the longer needles.

To me, it was a Christmas tree that we selected together. Was it perfect? No, but what is?