By Catherine Kaputa
These days, the first screening of your resume and job application is not likely to be done by a person but by a computer using ATS (Applicant Tracking System) screening software.
And the ATS robots are not kind to young professionals.
Why is that?
The ATS software screens by keywords, job titles and skills. It’s all about checking off boxes. With the resume robots, there is no nuance and they can’t sense your winning personality. Since most young professionals have limited job experience and skills, there often is not a good keyword match so their resumes end up in the black hole, the corporate repository for discarded resumes.
But there are ways to crack the code and get your resume in human hands. In talking to scores of new graduates and young professionals as well as corporate recruiters for my new book, Graduate to a Great Career, I discovered five tips on mastering the modern recruitment process. Here they are:
- Concentrate on online job posts that are under three days old and have a good keyword match to you: It’s tempting to apply to every job that looks appealing, but it’s a mistake. Applying to jobs and getting no response will take its toll. Spamming every job post will take up a lot of your time, and not getting a response back will demoralize you. If the job is not a good fit with your skills, the ATS robot will spot it right away and discard your resume. Ditto for job posts that are over three days old. One study showed that most employers receive so many applications in the first three days, they don’t bother to look at applications that come in after that.
- Customize your resume to a specific job using the exact keywords in the job post: Customizing your resume seems obvious, but most job applicants use the same resume for every job. Study the keywords in the job posting and use the same exact words on your resume, assuming that you have similar experience. You can use web services like Wordle, Resonate and TagCrowd to target the most frequently used words in the job listing. Also, check out the company mission statement and philanthropic activities to see if there are connections you can use in your resume.
- Redouble your efforts to connect directly with someone who works at the company: It pays to be enterprising so don’t just rely on filling out the online application. Check out LinkedIn to see if any of your first degree contacts are connected to someone at the company. You can also send an email alert out to your friends. Or you can check out alumni from your university on LinkedIn or your school database to see if anyone works there, and follow up with an email notifying them of your interest in the company and requesting a short 15-minute informational interview. One company employee told me that she hit it off with a job applicant in a short informational phone call and then put in a good word with the hiring manager that resulted in an interview.
- Follow up your online application with direct outreach to the hiring manager: There’s no better way to show that you are a go-getter than a direct email, InMail or regular mail sent directly to the hiring manager. Usually a little sleuthing on the company website or LinkedIn will give you the name and contact information. You can use Verify Email to confirm an email address. It’s worth the effort. You will have a serious advantage if your online job application is followed by a well-written three paragraph pitch email or letter.
- See if you can find comparable experience through internships, summer jobs, or online courses: A big problem new job hunters can face is lack of experience that correlates to the job being advertised. It may take some thought, but see if some of your internships and jobs had aspects similar to the job post and use similar phraseology in your application. If the job requires experience with the finer points of Excel or other skill, see if you can take a quick online course, so you can add it to your resume.
Using technology to sort through the volume of applications companies receive will only become more dominant in the future. What used to take HR professionals days and weeks now can by done by the ATS robots in minutes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get technology to work for you. Follow these five tips to crack the code and break through to get the interview—and the job.
Catherine Kaputa is a personal brand strategist and author of Graduate to a Great Career, coming out in April by Nicholas Brealey Publishing. She is the founder of SelfBrand.