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Recruiting Software: Ways Job Seekers Can Beat the System

Recruiting Software: Ways Job Seekers Can Beat the System

Unaware job seekers sometimes got eliminated before human eyes even perused their resumes

Ever since the Internet made applying for a job as easy as uploading or e-mailing a résumé, hiring managers and HR personnel have had to contend with volumes of applicants for jobs. To help them screen all the résumés, they've turned to recruiting software and applicant tracking systems that filter candidates' résumés based on how well they match the job description. In fact, by 2004, 90 percent of the top 500 U.S. employers were using recruiting software, according to Human Resources Leader.

Applicant tracking and recruiting systems originally relied on keyword-matching algorithms to identify candidates with the right skills and experience for a position--and to rule out unqualified candidates.

After you've submitted your résumé electronically ... send a hard copy to prospective employers with a note saying that this is [a] second submission and that [you're] very interested in the job.

Job seekers who were unaware of these systems but otherwise qualified for the job sometimes got eliminated before human eyes even perused their résumés because they didn't know how to gear their résumés to these systems. Meanwhile, tech-savvy job seekers quickly learned to game them.

Even though the systems have grown in technical sophistication (they now do more than simple keyword matching and some use artificial intelligence), job seekers' concerns about being erroneously ruled out by them haven't abated, say career coaches and résumé writers.

Their worries are heightened by the fact that when they submit a résumé to a prospective employer, they rarely hear back one way or the other, says Louise Kursmark, an executive résumé writer, career consultant and author of several books on career management.

To better the odds of hiring managers seeing--and responding to--your résumé, career experts offer the following 10 tips for standing out and getting past the electronic gate-keepers.

1. Apply for jobs for which you're qualified.

When you're unemployed, it's tempting to apply for any and all jobs in your field, regardless of whether you meet the exact requirements. You may think playing the numbers game will increase your odds of getting a response, but a more targeted approach may in fact yield better results, says Kursmark.

Because so many highly qualified professionals are looking for jobs, competition is fierce, and employers are being very selective about the candidates they bring in for job interviews. Applying for positions in which your skills and qualifications most closely match those in the job description will increase your odds of getting through the system.

2. Know what keywords to include in your résumé and cover letter.

Whether you're a project manager, .NET developer, DBA or CIO, Kursmark recommends reading every job ad related to your profession to get a sense of the key skills and capabilities organizations consistently seek.

Even if you don't plan to apply for these jobs, scanning the ads will increase your awareness of the most commonly used industry-standard terms and keywords that you should build into your résumé.

3. Learn how to pack your résumé with keywords--legitimately.

Because recruiting software and applicant tracking systems still use keyword-matching algorithms as one way to identify potentially qualified candidates, you want to ensure your résumé includes appropriate keywords.

Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor and author of the Career Cowards book series, says that some job seekers have incorporated keywords into their résumés by copying the job description from the ad, pasting it into their résumé in a tiny font and coloring the text white so that it goes undetected by human eyes but still gets noticed by applicant tracking systems. Piotrowski doesn't recommend this disingenuous technique.

To legitimately get keywords into your résumé, she and Kursmark suggest adding a paragraph near the top of the first page labeled "Strengths" or "Core Competencies." This paragraph should summarize your key skills and areas of expertise. The core competencies you list in this paragraph should match the requirements laid out in the job description.

Piotrowski and Kursmark recommend copying the job description into your résumé and then adapting it by adding or subtracting keywords so that it matches you to a T. Kursmark says this is a standard and accepted way to get keywords into your résumé without looking like you're trying to game the system. Just make sure the paragraph doesn't run much longer than 12 terms, she adds. Otherwise, it can start to look ridiculous.

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