Reach Out to the Robots Reading Resumes

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Today’s job search process sounds a lot like the plot to a sci-fi movie. Candidates’ resumes are processed with a tracking system, handed over to robots to be sent through a parser, and sorted by relevance before they are considered worthy for battle. For many job seekers, it can seem like conquering a distant solar system would be easier than changing careers in the current market. However, there is new hope that comes with a little Yoda-like wisdom in the ways of the resume filtration procedure.


When a company posts a position online and asks candidates to email their resume in for consideration, there usually isn’t a person on the other end of the inbox opening, reading and sorting every response. Most businesses, especially larger corporations, use what’s known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This is a software application that handles electronic recruitment for the organization. Data is collected both internally via submitted forms and documents and extracted externally from job boards and other internet sources. The program then sorts and stores information about current and potential employees to seek out specific skill sets pairing opportunities with talent that can excel in the areas they are needed.


Artificial intelligence is used to process the information that is gathered with the applicant tracking system. Once collected, the data is passed off to the parser, a program designed to strip the formatting, sort and score the text in resumes and their accompanying correspondence. Depending on the software a particular company uses, the parser may or may not be able to detect text from certain formats, like PDFs. Particular care should be taken when exporting these documents to make sure the text is selectable. Otherwise .doc and .txt documents work well for passing through the parser.


Resumes in an acceptable format are then scraped for relevance to bring the most desirable candidates to the top of the call back list. It’s similar to the process search engines use for retrieving and presenting results to online inquiries. Most candidates think this means to simply stuff their resume with a blanket covering of keywords but the robots that are reading resumes have grown smarter—too smart for that. "More advanced ATS systems will evaluate the context in which each keyword is used," advises resume writer Karen Siwak, "and will give higher ranking to a keyword that is included within the description of a career accomplishment, compared to one that is included in a keyword table." Remember, position and context of trigger phrases are taken into consideration when determining the relevance of a resume so a list of skills at the top of the page should include verbs, nouns and descriptors in each bullet point.


Companies prioritize relativity and keyword points uniquely. It’s unlikely that one standard version of a resume will spark the interest of several companies across the board, even if you had a robot translating for you. Selectively inserting keywords and phrases before sending out each resume is essential for survival in the applicant tracking system. Candidates can pull power phrases from each company’s websites. Using language from the company's vision and mission statements, as well as the requirements listed in the posting for the position, will score higher than some synonyms.


Maybe copying and pasting different keywords for each application might not sound like the most fun, but it’s the best way to get passed the ATS guards and make it to the next round of the elimination process.


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson
    Thanks for your comments. Whether we like it or not, ATS is here to stay.  More companies are using software to screen resumes.  It just gives us more incentive to make sure we create the best resume possible.  Good luck everyone.
  • Gerald F
    Gerald F
    Excellent article.  Anyone who reads this is sure to get an edge in the already competitive job market.
  • Eric N
    Eric N
    ATS filters symbolize the priority these companies are placing on finding the right candidates - very low, close to zero.  If there is no difference between candidates, then this makes sense.  If they truly wanted the "right" candidate then they might spend more effort finding the proper fit.
  • Ulysses H
    Ulysses H
    This sums up the very reason why your resume' must be a living rather than static document.  While a particular position my have generic attributes, you've got to make sure that your resume resonates with wording described in the job announcement as well as the missions and values of the company posting the announcement.  Yes, it's laborious and time-consuming work but consider the enormous competition you are running against for a single job.
  • Malcolm X
    Malcolm X
  • Stephen D
    Stephen D
    A depressing article, made all the more depressing by the fact that, while the practice of making humans subservient to software is unacceptable, it is increasingly becoming the norm. We are the electronic sheep robots dream of.

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