Beating Resume Robots

For years now, many companies have been using applicant tracking systems (“ATS’s”) to manage the volume of resumes that are submitted for jobs. As a job seeker, it’s hard to know which companies use an ATS, though in some cases it’s obvious—when you click the “apply” button, you are taken to a site like Silkroad, Taleo, iCIMS, JobVite, or Bullhorn (to name a few). Certain employers almost always use an ATS, while others, including most small companies and nonprofits, can’t afford them.


Why should you care? Because the ATS is often the first to “read” your resume—thus a computer software determines if a human will even see your resume. The ATS is used to scan resumes for keywords to screen out candidates. Some ATS software has strong “parsing” capability, being able to weight the keywords by positioning (closer to the top of the resume and/or repeated words getting more weight), while others just aren’t that smart.


There are several secrets for beating these resume robots so that your resume is read by a human:


· Carefully read the job description; print it out and take a highlighter to the more technical terms, proper nouns, and verbs. Words or phrases that are repeated, words from the job title itself, names of software or foreign languages, names of licenses or certifications, or skills labeled as “required” should get extra attention.


· Think like a computer, i.e., literally. If the job description asks for Excel, make sure you don’t list “MS Office.” Actually write “MS Excel.”


· Copy and paste the job description into to get a word cloud showing the words that are repeated the most. Try software like to see how well your resume matches the job description.


· Read in between the lines—a company asking for someone with consulting experience at a top firm might decide to scan for “Bain,” “Boston Consulting Group,” or “McKinsey.”


· Make sure your resume is parsed correctly. For certain ATS’s, if you upload your resume it will be converted into a plain text version. If you can, check to make sure your resume converted correctly in the database.


· Go to and look under “Companies,” then look up the company in question; click on the “Employee Insights” tab, then look on the right side-bar for the Top Skills of employees of the company—these are often your keywords.


A word of caution—there is no point in creating a resume with great keywords if you can’t back them up in real life. Don’t waste a recruiter’s time—and yours—by throwing in terms you haven’t earned the right to list in the resume. You will only fall apart the minute you are questioned in the interview.


And, finally, the real best way to beat the resume robot is to connect with a human in the first place. Build your professional network at your favorite companies to get an internal referral, and you won’t have to worry about resume robots at all.


This article originally appeared in Wiley Job Network

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