It was January of 1969, and The Beatles were a mess. The recording of an album tentatively titled ‘Get Back' was meant to be a ‘back to the basics' return to their roots, but personal problems between the Beatles escalated and culminated in George Harrison's walking out on the band.
She was a senior human-resources professional who was laid off in summer 2009 from her job at large hospital in Texas. After the layoff, she did everything she knew from her years in HR would help her land a job. She woke early every day, put on her business suit, networked like mad, lunched with contacts ... the whole nine yards.
Still, no job offers came; just those cold-as-silicon, automatically generated rejection letters. You know the kind: vaguely worded, anonymously sent e-mails saying they’ve received your application and will contact you if they see a fit.
Yeah, right. Don’t hold your breath.
The HR pro didn’t. Instead, she contacted Laurie M. Winslow, principal at Talent Innovations Group. Winslow looked at her resume, saw that it did a good job making the case that she was management material, reformatted the document and used the HR pro’s list of connections until she found one who knew a senior management member of one of the companies to which she had already applied. She then told the HR pro to resubmit the new resume to all those automatic online application sites.
The job seeker did reapply, changing her e-mail address so it wouldn’t appear to be a duplicate. She was hired for one of the positions for which she was originally rejected.
Was it the contact that did the trick, or was it the reformatted, resubmitted resume? Probably both, but what really matters is that she bounced back, tweaked her resume and reapplied.
We contacted HR professionals who work with resume applicant tracking systems (ATS), and all of them said the same thing: If you’ve received a computer-generated rejection letter for a position for which you believe you are qualified, you should understand that your resume has been rejected, not you.
In such cases, the issue may be that your resume lacks specific keywords and search terms or the format caused a problem for the software. In that case, Winslow said, a smart applicant “will immediately contact the recruitment office of the rejecting organization. If they cannot get through to the appropriate recruiter, I would advise that they speak with a sympathetic administrative assistant —anyone who can guide them as to the best way for them to replace the resume currently in the ATS with one containing the correct keywords and phrases. And once their customized resume has been submitted, I would encourage them to contact the appropriate recruiter (or sympathetic administrative assistant) and request that their updated resume be reviewed for the open position.”
Read on for more tips about how to tweak a resume and reapply after receiving an automated rejection letter.
Winslow advises her clients to change the e-mail address they use to submit their applications, since e-mail is the primary identifier used by common ATS software to sort resumes, and changing it will probably convince the ATS it’s a new application. (More-advanced ATS programs, like Taleo, use multiple candidate identifiers, Winslow said, but multiple applications are still OK, so long as the content remains accurate.)
And it doesn’t hurt to reach a human on the other side of the ATS. Winslow recommended applicants use LinkedIn or other networking tools to find a contact within the company to whom they can speak about why you think you’re a good fit for the position.
“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call,” Winslow said. “Use LinkedIn or whatever networking tool you have to reach out and say, ‛Hey, have you really looked at this application?’ ”
Tell them that you’ve reworked your original resume to show more accurately why you’re the best candidate for the position and that you’d like to reapply, but make sure you don’t put anyone on the defensive by insinuating that they made a mistake.
When looking at a resume, recruiters look to make sure that, if there are multiples, no significant data has been altered. To avoid appearing flaky at best and fraudulent at worst, keep the work history consistent, and don’t change company names for which you’ve worked, titles you’ve held, education, or months and years at the companies. Bottom line: Executive summaries and bulleted lists of key skills and achievements are the areas to tweak, not work-history sections.
“As long as those things [in the work-history section] stay the same,” Winslow said, “if you just change the resume format to something more usable and more applicable to the job description, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t falsify information.”
Tiffani Murray is the manager of technology and metrics for the talent-acquisition department of a major beverage manufacturer. Murray’s position includes managing the ATS for her large company, which uses the Peopleclick software application. Murray’s advice for applicants who initially get rejected and who want to modify their resumes is to pay attention not only to the resume — make sure the keywords replicate the job posting, for example — but how the data is collected in the system. For example, some company career sites merely allow you to upload your resume, while others require users to fill in specific fields, such as job title or skills.
In their rush to complete the online application, many applicants might skip over these and other fields with multiple selection boxes, she said. On the second attempt, Murray stresses the importance of applicants taking the time to fill in all of the information requested, even if it’s listed as optional. “I recommend this because in many of the systems, these fields of information become searchable for the recruiters on the other side,” she said. Fill it all in, even if information such as years of experience or degrees is listed on your resume. It’s impossible to know when a recruiter might sort by this information to filter out applicants, and filling in all fields will ensure you don’t erroneously get caught in a screening filter.