Applying for a job online can be a lot like a guessing game.
For all the effort you put into marketing your experience and qualifications, the deciding factor that gets your resume into the hands of an actual person often comes down to using the right keywords.
Most companies rely on computer software programs to review thousands of resumes and select the ones with particular keywords — not necessarily impressive accomplishments — so they can then be reviewed by a recruiter and, eventually, a hiring manager.
Unfortunately for job seekers, these all-powerful keywords aren’t revealed in the job description — at least not overtly.
Abby Kohut, a former human resources executive and founder of www.absoluteabby.com, said the best way to crack the code of these applicant tracking systems (ATS) is to put yourself in the mind of the recruiter and take your best guess at what phrases they would use to search for the best applicants for the position.
“You look at the job description, read it word by word and say ‘would the recruiter use it to search for resumes?’ ” said Kohut, who recruited for 16 years at companies in a variety of industries including pharmaceuticals, health care, publishing and education. Now, she helps job seekers and is launching a nationwide tour to teach the tricks of the modern job search.
One of the many challenges that she says her clients face is conquering these robotic searches.
“When it comes to the automated systems, the problem you have is that the only way a recruiter is going to actually find you is if you have keywords in your resume that they have in their brain at the time,” Kohut said. “The person who shoots to the top is the person who has more than one keyword.”
But the journey to the human recruiter doesn’t stop there. Once the keywords are identified, Kohut says they need to be used early and often within the resume, possibly in multiple forms.
For example, she said if an aspiring accountant is applying for a job that cites “deep knowledge of Sarbanes-Oxley” in the job description, the phrases “Sarbanes-Oxley” and its common acronym “SOX” should each be referenced in that resume several times so it will be noticed and given priority by the ATS.
Of course, you don’t want to repeat the same sentence either, so Kohut recommends changing the context each time.
If a job description stresses a “high proficiency with Microsoft PowerPoint,” for example, she said that can be reflected in three parts: having made PowerPoint presentations, having taken PowerPoint classes, and having edited PowerPoint presentations of senior executives. It won’t win you any literary awards, but at least the strategy will get your resume in front of some eyeballs.
“It’s really just a big game now,” Kohut said. “You have to get the computer to find you instead of getting a human to find you.”
Experts have taken to calling this the “recruiting black hole” because so many resumes — good resumes — fall in, seemingly never to be seen again. But keeping in mind these tips on getting your resume through applicant tracking systems and the rules about e-mailing your resume to a recruiter will help you optimize your chances for getting noticed and moving on to the next step, snaring an interview.