How to Beat the ‘Bots – Advice for Applying to Jobs Online

            Ever since the first online job application process was used, several decades ago, the practice of automation of the process has continued, and even accelerated at a dizzying rate.  Today, it is very customary for most larger companies (and even small startups) to use Candidate tracking software which tries to make life easy for those that are doing the hiring, but which often (according to candidates) screens inappropriately or too rigorously based on key-word search, producing inconsistent results.

            This problem is substantial, because unless using the exact key-words sought after by the hiring manager, presumably picked specifically for each individual job, then one’s resume goes into the pile of the rejected.  Candidates might argue that their resume clearly indicates experience in a specific skill, but that the use of the keyword was unnecessary—because it would be tacitly assumed by any knowledgeable human reader.  

                                             PHASE ONE

            There is a solution to this, which is somewhat more time-consuming, but which really is highly advisable for any job applicant who seriously wants to get the job – read the job description carefully, and focus on the key “buzz words” that the job description’s author has chosen to list. These words, realistically, NEED to be in your resume for you to pass the screening process of the computer program. So, without lying or exaggerating, you need to individually “tailor” your resume for each specific position, and make sure that you use those keywords appropriately within the text of your resume.

            As a recruiter, I have seen dozens of thousands of resumes, and I have actually seen a number with a tag-like list of keywords, perhaps a paragraph long, at the end of the resume.  This will not work, since screening programs are designed to also reject this approach.  Your best bet to getting your resume seen is to organically include the appropriate words within the text of your resume, selectively and in such a manner that it doesn’t look artificial or contrived.  It is not wrong to even insert phrases used in the job description into your resume, if done sparingly and accurately.

            For example, if a job description calls for experience with HPLC, organic synthesis, colloidal separations, and characterizations using cyclic volt-ammetry, your resume will be rejected unless you legitimately use those words in the text.  Of course, if you choose to use the words without having the experience, you will end up with a lot of explaining to do and probably a very short phone interview which will be the last time that company will probably ever contact you.

            So, never lie, but do make sure that your resume directly responds to the details of the job description, unequivocally using the words that are most easily recognized by the automated process.  Do not use non-standard type fonts or formats in your resume, either, because these will simply be confusing and once again lead to peremptory rejection.  Do not include photos or illustrations, either, unless you are certain that a human being will review the resume.  Personally, I love resumes with great photos of experimental data, etc., but I am a human, not a machine.  If you are working with a recruiter, the rules are different, but you should still try to use the appropriate key-words as much as possible. 

                                           PHASE TWO

    This brings us to the second prong of the attack.  All too often, candidates assume that there is nothing to do once the resume has been submitted but wait for rejection or the much smaller chance of getting a request for an interview.  This is too passive and will generally not yield the best results.  My suggestion is to follow up appropriately with the HR department, for one, and even more importantly, with whoever is actually the hiring manager, if you can find that out.

        LinkedIn often provides information (though not always) about who actually placed the job description, and who the position reports to.  It is, therefore, worth taking some extra time to research any position you are applying to, using LinkedIn, Google, Spoke or other tools which can give you the name of a human contact – this is key because humans can think, whereas computer programs cannot.

         It is quite OK to call the front desk of the company and ask specifically “Do you know who is the manager in charge of hiring the chemical engineer to do scale-up and pilot line design?” (for instance).  The worst that can happen is that they won’t tell you…  But, if you can get the name, you have an edge.

         It is an ancient belief (think of the story of “Rumpelstiltskin”) that if you have a person’s name, you have power over them – this is certainly true, because it enables you to at least address and communicate with them.  Use this information wisely to potentially start a conversation – and don’t be shy of sending a resume to the actual human who is really recruiting for the position, instead of just relying on the ‘bot.  If you can, go ahead and send a resume to this human, as well.  Many times, email addresses can be searched, and certainly, even if exact emails can’t be found, you can still try the old-fashioned snail-mail hardcopy of a resume, too!  Try calling and contacting this actual human and stating that you are strongly interested in the position, and at least leave a message discussing your qualifications (30 seconds to a minute, but not longer) … As long as it’s truthful, just dropping the buzzwords on a phone message to the right decision-maker can help push your resume to the top of the pile… and don’t forget to leave your number!  Make sure it’s clear and audible.  Don’t speak too fast.

           The solution to the process of anonymization, compartmentalization, and sequestration that accompanies automation of the job-application process is to be a Human and persist in your efforts.  Since attitude is so critical in hiring, the mere fact that you distinguish yourself by taking extra steps (phone call, getting names, sending resumes directly to the human involved) can only work to your advantage – you have absolutely nothing to lose.  Just don’t come across as an “odd-ball”, though.  Call once or twice, not fifty times, etc.  Don’t show up at the job location without an appointment, unless you can really pull off Will Smith’s trick from “The Pursuit of Happyness”! But, if you can, anything you do to distinguish yourself from other candidates can work to your advantage – so long as you make a good impression. 

        The fact is, most resumes are sent to HR, and not to the hiring manager him/herself.  HR people are not technical people (generally) and they are also overworked, looking for ways to save time, so they rely on ‘bots, whereas a hiring manager will have more likelihood of knowing when a buzzword has been tacitly expressed without actually using it.  You can also send your resume to more than one hiring manager, if you are clever.  All too often, resumes go to HR with perfectly-qualified applicants who never see the light of day, because the HR manager is too busy, or because the hiring manager may not have communicated fully with the HR department.  

             Woody Allen once said “90% of success is just showing up.”  This means if you can get your resume in front of a real human, you have dramatically increased your odds.  Take this message to heart!

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