No doubt, you’ve seen and heard stories about how software, not people, reads your application when you apply for a job. Known as the “applicant tracking system,” or ATS, this software is programmed to look for keywords and phrases in your resume and to select applications belonging to presumably qualified candidates.
The alternative for unsuccessful candidates is being lost in the proverbial “black hole” — we must come up with a better term for this. For these job seekers, the software did not find the candidate qualified and a human being never saw the resume.
My friend and HR pro, Laurie Ruettimann recently shared a post from The Wall Street Journal on this subject: Software Raises Bar for Hiring. In the post, the author quotes Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and human resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He “challenged the oft-heard complaint from employers that they can’t find good workers with the right skills” and says, “The real culprits are the employers themselves.”
Further seeking to prove how “it’s all the employer’s fault,” the article highlights a situation where a company received 25,000 (!) applicants for an engineering position, “only to have the HR department say not one was qualified.”
Clearly, that is an extreme case, but the HR community does buzz about the “war for talent” and how hard it is to find qualified people to hire. In the meantime, qualified people sit by without landing jobs. Something is broken, but I think responsibility can be passed around.
I’m not going to get on a soapbox and say it’s great that software screens out every applicant and that HR is working so hard to screen OUT people, they are missing otherwise qualified people. That is absurd. There is nothing redeeming about it.
However, what about the candidate? How is it helpful to publicize these stories — to tell people about the candidate who anonymously applied for a job in his OWN company and was not selected? Let me tell you why that person was not selected — his resume and materials were probably terrible. It is unlikely that he targeted his materials to explain how and why he was qualified for the job, and it very likely that, even if a human being had read his resume, he would not have appeared qualified for this own position. Sad? Yes, but I do not doubt it is true.
The hiring system has problems. However, instead of highlighting these extreme scenarios and companies who simply cannot figure out how to hire one “typical engineer,” job seekers need to start focusing on what they are doing to help themselves get through the system.
Instead of complaining that “there are no jobs,” or “it’s too competitive” or “companies don’t even know what they want,” job seekers need to take a good, long look at their own materials. They need to try to understand the (albeit broken) system of keyword screening and ATSs and they need to make a point to create materials to give them the very best chance of landing an interview.
Instead of spending all of their time seeking jobs to apply for via these inevitable systems, they need to create and enhance networks and communities of people who are willing to refer them for positions before those jobs are even advertised. Savvy recruiters are talking about “talent communities” as a way to make sure you always have a job (and as a way of helping recruit qualified people).
What’s a talent community? It’s just a fancy word for network. Teela Jackson, the director of talent delivery for the contract recruiting and executive search firm Talent Connections, has worked as an internal recruiting consultant for CIGNA HealthCare, Georgia-Pacific, and Turner Broadcasting. She defines an employer (or talent) community as, “A group of key individuals with whom you have had personal interactions and who work in or provide services to your desired field and/or target companies; it’s the group of people who could potentially hire you in the future.”
She explains, “Creating an employer community can help you when you’re unemployed and actively looking for a job, but it’s great to focus on keeping in touch with people you’ve built relationships with, even after you land your job. We’ve all heard stories about people who built a great network during their job search, but once they land a job, they disappear â€¦ until it’s time to look for a job again. Then, they have to start almost from scratch to rekindle those relationships because they’ve been out of touch for years.”
Is that you? The one with “no network?” Are you the same one complaining you can’t get a job because employers don’t know what they want?
Even if it’s true — employers may not know what they want — they do seem to know it when they see it. People are landing jobs; they are getting hired. If you are not getting hired, it’s time to make a change. Instead of worrying about the 25,000 people who didn’t get that engineering job, you need to start thinking about how you can do things differently.
Make a change
- You CAN create a resume to address the ATS’s needs. Have you been sending the same resume to every company? You will never get those jobs. Target. Focus on keywords. (Figure out your keywords — it’s not that difficult — they are the words that describe what the employer wants. Include them in your resume and indicate how and why you are a good fit.) If you can’t do it, hire someone who knows how to write a resume to get you noticed.
- Talk to people. Do your contacts know you are looking for a job? Do they know about what you do — your expertise? If not, you are making a big mistake. Networks – and referrals – help people land jobs. If you aren’t networking, you are putting yourself much more at the mercy of an ATS, because you’ll always be applying in a group of similarly qualified people.
- Build an online profile. If you are amazing, and no one knows it, I hate to say it, but, “Too bad for you.” Get your social media working. Create a social resume — a professional website highlighting your expertise. It can make a difference, and, at the very least, by being out there online, you are doing something for professional reputation. If you can create a community and demonstrate expertise, it’s very possible for jobs to come to you. It happens.
These are just three things job seekers can do to grab more control of their own careers. This is not your parents’ job search. Things are different today, it is competitive, and you need to do what you can to compete with people who understand:
- Applicant tracking systems are inevitable.
- Referrals get people jobs.
- Even if companies don’t know what they want, you can still land a job there if you are a little savvy and make a point to educate yourself about how to get a job today.
Bottom line: you have more control of your job search than you think. You can drive your own career bus, or you can hand over the keys to the nearest person. It’s totally up to you.