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  • 1. RESUME Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines Detailing the steps applicant tracking systems take in order to decide whether to rubber- stamp your resume or chew it up and spit it out. By Lisa Vaas Y OU’VE PROBABLY HEARD THIS ADVICE for making your resume stand out: Sprinkle in plenty of juicy key- words so recruiters will pluck your document out of the pile. In these competitive times, is a grab-bag of keywords re- ally enough to ensure your resume rises out of that mysteri- ous electronic swamp? If not, what else do you need to know about the processes that happen inside these ATSes — sys- But these days, the first review of your resume is more likely tems that are, in fact, fueled by sophisticated data-warehousing to be a software program, known as an applicant tracking sys- technologies — to stand the best chance of getting your re- tem (ATS), than a human being interested in the quality of sume in front of human eyeballs? your paper stock and the power of your prose. While those qualities will be important in subsequent rounds, your first To answer this question, TheLadders talked to ATS vendors challenge will be to win over a very sophisticated machine that to find out what makes the technology tick, and to the recruit- plays by its own complex rules. ers who use these systems to separate resume wheat from chaff. Robot Wars! Beating Resume Software By Matthew Rothenberg, Editor-in-Chief, TheLadders.com C ONGRATULATIONS! You’ve done everything you can to make your resume stand out for the people who’ll be deciding your future with the company of your dreams. In this package of stories, veteran database reporter Lisa Vaas gets down to the nuts and bolts of applicant tracking systems (ATSes), the computer systems that receive your You’ve selected a great font arranged in an eye-pleasing resume and, in many case, decide whether to pass it along layout, and your 24-lb., ecru linen paper stock is the envy to a human recruiter. Lisa offers practical insights on which of your peers. resumes are admitted entry by these electronic doormen But guess what? Nowadays, none of those human touch- and which are sent packing. es will matter if you can’t get past the computerized sys- Read on to learn why a winning resume requires more tems most HR departments use to screen the thousands of than a trip to the stationery store. resumes they receive. What did you think of this package? IN THIS PACKAGE: • Prepare to be Quizzed Page 2 Got a story of your own to tell? Have ideas for future coverage? Please write Editor-in-Chief • Where Does Your Resume Go? Page 4 Matthew Rothenberg at matthewr@theladders.com. © Copyright 2009, TheLadders. All rights reserved. Page 1
  • 2. Here’s what they had to say about how the systems work, what technique that weighs keywords in the context of the whole those systems can tell about you, what mistakes job applicants resume.) typically make when submitting their resume electronically and how to avoid unwittingly e-annoying the professionals who Contextualization goes much deeper and examines factors handle your resume. such as how dated is a given set of skills “ and where in the applicants career path Keywords: Laundry lists don’t cut it did they acquire experience in a subject It’s not your The advice to simply fill your resume area, he said. with appropriate keywords may soon be father’s Oldsmobile, State-of-the-art ATS technology relies outdated, experts say. Lisa Rowan, pro- where if you put in on contextualization, not on simple key- gram director of HR, Learning and Tal- ‘Java’ (as a keyword word matches, she said. “It goes much ent Strategies for Framingham, Mass.- search, an ATS) would further, (with the technology looking) based analyst firm IDC, said there’s automatically apply at descriptive materials, and (the ATS) a lot more to searching and matching ” parsing things out like a human would than ever before. you to Java jobs. when reading it.” “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile, where if you put in ‘Java’ (as a keyword With the next wave of ATS technol- –Lisa Rowan, program director of search, an ATS) would automatically HR, Learning and Talent Strategies, ogy coming soon to an HR department apply you to Java jobs,” she said. IDC near you, a keyword such as “Java” had “better be framed by descriptive mate- Older ATS software relied on seman- rial that demonstrates experience and tic search technology, that essentially counted keywords. Using familiarity with the subject,” Rowan said. This next-generation a targeted keyword multiple times could be interpreted by the ATS software will examine the entire passage as if it were a hu- ATS as a positive resume for a certain position, said Matt Sigel- man reading your resume: closely, and with an understanding man, CEO of Burning Glass, which makes resume-parsing of the subject matter. software used to run contextualized searches in many of the leading ATS programs. (Rowan describes Burning Glass as Resume contextualization analyzes not just a keyword but its state of the art for contextualized resume scanning, a software relation to elements, including relevant and related terms, the Prepare to be Quizzed Traditionally used to screen out entry-level applicants for retailers, pre-hire assessment tests help shrink- ing HR departments weed through senior-level applicants. By Lisa Vaas vendors who make the software Pre-hire assessment tests exam- behind the tests. ine your skill level and whether or P RE-HIRE SCREENING tests are not new. They’re a com- mon presence in big-box stores, Employers are beginning to man- date applicants take an online pre- not you would fit into the cultural and ethical environment of the em- ployer. It measures your answers hire assessment test as they submit where job applicants sit at a little against what the employer has their resume, and it can determine defined as the profile of an ideal booth near the front door for a whether your resume even makes employee in that position. The test quick test to determine if they’re it to Step One of the application is psychometric, testing personality suitable even to apply. process, said Lisa Rowan, program and style as opposed to skills. It’s The technique is not typically as- director of HR, Learning and also subjective, Rowan said; for a sociated with $100K+ jobs — but Talent Strategies for the analyst sales position it may reflect a par- that is changing, said analysts and firm IDC. ticular sales style a given employer Page 2 Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines
  • 3. depth of the experience and how recent the experience was in but never once mentioned the word ‘geology’ on the resume. a candidate’s career path. The recruiter may have missed this person.” “Understanding that there’s a difference between somebody Contextualized resume parsing works to overcome such glar- who took a class in Java eight years ago and somebody who’s ing omissions by understanding the terminology that should been programming in Java every day for the last three years, surround a word such as “geology.” But don’t take a chance, (and understanding that) those are Sigelman said. There are employers still fundamentally different candidates,” using primitive semantic search ATSes, so is an example of how contextualized don’t skip keywords entirely — just make resume parsing works, Sigelman said. sure they’re positioned in job descriptions The keyword that show you can walk the talk. Burning Glass’ resume-parsing tools laundry list will no seek out far more than keywords or Don’t choke the ATS even word strings. For example, in- longer carry the Overly formatted resumes and resumes stead of just recognizing an employer’s day, but keywords embedded with pictures, graphics and lo- name on your resume, Burning Glass remain important gos can be incompatible with most ATS technology analyzes the job descrip- tion to determine your role and what to the resume and software. skills correspond to that role. must be included, Recruiters and human-resources pro- The keyword laundry list will no lon- Sigelman said. fessionals call it “choking the system”: An applicant fills his resume with pictures, ger carry the day, but keywords remain graphics and logos; headers and footers; important to the resume and must be and formats that make it difficult for the included, Sigelman said. “Some candi- software to read and sort the text into categories or cause it to dates (for the Java engineering position example) might not crash altogether. It’s a sure way to ensure your resume never write the word ‘Java’ in their resume, believe it or not,” he said. makes it to a recruiter, said Laura Michnya, the project man- “I (examined) one job description looking for a geologist. (The ager of recruiting systems and process for BAE Systems. She candidate’s resume listed terms including) water modeling, etc. recently implemented the Hodes iQ ATS at BAE and in the — all sorts of hydrology (-related terms) and things like that, See RESUME Page 6 might prefer and assess how a candi- agers in place — they get let go in this tools on Monster, for example. Oth- date thinks and behaves to determine kind of economy,” he said. erwise, make sure you answer pre- if he would be a good fit. screening questions accurately if you Kronos, a workforce management want your resume to make it into an Rapid (and expensive) employee technology vendor, is one such tech- employer’s ATS. turnover rates motivated retailers’ nology, whose makers say it is now embrace of pre-hire assessment tests, in high demand. In 2006 Kronos ac- “People think, ‘I’ve got the keywords, but its use has percolated upward into quired Unicru, a pre-hire assessment yadda, yadda, yadda.’ Well, the game companies searching to fill higher-level software maker, and used the technol- starts with the screening questions,” sales positions, Rowan said. ogy to build a pre-configured profile Forman said. “If you answer it wrong, of sales associates. Most companies or answer it right and you’re not what Shrinking human-resources depart- are still hiring revenue-driving sales they’re looking for, your resume will ments and the surge in applicants have positions, and the drain on human re- get knocked out. fueled demand for an early screening sources can take its toll. “There’s this belief that the resume process, said Chris Forman, chief de- is what will put you at the top of the Passing the test velopment officer and president of list. That’s the case in a number of AIRS, a recruitment process outsourc- There are no right or wrong an- companies, but more and more today, ing company owned by The Right swers on psychometric tests. For skills it’s those knockout questions that will Thing. “They have fewer hiring man- tests, job seekers can self-test using tag you as qualified or unqualified.” Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines Page 3
  • 4. Where Does Your Resume Go? What happens to your resume after you hit “Submit”? Knowing the technical journey your resume takes can be crucial to impressing the recruiter and scoring an interview. W HETHER YOU HAND-DELIVER YOUR RESUME to a friend who works at a company or hit “Submit” on an online application, your resume leaves human hands almost hands of a recruiter. Knowing how the ATS handles your file can help you better the odds that a human being will see your resume at the end of the line. immediately. Your resume, whether a file or a paper document, While each applicant tracking system works a little different- enters an Applicant Tracking System — a software program ly, this flowchart tracks the basic steps the software takes from that sits on a server at the hiring company where it sorts, cat- the time a job is listed until your resume makes it onto the egorizes and stores thousands of resumes and analyzes each hiring manager’s desk or into storage for future opportunities. before choosing which ones to forward back to the human 2. Job requisition is posted 1. Job requisition is on the company career site created in an ATS and/or job boards An ATS creates a job requisition based on input The ATS posts the job requisition. This is your chance to compare your from recruiters and/or hiring managers. This can resume to the job description and to make sure that you’re not only be the weakest link in the chain; human error may hitting the appropriate keywords but that they’re appropriately contextu- create an incomplete job description for which the alized with clear, concise descriptions of your experience that include ATS will seek to deliver candidates. words and concepts associated with your keywords — show that you can walk the talk. Your resume should lead with a career summary that reflects experience, skills and qualifications that mirror those of the job requisition. 3. Answer pre-qualifying 4. Resume enters ATS 5. ATS categorizes questions chunks of information Often, an employer will set up filters to If there are prequalifying questions Advanced ATSes such as those ensure that your resume doesn’t enter and you jump that hurdle, your powered by Burning Glass the ATS unless you pass basic resume is flagged through by technology categorize pieces of qualification standards. For example, the ATS. your resume. Imagine Stickies you might need certain security affixed to each piece of information, clearances to work for a defense all of which are, in Burning Glass‘ contractor. case, tagged for the software to sort. Page 4 Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines
  • 5. 7. Advanced ATSes 8. Advanced ATSes 6. Advanced ATSes learn compare your resume evaluate other filter from your resume with those of others elements The ATS from some vendors will have An advanced ATS will evaluate your An employer may want to interpret learned from past resume parsing career path and predict what your your address, for example, to how to detect patterns. Instead of next logical jobs might be so that it determine if you live within a given relying on its users to give it a script can evaluate your experiences and radius of its work site. of what a resume looks like and a set skills within the context of a logical of rules for how to interpret that career trajectory. If you’re a vice information, an advanced ATS can at president in charge of human this point make judgment calls as to resources, for example, applying for a whether, for example, a phone job as an entry-level recruiter doesn’t number pertains to the job candidate make sense for your career trajectory. or to a person listed as a referral, or whether the job candidate attended the University of Michigan or worked there instead. 10. Points are added to 9. Resumes are ranked resumes referred by high quality sources Some ATS software will at this point affix a score If an employer has chosen to track the source of a to your resume. Recruiters or hiring managers will resume, a field will be attached for that purpose. Some choose whether to take a closer look at, say, the ATS software will increase a resume’s ranking if, for top 10 percent or 20 percent. example, that resume comes from a referring employee or a trusted recruiter. 11. Duplicate-resumes are Keeping your resume on file used to archived together mean a dusty metal filing cabinet that 12b. ... Or “We’ll keep was rarely opened. ATSes have your resume changed that scenario, offering powerful, easy-to-search databases that This technique varies from employer 12a.Contact is on file” employers often use to search for to employer and from ATS to ATS. initiated candidates before a job requisition even Typically, duplicate resumes will all be makes it to job boards or the company’s attached to the same candidate. recruiting site. In the case of Burning Recruiters will be able to discern at a Glass, the ATS will actually push glance how many times you’ve applied appropriate candidates’ resumes to a and can compare your resumes to see recruiter with a new requisition, whether there are serious discrepan- obviating the need to search at all. cies or if you’ve simply tweaked your resume to apply to different jobs, which they recognize as a legitimate If the hiring manager or recruiter cause for multiple resume submission. decides to follow through, whether to ask more questions or invite you to an interview, many ATSes will use your name and contact information from your resume to pre-populate the initial e-mail. Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines Page 5
  • 6. 4RESUME past has worked with PeopleSoft and several homegrown ATS thing that’s not plain text,” which will lead to ATS choking programs. and a garbled resume, she said. “With my career site, I find so many candidates do the cut and paste option. They think it’s Some of the resumes she’s seen will leave the Hodes iQ sys- faster. But it causes their resume to not look as nice. And hiring tem gasping. “Those highly formatted resumes aren’t always managers do notice that.” very compatible with standard ATS systems.” Michnya herself goes out of her way to contact job seekers, Hodes iQ is typical of ATSes, which use software to sift con- advising them to upload their resumes properly to avoid get- tact information and other chunks of data from uploaded re- ting garbled. If, that is, candidates are qualified. “If not, I’ll sumes. This makes candidates’ resume-uploading experience a leave the (garbled) resume as is,” she said. “And that could hurt little easier, as it pulls that data into a profile instead of forcing the candidate in the future.” them to cut and paste. At BAE Systems a recruiter reviews every resume submitted But for such parsing software to work properly, a resume by an applicant, but that isn’t the norm, Michnya said. Not all needs to be formatted simply, Michnya said. She sees many recruiters will take the time that she and overly formatted resumes, especially her colleagues spend helping applicants with very senior-level candidates. “A “ fix a garbled resume, even if they’re well- lot of the time, they have so much ex- perience, and they do like to get a little If you’re on an qualified. fancy,” she said. “And a lot of the time, ATS that gives How to e-annoy recruiters ATSes don’t bring it over cleanly into you the option to It might seem obvious that capitaliza- our system.” either upload or tion, punctuation and grammar matter. In some cases, locating contact infor- mation in a footer will also cause an ATS cut and paste into But in the age of shorthand and text a text box, it’s messages, the mistakes make their way ” to glitch, given that the systems aren’t into the resume, said David Freeman, a necessarily prepared to expect unusual better to upload. talent-management consultant at Sonic placement. If that same contact infor- Recruit that is a division of Emeryville, mation is included in the text, centered Calif.-based Cytiva Software Inc. at the top of a resume but not in the – Laura Michnya, project manager header, it should come in fine, Michnya of recruiting systems and process, “Especially for Gen Y or Gen X, it’s said. “As long as it’s in the body, it will BAE Systems Electronics common for people to type in all low- get parsed in fine. But a lot of times peo- ercase,” he said. “They’re so used to ple put it just in the header or footer.” texting. They’re not used to capitalizing anything when texting.” The result of a highly formatted resume being classified im- properly: a garbled mess. It goes beyond proper etiquette, Freemans said. ATS soft- ware uses mail merge to populate fields for e-mails on the ap- As with graphics, so too with cut-and-pasted text when up- plicant to human resources and ultimately to the applicant for loading a resume to a Web site: It’s often the cause of ATS follow-up communication. Poor punctuation and capitaliza- choking. That’s why Michnya has gone to pains to induce can- tion can confuse the software about where to end and begin a didates to upload resumes, even switching the order of options field. It also forces the recruiter to enter fields manually, which on the company’s careers site so that the “Upload” option might lead them to toss your resume. comes first, in big, red text, with the “Cut and Paste” option moved to the bottom of the page. Another e-annoyance is lag time in responding. Respond swiftly — within 24 hours — to a company that contacts you. “If you’re on an ATS that gives you the option to either up- Because of the volume of resumes now coming in to recruit- load or cut and paste into a text box, it’s better to upload,” she ers, they’re not waiting long to hear back from a candidate, said. “A lot of times that upload feature will parse information Freeman said. for you and will save it in (the optimal) format. It often can save in rich text. If it cuts and pastes, it only does so in plain It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your spam-folder set- text, and often people have (their resume) in Word or some- tings. Filters are so sensitive today that they can recognize e- Page 6 Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines
  • 7. mail that’s automatically generated — a category into which $80,000 on another, or if their educational information is dif- both spam and follow-up e-mail generated from ATSes fall. ferent.” To spam or not to spam Consider your resume’s entry point to gain an advantage We all know better than to call a hiring manager again and It’s common to ask if you have a better chance at a job if again. But what about pinging the ATS robot accepting your an employee submits your resume. The answer is yes, IDC’s resume again and again? Do duplicate resume submissions Rowan said — not only because it influences human screeners hurt your cause? Can it get you noticed? but how ATS software follows your resume. It hurts your cause, said Jeremy Shapiro, senior vice president Depending on a given ATS vendor’s feature set and how an of Hodes iQ, the hosted ATS software used by BAE and oth- employer has chosen to set it up, the ATS may track the source ers. If he could tell applicants one thing, he said, it would be of your resume — how it was submitted — and can be de- this: “We can see you.” signed to attach different values to different sources. “Recruiters are aware of candidates that An ATS set up to track how resumes send in three different resumes, 10 different come into the system will typically have a resumes,” he said. source note attached to a resume. In fact, Shapiro has seen instances of ex- If he could tell Resumes involved in employee refer- treme resume spamming, where candidates applicants one rals tend to flow into an ATS internally, submit up to 70 to 100 different resumes, passed along as a forwarded attachment all of which are on record in the ATS. “The thing, he said, from the candidate to the referring em- employer can see it,” Shapiro said, and “this it would be ployee to the recruiter. Even in these “ does not reflect positively upon (job seek- circumstances, however, the employer is ers).” this: We can likely to require that a candidate also fill Applying to multiple positions in the same company see you. ” out an online application. Most ATSes are sophisticated enough to query how a – -Jeremy Shapiro, Senior Vice candidate found out about a job requisi- This is true even in large corporate envi- President, HodesiQ tion and to discern that a resume came ronments where job seekers may be apply- from TheLadders or another job board ing to several different subsidiaries, Shapiro or whether the candidate is applying at said. Even if each division and subsidiary has its own ATS, the suggestion of an employee. those systems are usually all linked into one system. But apply- Employee referrals are one example of applicant sourcing ing for multiple jobs at the same employer is not spamming. that most employers rank very highly, Rowan noted. If an ATS Just be careful that each resume tells the same story, he said. has ranked Candidate A as being 80 percent qualified for a “There’s nothing wrong with catering a resume to the sys- given job requisition, a source note that flags that candidate tem,” Shapiro said. “Just know that we’ll have visibility to it. as also being an employee referral will raise that candidate’s At that point, if I’m the recruiter, I’ll actively look for dis- ranking. crepancies. For example, in one resume, (a candidate) might “If I’m an employee, I’m not going to recommend poor claim five years of experience in something and seven years of candidates, generally. So they’re thought to be higher quality,” experience in another resume. A red flag goes off immediately. Rowan said. You’re asking to make mistakes with multiple versions of your resume.” Other examples are Web sites, job boards and recruiters. Was the candidate’s resume found on a niche job board, for “Recruiters can pick up on discrepancies,” said BAE’s Mich- example, that features the resumes of minorities? Some em- nya. “To apply to one job and then send another resume for ployers, such as one requesting federal contract work, might another, a lot of times (such resumes are) tweaked or tailored, program the ATS to assign a higher value to such a resume. and that’s acceptable. But if information in the application Job boards and recruiters with a particularly good reputation seems to be contradictory, we could notice, and it would raise a red flag. If they say they’re looking for $50,000 on one and Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines Page 7
  • 8. with an employer might also earn a few your resume before it ever reaches an extra points for a submitted resume. ATS, he said. “ The lesson is simple: If you are in fact “A great person may not have a great being referred by an employee, make resume,” Shapiro said. “Circulate your Circulate your sure the ATS knows it — because it’s resume to peers, and to friends, be- resume to peers, and smart enough to care. fore you send it off. Make sure little mistakes are gone. And make sure it’s to friends, before you The bottom line send it off. Make sure pleasant to look through. While ma- Insights into ATS technology can chines store and help search it, humans little mistakes are help you avoid missing keywords and have still got to look at it.” gone before you send choking the software, but there is no At the end of the day, Shapiro said, it off. And make sure way to game the systems. Best practice your resume is the first writing sam- it’s pleasant to look simply ensures you won’t be disquali- ” ple an employer ever sees. Keeping it fied for a technical error. But resumes through. simple, concise and clear will not only still touch human hands and must be help it pass through the ATS gaunt- optimized for the reader as well, said –Jeremy Shapiro, Senior Vice let — it will provide your prospective Shapiro of Hodes iQ. President, Hodes iQ employer its first chance to evaluate The human element still carries the what you’re made of, regardless of day, particularly when it comes to the whether it’s being read by parsing or by importance of letting peers review human eyes. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Lisa Vaas is a freelance writer who covers software technology for several publica- tions. She has written about database and security technology since 1995. Lisa is based in Boston. To contact Lisa please refer to her Web site, http://www.lisavaas.com. Career Advice from TheLadders • Resume Example: Consultant Targets In-House Work • Resume-Writing Strategies from a Career Coach’s Tool Kit • Ethics and Resume Writing • Certified Resume Writer Consolidates a 30-Year Career Page 8 Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines