Tips For Beating The Resume-Reading Robots Of Doom

Anyone who has applied for a job at a large company — especially one that doesn’t accept actual resumes but instead requires you to fill out a series of online forms — probably knows that their CV is being scanned, and maybe thrown in the trash, by some automated system meant to weed out those who obviously don’t fit the criteria. But there’s a chance you do fit the bill; you’re just not using the write words to describe your skills and experience.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, there’s a nice story about all these machines that decide your fate before a human ever has the chance to determine whether or not you’re qualified for a job.

But of more practical use to the job-seeker is a sidebar with tips on the best ways to avoid having your resume be sucked down into the virtual Sarlacc pit (or the Great Pit of Carkoon if you’re going to pick nits).

Here are some highlights:
* According to the WSJ, rather than showing your way with words and your love of free verse, “mimic the keywords in the job description as closely as possible.”

* Visit the company’s website to immerse yourself in its culture, taking special note of the words they use to details their key values. “The company may have programmed related keywords into its resume screening software,” writes the Journal.

* Don’t lie about your education, but if you’ve taken even a continuing-ed class at a top-tier school, include it on your resume, as the software may be programmed to give you a higher score merely for having that institution’s name on your CV.

Your Résumé vs. Oblivion []


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  1. wenhaver says:

    “you’re just not using the write words to describe your skills and experience.” I’m hoping that’s a pun.

    • Nessiah says:

      This is the difference between write and wrong.

    • thebigbluecheez says:

      In the past, when I’ve sat down in front of my computer to right my resume, I’ve always spell-checked, double spell-checked, and ran it past someone else (whose opinion I trust both as a businessperson and as a copy editor).

      Blog posts? Not so much.

    • Straspey says:

      I have a friend who works as the administrative assistant to the director of HR for a large corporation.

      As you can imagine, they receive many resumes every week for the various job openings in the company.

      My friend’s boss – the director of HR – will *instantly* reject any resume with a spelling and/or grammatical error.

      A person trying to find the write words to express they’re ideas will have there resume sent to the shredder.

      • milk says:

        Also when they use a form cover letter and still have the previous employer to which it was sent, no mention of the actual job they’re applying for in my department. That drives me crazy.

        • lettucefactory says:

          We don’t have keyword scanning here, but we can (and often do) add job-specific questions to our postings.

          The people who try to get around those questions by lying and saying what they think we want to hear when it is not true drive me nuts. I mean, I get it, I’ve been a job hunter, too. We all have those desperate moments when we’ll say anything to get an interview.

          But if the hiring manager wants someone who has specifically done X, you tell the online system specifically yes, you’ve done X, and then we look at your resume and nothing even slightly related to X can be found, you’re not going to get an interview. It’s not clever. It’s not beating the cold, heartless system. It’s a lie.

          That said, I think Oranges w/Cheese gives a good example above of how those kinds of questions can be foolish and unfair. If I was writing the posting, I wouldn’t ask, “do you know how to use software X, y/n?” I’d ask, “do you know how to use software X or a similar program that performs the same function, y/n?” Something like that to allow gray areas to seep through, even though it will increase the number of files that make it through that first filter and people will at times stretch their answers. I’d hate to miss out on a legitimately qualified applicant because my questions were too narrow.

          All of our full-time jobs are hired by committee and with the exception of those first-level screening questions, which we do not always even use, every resume gets a human looking at it. We have good people here and I think that’s part of the reason why, even though the committee approach can be a pain in the ass. Hiring in a way that is fair to the applicants and manageable for the employer can be a hard problem to solve.

          • AngryK9 says:

            So if an employer asks me if I have ever repaired laptop computers (which I did for one day at a previous job), and I fill in the form stating yes, I have repaired laptop computers (the truth), but never put anything in my resume anywhere else about repairing laptop computers (since it was not my PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY), then I am a liar?


      • remusrm says:

        I guess they have rejected you too?

        “A person trying to find the write words to express they’re ideas will have there resume sent to the shredder.”

      • Coffee says:

        Well played, sir.

      • pamelad says:

        Thats sooo halaryus!

  2. sir_eccles says:

    You’re screwed if your eduction is from a different country and you therefore don’t have a GPA. Your best bet is networking.

    (and seriously “use the write words”?????)

    • The Cosmic Avenger says:

      Oh, come on, it’s not like they’re editors or anything…

    • sixsevenco says:

      Winger: I’m in a bit of a jam. The Bar Association just suspended my license. Turns out my law degree was not legitimate.

      Duncan: I thought you had a Bachelor’s from Columbia.

      Winger: Now I have to get one from America. And it can’t be an e-mail attachment.

  3. u1itn0w2day says:

    The one course at a top tier institution is a joke because a person who eventually sees your resume and ellicts the details of how many credits or courses you took there will make it all for naught-they’ll see right through it. I think the course content is as important as the school. I know people who blew job chances because they were waiting to do just that-take some basic tqm or time quality management/ efficiency courses at a top school and yet they were offered the same courses at a publicly funded university which there unemployment would’ve payed for. To top it off that person is bullcrap artist to begin with.

    • Tim says:

      I think the course content is as important as the school.

      Well, try convincing employers of that.

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        For the regular degree yes the school might make a difference. But when people are only being seperated by the continuing non degree education having a certain course or training as compared to not having it is the key. There are alot of people that blow off non degree related courses and yet they carry weight just for the fact you took them and showed you wanted to add to you skills and learning.

        Alot of non degree courses or training have a national standard to apply anyway. So those certifications are what you are actually after. That’s why you always check and see exactly what a continuing education course offers. I think many HRs realize this. Just like the degree they want a certification just as much.

    • who? says:

      The whole point of the article is about getting the resume past the automated scoring system, not about what happens after that point. The purpose at this stage is to get the resume into the hands of a human, who will, presumably, evaluate it more holistically. A single course from a top-tier school will add a few points to the score the automated scoring system gives, which may get the resume into human hands. The human doesn’t know how many points are assigned for what factors, they just get a pile of pre-screened resumes.

      The bottom line is that humans still control the end stages of the hiring process, but you may have to game the system to get to a human.

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        True but once you are past the preliminary resume read all bets are off. And the fall or disappointment can even be worse. Again once an HR or the hiring manager smell bs you are done period. You have to hope you are not tossed out of an office, told never to apply here again or berated. Or simply having to tolerate a very angry phrase from a stranger-bullshit

        • Villnius says:

          Only it’s not BS. Assume for the moment that you’re actually qualified for the position. The article is NOT about lying on the resume. There is no BS. If you took a pottery class at Harvard or spent a semester studying biology at the University of Toronto, it’s not a lie to mention it. The point of the article is that the automated systems don’t just weed out unqualified applicants. It also sifts out qualified candidates who just don’t use the same buzzwords that you’ve programmed the filter with.

          The objective of doing the name dropping is that just as you’re saying a real person can smell the BS, he should also still be able to see the qualifications even if the applicant doesn’t use the same wording as the job posting. That’s not a small thing. Remember all your English and any other writing courses you’ve taken. The teacher/professor will always push you to vary your wording, and penalize you for repetitive word choices. That means if you write well (at least according to teachers), you’re much more likely to fall between the cracks than an illiterate slob with similar paper credentials.

  4. RandomHookup says:

    I’m a corporate recruiter and live in the Boston area. I don’t know how the applicant tracking software at some companies works, but I laugh at the people who list “Harvard University” (meaning the Extension School or a seminar) at the top of their education. It comes across as BS to me.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      Exactly, yeh it might pass the key word search test but it won’t pass the bs meter of most HRs which have super sensitive settings.

    • ArtlessDodger says:

      Not trying to troll here, but what is the best way to include that type of information on a resume? How would you want to see it so it doesn’t look like sketchy BS?

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        A single course from a fancy school shouldn’t be listed at the top of the resume or education section of the resume. The school itself is probably what gets the resume past the first sniff or key word search test. Not the priority you give it. It is what it is-A or one continuing education course or certification course.

        • ArtlessDodger says:

          Listed at the top, certainly not. But if you attend a CE type class, where would you put it? It’s technically education and I can’t think of where else you’d put something like it.

          • RandomHookup says:

            It really depends on how important the course is. A single 3 credit course doesn’t need much (if any) attention. Include the skills taught if they are germane to the position. Highlighting the “Ivy League nature” of things, doesn’t do much and seems a bit silly.

            For most people, listing individual courses is a waste of space. Focus on work skills and accomplishments, not courses (unless that’s all you have to offer).

    • drjayphd says:

      Since my fiancee’s in that boat, what about someone who gets into Harvard through the extension school and eventually gets a bachelor’s from there?

  5. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:


    Now it’s not just Phil reporting stupid advice column lists! Pretty soon this site will just be a giant RSS feed for crappy advice.

  6. smartmuffin says:

    Isn’t this just a tad immoral. Like, you’re knowingly going out of your way to try and scam a system that is designed to allow the company to more efficiently screen applicants. In the end, your resume will just end up in the hands of a human who probably won’t appreicate the fact that you wasted his time.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Well judging from the high quality communications skills you’ve just displayed I’m sure you don’t have any problems getting interviews.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      Yep, no reset button on a human’s HR bs meter.

    • gafpromise says:

      You are missing the point. The point is to get your resume past the bots who screen the things. Not being dishonest, just gaming the system so that your resume has a chance of ending up in front of a real person.

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        No one saying don’t list a fancy school. But don’t try to make it seem like you attended Harvard for 3 years when you took a 3 week seminar there. I know some who want to take one course at a fancy school and are going to say they are currently attending school there. If the HR doesn’t check with the school that entry might slip by.Although one completed course might seem like you have no follow through or motivation. If the HR does check you go down in flames.

  7. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    And if you still can’t get a job, send your resume to Obama so he can look at it and figure out what the problem is.

  8. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    My worst experience with automated systems:

    Applying as a graphic / web designer. They ask: Do you know Final Cut – I think “I should be honest. I know Premiere. Even though its the same thing, I will be honest.” I said No.

    My application was screened automatically before it even got anywhere. Fail.

    • MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

      I’ve considered buying a cheap mac and FCP and using it for a couple of weeks, just so I can say I know FCP (along with Premiere and Vegas).

      Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a cheap Mac.

    • ARP says:

      Why don’t you take a few classes, tutorials, etc. FCP and then say you know it, because you (now) know it.

    • phsiii says:

      Your fail, alas. Why would they consider someone who said they didn’t have a required skill? Yes, automated resume filters suck. But I don’t see your case as indicative of much.

      • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

        I disagree. This may highlight the problems that arise when all job descriptions and resumes need to be handled by HR first and often without sufficient input from the actual hiring manager. The job description could easily be too specific because it was not written by the person who will be evaluating each candidate in the interview. Sometimes those hiring managers don’t even know the competing or comparable software programs available.

      • drjayphd says:

        I’m pretty handy with Quark, having used it to lay out sports sections for weekly newspapers for a couple of years. Should I be disqualified from any pagination jobs that call for InDesign, even though I could pick up the differences and adjust accordingly in a couple of hours?

    • bomber991 says:

      Ah, likewise I just graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Our school focused on teaching us Solidworks for our CAD program. Seems like 1/3rd of the jobs out there want you to know Solidworks, 1/3rd want you to know AutoCad, and 1/3rd want you to know ProE. All those programs pretty much do the same thing, and I’m pretty confident that I could figure out how to use those other two programs fairly quick, yet what am I supposed to do when they ask you if you know it or not on those ‘yes/no’ bubble answers?

      I might just watch some tutorial videos on youtube for a day and then say that yes, I do know them.

  9. u1itn0w2day says:

    There’s one I do think is pretty accurate which immerse yourself in the company culture etc. I found out I missed out on job(after passing all the preliminary tests interviews etc) it that you had to word your experiences and training to match the company description of the job almost down to the T. The requirement or qualification list would’ve taken a page on the resume let alone other experiences and training. They didn’t want to here I basically did the exact same job for another company(well know within the industry) they wanted you to parrot their requirement list in some way.

    To me this all goes back to key word or specific skill search. I think it was part poor procedure & lack of experience on the HRs part but I also think the company was trying to ferret out the wanna bes just looking for a job so they wanted to see how you worded your previous job experiences and training. The biggest difference was a different area of the country and the use of different slang although I was carefull to use the proper terminology.

    Eh, HR logic, you’ll never figure it out.

  10. Rick Sphinx says:

    Yes, I always tweak my resume to each application, and read the job requirments, and make sure my skills match their key words for requirements. I.E., if job says “Office Skills”, don’t put “secretarial skills”, put “office skills, or both, so at least it’s in there. I try to make sure I have something of each ‘requirment’ in my skill set etc.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      That’s the one point that is dead on. Alot of people are taught things like ‘in your own words’ or ‘be brief’ which is fine but don’t skip on including key words which equal skill & experience. Some companies want you to slip their wording in there to the letter.

  11. katarzyna says:

    At this point in my life, I’d hire a professional firm to go over my resume, and to coach me with job interviews. Of course, my CV is two and a half pages long, and my education only takes up three lines. Heck, my patents take up more room than my education.

  12. Not Given says:

    I think my son found the most effective way to get his resume to the right (not write) place was to have it hand carried to the recruiter by a friend who already works there (not their.)

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      Yeah, it always helps if you have connections on the inside. Almost all of the job interviews I got while job searching were because someone on the inside or close to someone from the inside helped me out.

  13. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    It’s best to start your resume with a paradox to crash the AI process that reads the resume. Put the following in the header:

    This statement is false!
    New mission: refuse this mission!
    Does a set of all sets contain itself?

  14. amuro98 says:

    My friends and I call this buzzword bingo. The software simply looks for keywords on your resume, and if you get enough matches, BINGO, you must be a perfect match for the job! As you might guess, buzzword bingo is the worst way to screen resumes. I could write “I have hated Java for 15 years” on my resume, and I guarantee within 24 hours, I would have at least 5 idiot recruiters calling me about Sr. and Lead Java developer positions.

    Furthermore, it’s been my personal experience – both as a job seeker and interviewer – that resumes that deliberately play buzzword bingo often mean the applicant has no real experience and is trying to hide this fact. I can understand if you’re a new grad, and all you have is your classes and the topics they covered. However if you’re claiming 3 to 5 years experience and the best you can do is a list of buzzwords, something is wrong.

    No, the only way to “win” at buzzword bingo is don’t play it in the first place. Work with a recruiter who personally reads (and understands!) your resume instead of having the computer do it for him, or send your resume directly to the hiring manager, skipping HR and the recruiter entirely.

    • RandomHookup says:

      One trick people used to do — take the entire job description and append it to the resume, but changing all the font to white so it couldn’t be seen yet would come up first all the time in the buzzword match. Recruiter would print out the resume and not notice the white-out text.

  15. inpixels says:

    “typing false qualifications in white font”…

    What about using File Properties in MS Word and Typing in keywords—or a “secret message” in the comments field? Are these things read by the resume machines?

  16. jenesaisrien says:

    many hospitals use those contracted web based job search companies ..
    After applying,interviewing, and getting hired for that position, the automatic reply came from that company by email-“Sorry that job you applied for has been taken…” (by me-haha)