As a modern job hunter, you need to not only be smarter than the average person applying for a job — you need to be able to outsmart the system. We’ll tell you how — but first, some history.
Why Recruiters Are Having a Tough Time
During the 2008 depression, HR departments got hollowed out by layoffs and cutbacks. The in-house recruiters that survived (i.e., the people responsible for acquiring, short-listing, and vetting talent for hiring managers), were forced to take on the recruiting of an ever-expanding list of roles at the exact same time that jobs started getting more complicated — particularly in digital.
And even though we’re recovering, these departments aren’t expanding, at least not at the rate they could be. It hasn’t gotten any easier with the proliferation of technology like Linkedin’s “One Click Apply.” The supposed “bounty of candidates” available online has turned into a tsunami of the unqualified, the barely interested, and time-wasting window shoppers.
For every job in-house recruiters post, they can expect to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of candidates.
For every job in-house recruiters post, they can expect to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of candidates. No single human (or even department) could possibly manage that kind of onslaught on their inbox. So they don’t. They have help.
You may not know this, but today, companies outsource the building and management of applicant tracking to companies like Bullhorn and, to a different extent, Linkedin’s Recruiter product. These Applicant Tracking Systems (or ATS) parse the data from your application materials and turn it into searchable text that sits in a database.
If this sounds helpful to your job search, it’s not. It’s your worst enemy, and we’ll cover this in greater detail, so stay tuned.
As an applicant, you need to stop thinking about the recruiter leisurely admiring your resume and start envisioning them conducting a Google search to find you and your skills.
How to Game the System
Often, the hiring manager will give a time-crunched recruiter specific skills and qualifications to look for. Rather than paging through resume after resume, the recruiter will do what any busy person would do: use the tools at their disposal. So you spent two years on a project building a really innovative, AJAX-heavy e-commerce experience? Guess what? You are now simply “AJAX.” Maybe “e-commerce” if you’re lucky, but who knows if the searcher will spell it that way? In short, if your resume doesn’t use searchable keywords, you won’t get seen.
What can you do to get served up on page one every time a recruiter conducts a search for someone with your qualifications? You need to think about presenting yourself as data, and the name of the game here is “keywords.” This means that if your resume, cover letter, and Linkedin profile aren’t keyword searchable, you’re screwed.
First, make sure that you read between the lines of every job you apply to. Here’s where the logic around customizing your cover letter and resume for each job come into play. Insert key words that you know are essential to the job, which you’ll find by reading the job description carefully.
Next, recruiters like to use unusual keywords to shorten their list of top candidates. While searches for “product manager” may yield hundreds of potential applicants, adding in other key criteria such as industries (like AdTech) or a hot methodology (like Agile) may produce just a few quality candidates who are on point, allowing them to move on to the phone interview stage. This means you should think about uncommon keywords that are in demand, as well as the major ones. Be smart about it, and it’ll pay off.
Take a look at that snazzy resume you polished up previously. For each job you’ve held, try to come up with five to ten keywords relevant to that position. Think of the obvious (Product Management, Content Strategy) and the not so obvious (Omniture, Marketo). Are those keywords present? If not, take your resume back to the drawing board and add them. If there isn’t a natural place to work them in, simply add them to your Skills/Areas of Expertise/Core Competencies section. It’s a great way to SEO-ize your resume and add some oomph to your job search. If an acronym is used for a popular term (for example, PMP for Project Management Professional), use both.
At this point, you’ve probably noticed that we keep coming back to a common theme: the online job hunt is far from perfect. In the grand scheme of things, the concept itself is relatively new and the technology supporting it is still developing. No one (even on the hiring side) is entirely sure how to make it work smoothly. Use this chaos to your advantage. Game the system. Use keywords to supercharge your applications. It’ll make HR’s job easier, and it’ll give you a serious leg up on your competition.
Don’t just apply blindly to any and every company. We’ll show you how to do some smart research before deciding to submit your application.
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