How to escape the job hunt black hole

The Wall Street Journal explains the “job hunt black hole”, wherein you submit a resume to an online posting or corporate website and never hear about it again.

The article explains that when you send in your information,  automated “Applicant Tracking Systems” (ATS) swallow and dissect your resume.  It will only be seen by a live human being if it matches with specific keywords and skill categories determined by the software. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an automated email reply telling you that you’re in the system.

According to the article,

Until recently, it was easy for job hunters to game the system: The computer ranks you higher in the turnip pile if you tweak your résumé to include the same phrases found in the employer’s job description. But lately, spoilsport employers are ruining the fun, with sophisticated software that uses artificial intelligence. This newer technology can analyze the résumé of a top performer — say, Dennis in accounting who saved the company millions by eliminating doughnut Fridays — and find applicants whose résumés fit his “ideal candidate” profile.

Personallly, I think that this is hyperbole.  ATS software is a niche market, and the companies that sell them for thousands of dollars or more in licensing fees aren’t ashamed to exaggerate their functionality. The truth is, many of the applicant tracking systems out there are absolute garbage pieces of software, no more sophisticated than your grandmother’s recipe database.  But whether the software is good or bad, the fact remains that it’s no friend to the job hunter.  This is especially true for entry level candidates and people trying to make a career transition.

So what can you do? Is there a secret method to outsmart the software?  Well, as the article suggests, it can’t hurt to be sure you’re including relevant keywords in your resume.  But really, what you should be doing is avoiding the machine entirely.  If you’re entry-level, or a career switcher, then replying to online postings is almost always going to be a waste of your time.  Even if your resume makes it past the ATS system, it’s only going to land in the hands of an HR associate or internal recruiter who’ll reject it immediately if it doesn’t seem like an obvious match.

Instead, you should be making personal connections by building a network and engaging in a series of informational interviews.  Remember, only a tiny minority of jobs are filled through online postings — if you’re going to be successful, you need to focus your energy on what works, not what’s easy.

Posted: March 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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