Larger companies are increasingly using specific software to “skim” candidates. What can you do to increase the chances of passing this filter?
When you apply for a position, you hope that someone will do you the kindness to read your resume.
Since almost all applications travel online, however, you should know that companies are gradually entrusting computers with the first management of these documents.
This means that your resume will not be evaluated calmly and carefully by someone, but by something. These programs scan your CV to decide if you have what it takes to proceed with the selection process, or if you have to stop at the first step.
A survey conducted by the BBC on the 20 largest companies in the world (companies employing at least 4 million people), showed that 18 of these use some technology for the first selection.
Tim Payne, the partner of KPMG Management Consulting, argues that most large companies use similar systems. Smaller companies, on the other hand, are slower to adapt to this change.
“For those organizations dealing with large numbers of applications, using electronic screening systems is the most cost-effective way to manage the process,” says Payne. This also happens in KPMG, which uses software to screen the thousands of applications the company receives from all over the world for open positions.
But while being judged by a cold, emotionless machine may seem a little Orwellian, Payne adds that this is a good thing for candidates.
“Research shows that if you submit the same CV to some people, but you change things like name or ethnicity, the way they rate it changes,” Payne says. “The online forms through which you apply, and which ask standard questions, are safer [in terms of impartiality] than reading a recruiter.”
Importance of Keywords
To see these programs in action, the BBC organized a meeting between Sarah Greenwood, 22, looking for a job, and Monster. Sarah wants a job in marketing, but she admits that the idea of getting a job in this environment intimidates her.
“It seems to be a fast, ever-changing market, where you have to have inventiveness and creativity, and you have to be prepared to work for nothing in return if you want to fit in,” she says. At company headquarters, James Brian, Director of Product Management, submits Sarah’s CV to the computer.
Then he tells her: “You are suitable for many good positions. You’ve described yourself on two pages and haven’t done anything wrong like inserting boxes or diagrams – these things don’t work well when you upload your CV to a computerized screening system.”
“What I have done is search for the CV system suitable for the type of job you are applying for and look at the words that are contained in the job description of this job.”
“I made sure to include these words in quantity in your CV.”
“Just to give you an example, you may have written that you have experience as a ‘marketing assistant’, when most of the open positions concern ‘marketing executives’, that’s why I changed it.”
Keywords are everything in CV scanning systems, making a generic CV of little use. Wilma Turcker, of Right Management, argues that recruiters should consider including a section called “keywords”.
“Putting the most important keywords at the top of your resume increases your chances of being found,” he says. Tucker also recommends including words that describe experiences in terms of “actions”.
Online Games and Quizzes
However, in the digital age, for some positions, you are not allowed to fill out a form or send a CV.
The number of companies using online games and quizzes as their first filter is increasing, evaluating the application based on the answers given (usually) to multiple-choice questions. These games serve, once again, to handle large amounts of applications.
For example, since the launch of Hayes’ interactive game, more than 20,000 people from 190 countries have used it. But Hays talks about another benefit, and that is about the degree of motivation and preparation of candidates after they participate.
This means that the successful candidates have a better understanding of what will be asked of them, while others eliminated in the first step have saved time and money. But if you are particularly interested in a certain role, is it possible to guess the answers the machine wants, and “beat” it?
Gareth Jones, of Chemistry Group, who developed one of these games for a large telephone company, says it’s very difficult to do.
“We run very detailed psychometric tests to see if the people who apply are suitable for the position they are applying for, after which we combine this with observation in the field by a psychologist,” he says.
“We make sure there are no right or wrong answers so that the candidate can choose the one that would most really give in a real situation.” Again, rather than being a handicap for job seekers, Jones argues that these programs help find candidates whose CVs would not have passed the traditional screening.
“I can find candidates who are perfectly suitable for the role, who has no direct experience in the function or the sector, but who can easily be trained.”
If you can’t get past the first selection, these systems give you other possibilities to be selected.
To save time and money, companies use previous applications received and archived to identify suitable candidates for any new position that opens.
Recruiting Consultant John Ingham says: “These companies re-use candidates, so there is the possibility of being selected for numerous vacancies.”
The lesson that can be learned from this whole story, that is when you are selected by software, is that:
- It is essential to write your resume using the right keywords;
- It may be appropriate to include in your resume a personal profile that goes beyond just the position you are applying for.