Applying for a Job? Get Past AI Filters

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Online job recruiting is here to stay. It could, however, inadvertently leave some qualified applicants out in the cold.

Using the internet to search for a job was a trend well before the pandemic. The last two years, however, have accelerated the transition. The Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, reports that 70% of respondents to a recent LinkedIn survey of talent acquisition professionals say a combination of virtual and in-person processes “will become increasingly standard due to the associated cost and time savings.”

But as more employers routinely post jobs on online job search websites, job seekers could face unseen challenges to getting their feet in the door. Enter applicant tracking systems.

Applicant tracking systems are software tools that allow employers and recruiters to track job candidates throughout the hiring process. They also use artificial intelligence to make the screening process more efficient for employers.

In its study “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent,” the Harvard Business School reports these systems work by identifying a limited number of candidates who most closely match specified job criteria, such as holding a specific academic degree or credential, or who have included particular keywords in their resumes.

In its study, the business school found that even midsize businesses that employ 50 to 999 use this type of technology. While it may streamline the hiring process, it can also leave some worthy applicants on the cutting room floor.

So-called “negative” criteria can be grounds for filtering out certain applicants. Such attributes may include a criminal conviction or a work gap of six months or longer, according to the study. Nearly half of the companies surveyed by the Harvard Business School said they filtered out resumes listing such an employment gap.

“Our research indicated that employers believe applicants with more recent experience are more likely to have better professional skills,” the study states. “A recruiter will never see that candidate’s application, even though it might fill all of the employer’s requirements.”

Most large companies and Fortune 500 companies use AI filters, as do online job search websites, such as Indeed and Glassdoor. OhioMeansJobs.com uses an optional screener questionnaire, which allows employers to create a questionnaire that screens candidates for consideration. It includes an optional ranking system ranging from “reject” to “best.”

But use of the screener questionnaire among employers has seen a “significant decline” since March 2021, according to a spokesman from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

For the sites that run all resumes through applicant tracking systems, it changes the game in crafting one’s resume, says Steve Kristan, broadband coordinator, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

College graduates from 10 or 20 years ago might remember the importance of selecting a nice paper for a resume, using a bold, eye-catching font, or including a portrait shot in the resume. Today, it’s all about ensuring one’s digital resume makes it through that applicant tracking system gatekeeper.

“Before, we were trying to be more sizzle,” Kristan says. “Now we’re more simplicity and achievement.”

Successfully getting through an applicant tracking system begins with including keywords from the employer’s job posting, Kristan says. For example, if a job posting states the company is looking for a “domestic engineer,” that’s the term to include in the resume, as opposed to housekeeper, he says.

From there, be sure to include all relevant skills to a position, including soft skills such as teamwork, and hard skills, such as proficiency with Microsoft Excel. Be sure to include technical skills as well, such as “gap principals” when pursuing an accounting job.

“Whatever the ad says they’re looking for, make sure you have that in your resume,” Kristan says.

Systems are friendlier to nouns rather than verbs, he says, “which is kind of the opposite of the way it used to be.” For example, if an ad states it’s looking for an Excel teacher, applicants might get filtered by writing “I’ve taught classes in Excel.”

Other items to include are accomplishments, certifications or completed online courses related to the job posting – all of which could get an applicant more points from an applicant tracking system.

“A certificate from Harvard may give you as much weight as a degree from Harvard, as silly as that might sound,” Kristan says.

Many online job applications will have options for either attaching a resume document file or filling in blocks with resume information. Kristan says applicants should always do both.

“You want to write a resume really geared toward that ATS,” Kristan says. “At the same time, though, you have to make sure that if you do get moved onto the next channel, you have something that’s attractive to the human resource person.”

Attaching a resume file gives the applicant an opportunity to exercise a little creativity as well, he says. He advises applicants to craft resumes to be useful and informative to hiring managers. Rather than including a career objective at the top, state what you will do for the company, he says: “Nowadays, it’s more about personal branding rather than career objective,” Kristan says.

In its “Resumes for the 21st Century” study, Drexel University says a “succinct, yet powerful personal brand statement,” can help a job-seeker stand out. The report also suggests adding clickable hyperlinks and icons to one’s online portfolio and relevant social media pages.

Cover letters are typically optional with online job application systems, But not having one can end up hurting a job seeker, Kristan says.

“A lot of people don’t read the cover letter but they still expect you to have one,” Kristan says. “If things get down pretty tight in the decision making, the employer may look at the cover letter to make a decision.”

It is also useful in explaining certain things, such as a gap in employment, he says.

Other tips Kristan has for job seekers include adding one’s email address to  the resume but avoiding using “old” email providers, such as AOL.com. He advises creating a new Gmail account instead. Job seekers should also include mobile phone numbers on their resumes instead of landlines and ensure all social media platforms are updated and appropriate.

“They will do searches on you,” he says. ”So make sure that’s up-to-date.”

For local businesses who can’t afford to miss any potential applicants, Julie Needs, executive director of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center in Salem, recommends “going back to an old-school way of getting boots on the ground” rather than relying on technology.

Needs encourages local employers and job-seekers to attend in-person hiring events, like the event the SOD Center held in April, which she says drew some 150 to 160 applicants and completely avoids AI screening. The center typically hosts two such events annually – one in the spring and another in the fall.

“If this need for employees continues to stay at this pace, we might look at doing something in the summer instead of waiting until fall,” Needs says.

Employers should also post job opportunities in local libraries and churches, or partner with workforce development agencies such as chambers of commerce and OhioMeansJobs, Needs says. Leveraging that local network ensures community stakeholders will drive prospects to an employer, as well as alleviate issues the digital divide created.

“There is no bad place to post a position at this point and time because of the lack of available candidates,” she says.

She advises employers to post job openings to their own websites and platforms. When the SOD Center listed openings for students to participate in its WorkAdvance program, it did so with its own site and social channels.

“We used our website to direct people back to make an application directly to us,” Needs says. “So that didn’t take anybody out of the pool.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.