I estimate that I spend about fifteen percent of my day reviewing resumes and on-line job applications. The same goes for the rest of our recruiting team. I have an informal method that I use to screen applicants. I want to explain this method to TechNation readers as a sort of public service. By explaining this, I hope that some of the ambitious and talented readers can get a simple take-away that will have a positive impact on their careers. Additionally, I might gain access to more high-caliber talent. So, read the following paragraphs with the idea that you’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at what exactly happens after you apply for a job for a good reason that can help you and us.
I don’t think that there is a single person who’s ever had a positive experience completing an on-line job application. Who likes creating a user name and password and then answering a dozen or so semi-personal questions, which will surely include disclosing how much money you make in a year? No one likes that. Furthermore, as you read the questions, it occurs to you that a lot of your answers to those questions could potentially disqualify you from consideration. Sadly, no one is going to ever tell you which question it was that got you disqualified and they aren’t going to disclose what was so bad with you answer. So, you spend a bunch of time sorting through on-line job ads, applying to those that seem appropriate. Each application is basically the same: create account, upload resume, answer questions, hit “Save” and then cross your fingers. You do this a few dozen times and then maybe you get an email or phone call. You do a few phone screens. If you’re lucky, you get invited in for an interview. If you’re less lucky, you get a no-thank-you-email. If you’re even less lucky, you never hear from the employer again. Candidly, the odds are stacked against you and it seems like the dice are loaded. But unlike a dice game or casino blackjack, rarely does anyone actually tell you that you lost!
Let’s cover the basics. Recruiting software, otherwise known as an applicant tracking system (ATS) is finicky. There are literally thousands of users for any given company’s ATS. Each of those users has a slightly different variation on how he or she engages that system. With this enormous set of user-variables, the system is prone to error. Avoid the negative consequences of these errors by following some very basic rules.
Use as MS Word resume BUT, and this is really important, DO NOT USE A RESUME TEMPLATE and DO NOT USE A HEADER/FOOTER on that document. Templates and headers/footers cause most ATS software to do bad things to the resume. Templates, headers, and footers also cause the parsing feature to simply go haywire. You know how you can upload your resume and then it seems to magically use that information to complete a lot of those fields so you don’t have to actually type them out? When you use a template or headers and footer, that magic gets disrupted. Chances are, you won’t even notice that your beautifully crafted template resume turned into a bunch of squiggly lines and number that make no sense to anyone.
After you upload and parse the resume, you really should go through all of the fields that the software populated for you. Check to make sure that the parsing didn’t mince up your prose. It’s likely that it did and it’s up to you to fix it.
Next comes the general application questions. These are questions asked to anyone and everyone who applies. These questions relate to eligibility to work in the United States, are you over 18 years of age, are you willing to relocate if necessary, how did you hear about us, and the dreaded request to disclose your current income and your desired income. Just be truthful. On the income question, everyone labors over this. Do I inflate my income? Do I reach for the stars and state that I want $250,000 per year? Do I leave it blank? Do I put zeroes in the box, do I write negotiable? I’m not going to make any suggestions on what to do in this box. Each answer has its own risks and also its own potential benefits. Think carefully, make a decision, and be prepared to deal with the possible consequences of your decision.
Most ATS software pulls your experience from your resume and parses it in the experience section of the application. It also adds in the dates. Double check to make sure that this parsed correctly, as well. The system has high potential for errors. Like I already wrote, it’s your job to make sure it’s correct.
You’re probably more than halfway through the application at this point. The next step might include job-specific screening questions. Some places use these questions, some do not. These questions usually have multiple choice answers. Sometimes there are text-box answers (common) as well as ranking questions (rare) and forced choice (very rare) questions. Multiple choice questions are frequently used for knock-out purposes. There are 1-2 acceptable answers and 2-3 unacceptable answers. You can usually read the question and easily figure out which answer is the one they are hoping that you will select. While it’s tempting to follow this method and answer with what you think they want (even if it’s not truthful), let me tell you how I handle this. My questions follow this formula. I ask the applicant to “Please select the best or most accurate answer to the following…” Whatever answer you provide, when we end up on the phone together, know this: I am going to ask you about that specific question and I’m going to ask you to provide me with at least one example that supports your answer. If you tried to slip one past me on the application, I assure you, I will catch it right then and right there. When you attempt to use the, “I guess I misunderstood the question,” just know that you’ve been caught fudging and it’s probably going to end the interview.
Finally, you’ve got the integrity-check. There’s this big paragraph that tells you a few things about being an equal opportunity employer among other disclosures, and then it asks you to check a box and type your name attesting that you’ve been truthful about the whole application. I know what you’re probably thinking, truthfulness is often subject to interpretation. I know this. But, there are also truths that, practically speaking, just can’t be fudged. Now is the time to go back to the questions and spend some time being honest with yourself. Did you really manage 4 staff members or did you manage a project that had 4 project team members? Do you really make $85,000 a year or do you make $78,000 a year but might be eligible for a $7,000 bonus? You know how clean your answers are and this is the time to check yourself and also to check your answers.
The last thing to consider is using a site such as LinkedIn. Make a polite attempt to contact the person who you believe is most likely to be the one who will review your resume. Your chances of getting a response are pretty low but it’s a low-effort, low-risk, high-return task that takes about thirty seconds.
I really hope that this is helpful. I know the application process can be frustrating. But I truly hope that those who read this recognize that there’s a method to the application-madness and that it serves a very noble purpose.
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