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How to get your resume seen

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SALT LAKE CITY — Ever wonder what happens to your resume when you apply for a job online?

Knowing secret key words may help it stay out of the “black hole,” where resumes seem to vanish without ever being seen by human eyes.

Many employers use what’s called an applicant tracking system. It means, regardless of anything else, without knowing key words on the online automatic job application, applicants might never get the job, even if they are the most qualified.

Tiffany Oaks was caught off guard when she returned to work at a restaurant after giving birth to her son. She had worked there before, but now had to re-apply through the online job site Snag-a-job. She got her job back, but 10 days later she got an email from Snag-a-job.

“Saying after going over my application they weren’t able to offer me a job,” she said.

Oaks was already working there, for her second time, and now she's not qualified? The good news is, she didn't have to quit. Her boss still considers her a good re-hire.

“There are people who I work with that are great. There are people I work with, I look at and wonder, how did you get through and I almost didn’t?” she said.

Tiffany's husband, Kent, said he hasn't had any luck recently getting through to a hiring manager. A machinist by trade, Kent said he's applied for dozens of jobs online but has only gotten four callbacks.

“I’ve been applying, and it takes hours to do all these applications and you don’t hear anything back,” he said.

He said he's had management experience and knows how tedious hiring an employee can be. But he thinks employers are relying too heavily on computer systems to do their recruiting.

“It gives your application a grade,” he said. “It takes away subjectivity, personality. You don’t get a chance.”

From the employer's perspective, it costs too much time and too much money to sift through every resume when you know you only want to see the top five or 10.

–Jared Olsen

Kent and Tiffany experienced something three-out-of-four applicants for nearly every job experience: A computer system has eliminated their shot for an interview well before their resume is seen by human eyes.

Jared Olsen is spokesman for the Utah Society of Human Resource Management. He said, “(It’s) not going away. You’re going to see more of it.”

He called it a harsh reality, but employers are forcing job seekers to apply online. There's no getting around that.

“From the employer’s perspective, it costs too much time and too much money to sift through every resume when you know you only want to see the top five or 10,” he said.

To get to those top five or 10, employers use an applicant tracking system. If a resume isn't formatted the right way or doesn't contain the right keywords or phrases, it'll be ranked as a bad match and won't snag you an interview.

“The way to do that is by putting in keywords,” Olsen said, “those key acronyms or terms or verbiage that the company uses, that they’re looking for in a candidate.”

So how do you find that verbiage? Olsen said you'll find clues in the job posting.

“Small things, like employee, team member or associate,” he said. “Because the application or job description will tell you what they call their team members, right?

“From there you should update your resume every place that says ‘associate’ to ‘team member.’ Use that same word or phrase that they’re looking for,” he suggested.

But if you believe not having the right keyword or phrase is holding you back, Olsen said there's a way you can get around the whole applicant tracking system: network.

"I apply and I immediately go to Linked In, and I do research about the company and who works there,” he said.

Olsen said try contacting two or three current employees and ask them what it’s like to work for the company, and suggestions they have about getting your resume to the hiring manager.

“We trust people who work for us, so if you can get in the inside and pull for you, then you’ll get an interview,” Olsen said.

Bill’s advice

Don't just fill out the application, but find a way to visit a human in person. It worked for me, and it impressed the boss if I went to the extra trouble. I think it still works, because you can't impress a computer.

If you're using some automatic process, don't use the exact resume for different jobs. Find those key words we talked about, and change your resume around a bit, and hope the computer will get you to a human and not into a black hole.

For employers, the automatic application technology might be fun to use to screen out applicants, but I think if they use it too much, they'll bypass sometimes the best applicants because some applicant didn't know some keyword.

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Bill Gephardt


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