Job Applicants: How to Game Resume Scanners

Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - 12:00 AM

More and more companies are relying on technology to weed out job applicants at the initial stage of the hiring process – using software that scans and screens resumes in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  

Applicant tracking systems are a boon for overloaded human resource departments at large companies, but can be a hazard for job hunters who don’t know how to tailor their resumes to ensure they aren’t tossed out of the applicant pool.

Recruiting software purchase totaled  almost $4 billion last year, according to the research firm Gartner. 

Peter Cappelli, the Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Human Resources, said if you apply for a job through a company’s website, then it’s likely to be filtered through one of these systems.

“I’d say anybody with more than a thousand employees is probably using it.” Cappelli says. “And, increasingly these systems are getting cheaper so even smaller companies can use them.”

In general, the software will scan information and download it into a database. It looks through for certain keywords or phrases set by the employer—things like years of experience in a field or particular skills. Then, it grades, ranks or screens the resumes, so recruiters only spend time on the best fits. The more advanced the tracking system, the better it can parse what you’ve written.

But, if your resume has the wrong format or lacks the specific keywords an employer has entered, your application might never make it to a real person.

Better your odds by looking at Jane Doe’s resume below and see exactly what not to do.


Click for a full-screen view.


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Comments [12]

James from Seattle

I created this free resume optimization tool that helps candidates optimize their resumes for job scanners. Video tutorial is a simple web tool for candidates to identify how well they match a specific job by analyzing, parsing, ranking, scoring, and graphing job description and resume for skills, keywords, and education.

When I apply to jobs, I tailor my resume for each job description and always wonder what the most important skills / keywords are. This tool helps me with that tremendously.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this tool can improve:

Jan. 16 2014 04:24 AM
John from Denver

I just read an article by a recruiting expert that was pretty scary as to how dumb this software can be. For example, if the minimum requirement is 5 years and you have 10 you get screened out. Well, no match: 10 is not 5.

The writer even went so far as suggesting lifting whole phases, not just keywords. What's next, just drop the job description into your resume?

I've heard other anecdotes of PhD's being passed over because the minimum requirement was an Associate's degree (it really is tough out there). He didn't get an Associate's degree (naive idiot started with a BS). But that was a human making that call (s/he probably only had an Associate's NTTAWWT.)

Nov. 19 2013 05:18 PM
Lorene Goins from Maryland

Thank you for insights. I work for the State of Maryland and teach a weekly job search workshop. This info will be great for my participants to hear. What's you take on

Oct. 31 2013 09:09 AM
Colleen from illinois

Great point. I found this while researching for my blog on the same topic.

Aug. 07 2013 09:45 AM

So if you're trying to get into a new field and have no experience in which to draw catered keywords from, what are you supposed to do?

Feb. 25 2013 11:13 AM

That was really very amazing and helpful post, thanks for sharing these precious views with us.

Dec. 07 2012 03:05 AM

A shocking 90% of big companies are using scanning systems,You need to do a check before you send materials, like your resume.

Oct. 30 2012 12:37 PM
Mark Boelte from Toms River NJ

Employers use these software tools simply because of the huge numbers of applicant they get. Spending 1 min (60 seconds!) on each resume, it will take 16 hours to get through 1000 resumes. They simply do not have time.

HR departments could get better at setting the filters they use, but the best solution is for job seekers to customize their resume. I have been teaching my clients what this article says for several years, and those that do these things are more sucessful.

Whether you think it is dumb or not, don't forget that they don't need you, you need them. Research the company, customize your resume, and you will get better results.

Oct. 05 2012 01:29 PM
Donna from NYC

This is just a ridiculous situation. If HR departments know the system is kicking out qualified people because computers lack "discernment" then why aren't they doing something practical like reading resumes? It's inexcusable for recruiters to say that they get thousands of resumes and cannot find a qualified candidate. It is an insult to the scores of people looking for work. It's like those commercials wherein the company pats itself on the back for it's "new" "off line" approach - meeting people in person!
Come on.

Oct. 05 2012 11:25 AM
Tessa from White Plains, NY

When will the audio of this story be online? Also, there is a new patented software that seems to be solving this problem called Talent Browser.

Oct. 02 2012 06:13 PM
Steve smrek

read this

Oct. 02 2012 06:03 PM
Matthew Graham from Union City, NJ

This is dumb. I write software and making subjective decisions like this is exactly what software is terrible at. Filtering out a good candidate because their resume doesn't fit the format? No wonder the unemployment level is still so high, companies are too stupid to be able to hire people.

Oct. 02 2012 06:02 PM

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