career support

Are AI Bots Ruining Your Chance at Your Dream Job?

Do you remember in the 80s when the biggest fear we had was robots taking over our jobs? Well, now in the 20s we have something new to add to the “worry” list… Artificial Intelligence (AI) controlling our career destiny! If you’ve recently visited the careers page of a company you are interested in working for, you might have been greeted by “Tommy” or “Bobby” or “Suzzie” the bot who is going to help you find your dream job at XYZ Co. But it does not stop there, the AI bots are working overtime behind the scenes playing matchmaker between the resume you load in and the job description on file, to decide if you are worthy of getting a real person to contact you. Yep, that’s right! The AI bots lord over your employment destiny, not a human being!

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “our people are our biggest asset.” And, if you were the CEO of a multi-million-dollar company, wouldn’t you pay uber attention to your biggest asset and ensure you are doing everything to get the best and brightest people (assets) into your company? And wouldn’t you want to streamline and reduce wasted time to find that talent? Of course, you would. So, in today’s day and age, virtually every formalized company is managing its applicant process using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which is either embedded or attached to a Human Resources Information System (HRIS). These systems are robust software packages that offer state-of-the-art, high-tech, people-replacing tools. They promise to reduce the time to identify candidates, increase the quality of candidates the hiring manager looks at, and overall be the silver bullet for talent acquisition time-to-fill metric! …So how does it all work, you might ask?

Preface: I’m about to shed light on a very dark secret that most talent acquisition leaders might not be a fan of being leaked… So, send out the search party if I’m not home for dinner tonight, honey.

The reality is, the recruiters, sourcers, or HR Associate tasked with screening the resumes spend on average less than 45 seconds looking at your resume… and I’ve yet to find a single person doing screening who can attest to actually reading an entire resume from top to bottom. So, all that painstaking effort you put in to proofread your resume a hundred times, passing it to friends and colleagues to give you feedback, and even possibly paying someone to write or review it for you, was all a waste of time, right? Well, not completely, and I’ll tell you why shortly. Depending on the sophistication of the ATS or HRIS software being used, your resume is likely to be scanned to extract and match words and phrases found on the position description, or loaded manually by the Human Resources person. Based on how many matches are found, a percentage ‘match’ score is issued. From here your resume is racked & stacked against all other applicant resumes by highest to lowest match percentage, and from this list the person in charge of screening resumes can simply choose the ‘cut-line’ of the resumes they want to review, and the rest traditionally go to the resume graveyard never to see the light of a computer monitor again…     

So why is this a good thing… and why is this a bad thing… Well, the good thing is that your entire resume and work experiences are now under full review. Let’s say you were not so good at articulating your qualitative experiences at the top of your resume, but your education and certifications at the bottom are your bread & butter… A human might not have stayed interested while reading your resume and never have seen the best part (at the bottom). Additionally, the human might not be familiar with some of the nuanced technical work that you have performed, and it is highly unlikely they have the job description memorized, so full credit of knowledge, skills, and ability might not be captured and awarded. On the bad side, some items on your resume might not get credit because you represent them in a way that is unfamiliar to the company you are applying to. Perhaps you are looking to switch industries and what you consider a Program Manager, the company you are applying to calls this same role a Chief of Party.  

So what now…? Is all hope lost? Am I just casting my resume out there with hopes that the bot gods shine their grace upon my resume and let me in? Or do I pray there are as many poor resumes in the mix as mine and hope the cut line is low enough that I get a 45 second [human] look? Well, not completely. There are things you can do to better your odds:

  1. Formatting – keep it basic, for formatting sake: Yes, in this day and age of digital art and Adobe software, resumes can be turned into works of graphic art. And, hey, you want to stand out from the crowd, right? Well, just remember, the AI bots don’t appreciate art… In fact, fancy formatting makes them go bonkers! And if they can’t read your resume, guess what, you score a ZERO! I recall one case where a candidate with the last name Pina (which is also Spanish for pineapple) thought he would stand out by placing a pineapple emoji after his name on the resume […cute, right…]. Well, because when his name was being scanned off his resume to be added to the “Name” field in the ATS, the system could not read the emoji, and therefore his application was deemed “incomplete.” …So no job for Mr. Pineapple…
  2. Acronyms – don’t be an assumer: Even though it might be commonplace for the job you are applying for, don’t assume the AI bots or a person screening the resume knows what it stands for. Spell out common acronyms AND type the acronym on the resume. You never know what the ATS is looking for.
  3. Key Words – they are KEY for a reason: Read the job description several times and identify what you think are keywords or phrases and ensure you have these in your resume, somewhere. But don’t just randomly insert the words or phrases, use them in the proper context; remember, hopefully, a human will read your resume one day.
  4. Work experience – you don’t have Benjamin Buttons Disease, but…: List your work history in reverse chronological order and list the years. This is the best format for resumes being read by the Ai bots in an ATS, because AI bots don’t differentiate years very well, and depending on the ATS software, you might wind up looking like a poor performer because your work history shows rapid dissension down the ranks.
  5. State the obvious… Obviously: 99% of job descriptions state the number of years of experience and level of education required. Don’t make the AI bots think too hard… Just say it plainly in your resume. “I have 25 years of human resources experience, a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and Employee Relations, and I hold both Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certifications.”  There… was that so hard…?!?! Trust me, these will be the most valuable 2-3 lines on your entire resume!

Just remember, the intentions are good. Don’t curse the AI bots. They exist because we do need a more efficient and faster way to deal with the volumes and volumes of applicants that are submitted to a single job advertisement. Just think, if the AI bots didn’t exist, we’d be back to the old days of dropping a resume into an ATS and having to wait weeks, or even months, before it could be looked at [that’s a whole other blog post for the future]. You just need to adapt, just as humans have since the beginning of mankind. Recognizing that change has happened is half the battle… And now you know the other half – which is how to succeed in the new environment.

Michael Stambaugh is the Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at Precision Talent Solutions (PTS) and the former Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF), and prior Vice President of Human Resources at Women for Women International (WfWI).