The first person to look at your resume is not likely to be a person, but a computer. That's because to deal with the sheer onslaught of job applicants, most medium- and large-sized companies use an automated tracking system (ATS) to screen resumes and applications. The job of these resume robots is to decide which applications move forward for a further look by a hiring manager and which are discarded into the corporate database for rejected applications, fondly known as the "black hole."
An important thing to keep in mind is that the ATS resume robots are not kind to young professionals. The ATS software is tasked with checking off all the boxes, and if you don't have an extensive job history and skill set that matches the job post, you won't score high enough to be passed along.
But there's a way to get past the resume robots so that a human can see your resume and hopefully, take a more nuanced approach to your skills and abilities. In doing research for my new book, "Graduate to a Great Career", I uncovered four tricks that young professionals can use to outsmart the ATS and land an interview:
1. Carefully study the keywords in the job post and match them on your resume and application. While this may be fairly obvious, many people use a generic resume for all jobs and don't spend the time to match keywords. See if there are jobs, volunteer work or internships that you can rewrite so there is a strong keyword match with the job posting. Use the very same words and emphasize the same skills that appear in the posting. You can use web services such as Wordle, Resonate, and TagCrowd, which target the most frequently used words in job listings, to help you do that.
2. Check out the company website for any deeper connections you can make in your resume. Look at the company's mission statement, philanthropic interests and company activities to see if there are connections you can make in your application with the company's mission, causes and outside activities. Often, companies look for these ties that show you'd be a good fit. So if you've worked on similar philanthropic projects, highlight them in your application.
3. Follow up your online application with direct outreach to the hiring manager. There's no rule that says you can't reach out directly to the hiring manager. Show initiative if you really want the job by doing a little research on LinkedIn and the company website to find out the name of the hiring manager or HR manager. You will have a serious advantage if your online application is followed by a well-written three-paragraph pitch letter saying why you want the job and what you can bring to the party. The way you approach them is important, and you have options to choose from:
• InMail: Send a short pitch via LinkedIn InMail to the hiring manager
or HR manager.
• Email: Send a short email pitch emphasizing your interest in the job
with your resume attached.
• Snail mail: In addition to your typed cover letter, you'll stand out with a
handwritten note: The note should say something like,
"Very interested and confident I can add value to your team."
4. Redouble your effort to connect with someone who works at the company. Try to find an internal contact at the company. Check out LinkedIn to see if any of your first-degree or alumni contacts work there or if they alert to all your friends. One young professional I interviewed set up a short coffee meeting with an alum who worked at a coveted company. They hit if off and the alum offered to call the hiring manager to put in a good word. The upshot of the 20 minute coffee meeting? Her resume got bumped to the top of the pile for a meeting with the hiring manager, bypassing the resume robots all together.
Personal branding is important for everyone, but it is never more important than when you are a young professional building your career and trying to get past the resume robots. Follow these tips and your resume is likely to land in human hands for deeper consideration than a computer can give you.
Catherine Kaputa is the author of the newly published "Graduate to a Great Career: How Smart Students, New Graduates and Young Professionals Can Launch Brand You" out in April 2016. (graduatetoagreatcareer.com). She is the founder of SelfBrand (selfbrand.com), a New York City-based personal branding company.