As a professional resume writer and job-landing consultant, I commonly receive this question from job seekers: “What changes can I make to my resume to beat applicant tracking systems and get interviews?” Typically, instead of answering the question, I follow up with two questions.
The first is: Do you have a linear background? By this I mean: Have you stayed in the same field for your entire career and now find yourself looking for the next-step job? If the answer is no, then I’ll discourage you from continuing to job search on job boards—which tend to work best for those with linear backgrounds. Job boards don’t work well for career changers or those with non-linear backgrounds—which, these days, is a significant number of job seekers.
The main reason they don’t work well is that typically the applications of those with non-linear backgrounds and career changers don’t have the right keywords that employers are using on job boards to search for candidates. That is, these job seekers often don’t have the current positions and required skills in their new fields that employers are searching for.
In other words, if you’re one of these job seekers, no matter how good your resume is, employers might not find you. For example, if you’re currently a Director of Marketing but are looking for a position outside of marketing and not at the director level, you probably won’t pass the ATS—algorithms and search terms aren’t going to result in someone reaching out to you for an interview. Instead, you have to take control. Which is something job boards don’t allow you to do.
The second question I ask job seekers is: Are you aware that 60 to 65 percent of hires happen through employee referrals, social media connections, and personal contacts? Meaning: Do you know that recruiters first put out openings to their networks and try to fill the positions without ever posting jobs? If the answer again is no, then the job seeker just learned that they might be missing out on a bunch of jobs that never get posted on job boards, not to mention wasting valuable job-search time.
It’s also important to point out that the vast number of job seekers on job boards makes it hard to be successful applying on job boards. Now, during the pandemic, exponentially more people are seeking work, making job boards even less effective than pre-Covid. With so many candidates looking, it’s even harder for employers to search through resumes for ideal employees.
Despite the ineffectiveness of job boards, I keep seeing career changers and non-linear background job seekers using job boards, continuously trying to beat applicant tracking systems with their resumes. Why? I believe job seekers who continually use job boards, despite the lack of results, do so because of the following:
- It’s comforting to apply and say you did something for your job search. Job boards help us feel busy, even if they’re less effective.
- It’s perceived to be easier to try to beat the system than market yourself to individuals.
- It’s less personal to be ignored by a job board than an individual.
- It plays into our desire for immediate gratification.
All of these are traps—don’t fall into them. Stay off the job boards. Instead, spend your valuable time scrubbing and updating your social media channels, including and especially LinkedIn. Most important, use your time to network, reaching out to friends, former colleagues, and people in your alumni networks. Ask to set up (virtual) informational interviews and coffee chats. Doing so will be time spent wisely and productively—and get you where you want to be more quickly than any job board can.
Lisa Rangel is the Founder and Managing director of Chameleon Resumes LLC (a Forbes Top 100 Career Website). She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer, Job Landing Consultant, and Recruiter. Lisa has been a moderator for LinkedIn’s Premium Group since 2012. Chameleon Resumes reviews the goals of each client to ensure career documents serve their goals while meeting the needs of the prospective employers. She has been featured in Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Crain's New York Business, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, US News & World Report, and many other reputable media outlets. Rangel has authored 16 career resources, and has an active YouTube Channel with regular tips and advice.
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