Central Washington Works: Beware of the bots Business

Have you ever applied for a job and never heard anything back? It could be because of artificial intelligence (AI) and an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Statistics indicate 99% of Fortune 500 companies filter resumes using AI and ATS. Yes, even companies in Yakima use these tools.

Developed during the Great Recession when employers were overwhelmed with job applicants, ATS uses algorithms to scan resumes according to key words, skills, college degrees, professional credentials, responsibilities and other factors.

Employers set up this screening criteria so they only receive resumes that are an exact match, saving time and removing supposedly unqualified people. Filters are used to eliminate candidates without certain education, certifications, specific experience or work authorizations.

Ironically, the technology created to make it easier to find skilled candidates is rejecting many qualified individuals! In fact, a report from the Harvard Business School “found that job candidates who had gaps in their work histories or who didn’t possess college degrees or certain credentials were often disqualified.” Applicants who “described their skills or experience on resumes using language that differed from the requirements posted in the job description” were viewed as poor fits by ATS.

There are steps a job seeker can take to beat the bots. The most important thing is to tailor your resume for the job you want.

  • Include the exact words, phrases, job titles, skills, responsibilities, degrees, and / or professional credentials listed in the job description. Not sure what these are? Pull several job descriptions for the same kind of occupation. Highlight the words and phrases that appear in each. You will see the same terms over and over. These are key words. Use these; mirror the language the employer uses.
  • Format accordingly. ATS cannot read headers, footers, text boxes, columns, images or colored ink. Skip the online and MS Word templates. Resume templates are often made up of text boxes. Start from a blank page and submit your resume as a Word doc. Use standard section headings like Education, Professional Experience, Technical Skills, etc.
  • Apply only if you meet the qualifications. If it says seven years of experience and you have five, apply. If you are new to an industry or have no experience, don’t waste your time.
  • Use simple formatting with a modern font and plenty of white space so it’s easy to read, and try to keep it to no more than two pages. According to LinkedIn, “Employers only spend about six seconds reading a resume.” (Six seconds!)

The use of artificial intelligence for employment decisions is receiving increased scrutiny from the federal government. The EEOC launched an initiative in 2021 to ensure than AI and algorithmic decision-making tools do not create discriminatory barriers to jobs (SHRM). And more companies are changing their focus to look more holistically at job seekers and less at degrees and certifications. Until this becomes the norm, pay careful attention to your resume.

Michelle Smith is the communications and employer engagement manager for the South Central Workforce Council.

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