NPR Story
5:59 am
Thu February 28, 2013

Job Applicants Are Wary Of Firms' Resume Sorting Software

Originally published on Thu February 28, 2013 1:32 pm

With unemployment still high, hiring managers continue to be inundated by job applications. Some big companies are coping with the deluge by using talent management software that winnows pools of job applicants before a human lays eyes on their resumes.

Human resources teams say in today's economy, the systems, which have been around for decades, are crucial. But job hunters like Tim Woodfield often find the software overly aggressive.

Woodfield is an information technology expert, but, ironically, computers became his nemesis during his job search.

He was out of work for about a year and applied for dozens of IT management positions in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He said his resume often failed to make it past the companies' software systems.

The software typically screens for keywords from a job description.

"If there's 25 bullet points, you've got to hit all 25," Woodfield says. "So if you miss one or two, they're going to catch you on it and somebody else is going to get the interview."

How You're Screened

Forget the old days when you'd print your application materials on nice, thick resume paper and mail it in. These days, you usually apply online.

At the start of the process you create an account. And then you might be asked how much weight you can lift and if you're a convicted felon. After, assuming that the software overlords are satisfied with your answers, you can submit your resume.

In case the right skills are there, the software will then rank you against other candidates. If not, you'll likely get an auto-generated email rejecting your application.

Woodfield tried to outwit the software with another software program — Wordle, which can identify the key concepts from job descriptions.

He would then frontload keywords like "project management" and "IT infrastructure" into his resume.

He and other job seekers have complained that the candidate management software creates too many hoops to jump through.

"There's no way possible you can have all the buzzwords, or your resume is six pages long," Woodfield says.

He ended up getting a job the old-fashioned way — through networking.

More Job Seekers, Fewer Jobs

Elaine Orler, a talent acquisition consultant in San Diego, says candidate management software can be really helpful for big companies that can afford it. Several years into the economic recovery, unemployment is still high, and job openings are limited.

"Where they used to hire 10 they can only hire two in this economy," Orler says. "You've now got 1,000 people fighting for two [jobs]. By default, more people will be rejected."

And many of those applicants are totally unqualified. Ann Costello, a recruiter at Venteon Finance near Minneapolis, thinks the requirements for drawing unemployment benefits, which include applying for multiple jobs, are causing people to go on application sprees.

Helpful Or Hurting?

Costello sees bartenders and line cooks vying for high-level accounting jobs. She figures it's because they're looking to check the box on their unemployment paperwork that shows they're trying to get a job.

"I was opening up these resumes and just shaking my head, because it requires a college degree," Costello says. "I've probably got 20 applicants who don't have a college degree."

In those cases, she says, candidate management software is helpful. But she concedes it may sometimes cut too deeply into the talent pool, eliminating candidates who didn't use the right buzzwords.

"How can you get to a point where you feel like you're screening out the people you don't want to see and not the people you do? And there's no perfect answer for that, because it's a computer," she says.

But, Costello notes, humans are fallible, too. If hiring managers had to sit down and sort through hundreds of applications by hand, they might not fare much better.

Copyright 2013 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

With unemployment still high, managers continue to be inundated by applications. Some big companies are coping with the deluge by using talent management software. It winnows pools of job applicants before a human ever lays eyes on the resumes. Human resources people say, in today's economy, the systems, which have been around for decades, are crucial. But job hunters often find the software overly aggressive. From Minnesota Public Radio, Annie Baxter reports.

ANNIE BAXTER, BYLINE: Even though Tim Woodfield works in IT, he's probably not rooting for computers to take over the world. They didn't exactly do him any favors when they reviewed his resume. Woodfield was out of work for about a year and applied for dozens of IT management positions in the Twin Cities. Talking at a job networking event, he said his resume often failed to make it past companies' software systems.

The software typically screens for keywords from a job description.

TIM WOODFIELD: If there's 25 bullet points, you got to hit all 25. So if you miss one or two, they going to catch you on it, and somebody else is going to get the interview.

BAXTER: Forget the old days when you'd print your application materials on nice, thick resume paper and mail them in. These days, you usually apply online. At the start of the process, you create an account. And then you might be asked questions like can you lift 50 pounds? Or are you a convicted felon?

If the software overlords are satisfied with your answers, you can submit your resume. If the right skills are there, the software will then rank you against other candidates. If not, you'll likely get an auto-generated email rejecting your application.

Tim Woodfield tried to outwit the software with another software program. It's called Wordle, and it can identify the key concepts from job descriptions. Woodfield would then frontload keywords like Project Management and IT Infrastructure into his resume. He and other jobseekers complain the candidate management software creates too many hoops to jump through.

WOODFIELD: There's no way, possible, you can have all the buzz words or your resume is six pages long.

BAXTER: Woodfield ended up getting a job the old fashioned way - through networking. HR types like Elaine Orler, a talent acquisition consultant in San Diego, say candidate management software can be really helpful for big companies that can afford it. Several years into the economic recovery, unemployment's still high and companies have limited open positions.

ELAINE ORLER: Where they used to hire ten, they can only hire two in this economy. You've now got a thousand people fighting for two. By default, more people will be rejected.

BAXTER: And many of those applicants are totally unqualified. Ann Costello is a recruiter at Venteon Finance in a Minneapolis suburb. She thinks the requirements for drawing unemployment benefits, which include applying for multiple jobs, are causing people to go on application sprees. Costello sees bartenders and line cooks vying for high level accounting jobs. She figures it's because they're looking to check the box on their unemployment paperwork that shows they're trying to get a job.

ANN COSTELLO: I was opening up these resumes and just shaking my head, because, you know, it requires a college degree. I probably get 20 applicants who don't have a college degree.

BAXTER: In those cases, Costello says candidate management software is helpful. But she concedes it may sometimes cut too deep into the talent pool, eliminating qualified candidates who just didn't use the right buzzwords.

COSTELLO: How do you get to the point where you're screening out the people you don't want to see and not the people you do? And there's no perfect answer for that, because it's a computer.

BAXTER: But, Costello notes, humans are fallible, too. If hiring managers had to sit down and sort through hundreds of applications by hand, they actually might not fare much better. For NPR News, I'm Annie Baxter in St. Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.