What are the resume robots looking for in your CV?


About twenty years ago I worked for a company that had an application tracking product.

We had a basic version that could be used by all our clients, which simply gathered your online applications and allowed you to manage them through the stages of the application process, and then for some of our larger corporate clients, we built specific application sorting and sifting tools which did the first review of any application that came in.

These sorting and sifting tools were typically used by large corporate organizations for managing their graduate recruitment process when they received thousands of applications within a relatively short period of time.

Now we’ve moved twenty years down the line, these kind of tools are now more prevalent and accessible by many more organizations to support in the management of their applications.

But what does a “resume robot” really look for when it’s scanning your CV?

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They won’t notice your beautiful use of styling

When it comes to your CV being seen by recruiters, it’s important to use clear headings and styles in order to aid the recruiter in scanning through your CV to the points that interest them. Without this, it simply becomes too hard for the recruiter to find what they want and subsequently they give up and your CV ends up on the no pile.

When it comes to application tracking systems they won’t see any of your H1 styles and fancy layouts, instead, they’ll scanning the main body of the document for the keywords that they need to understand what you’ve included. They WILL NOT spot any information you’ve included in the header or footer of your document, or if you’ve used text boxes to layout your text, so make sure you just use the main body of the document to say what you need to.

One way to check is to copy and paste your CV content and put it directly into a plain text editor like Notepad or TextEdit. If your CV content comes out in a decent order then the automated systems will have a good chance of finding what they need.

They will pay attention to your answers to specific questions

If you’ve been asked in the application process some specific questions, such as “Do you have the right to work in the USA?” or “Do you have a graduate degree in computer science?” then there’s a fair chance that there might be a rule on the other end of those questions that says if you answer the question ‘wrong’ (i.e. not in the way that the recruiter wants) then your application will be automatically rejected.

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This is purely down to the fact that the recruiter sees these factors as deal-breakers, so your application gets processed without the need for a person to cast their eyes over it.

They will look to find certain phrases

As well as specific answers to questions, there are also systems that are using word recognition to assess your suitability for a role.

For example, if your company has decided that a “Sales Associate” is called a “Relationship Architect” (I have a LinkedIn connection with that very situation!), then you might be at a disadvantage if the phrase “sales associate” is not present on your CV and the recruiter has decided it needs to be.

This means you need to ensure that you’re using appropriate and recognized terminology for the roles that you’re applying for, else you might end up with an automated ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ email.

Isn’t this a bad thing?

Yes, it can be if you don’t quite match the strict rules that can be put in place.

If the rule wants a BSc in economics but you have a Ph.D. in economics, you might be considered as unqualified for the role, when in reality you are more than qualified.

If you’re a product owner but they only want a product manager, then you again might fall foul of the robot who doesn’t realize the similarity or the fact that many businesses don’t make a distinction.

Ultimately, you can take a few steps like that above in order to give yourself a good chance of success, but if the organization is so strict and lets a program do the majority of its hiring decisions, then you might have wanted to think twice about working for them anyway.

See if you can find a business that values individuals and trusts people to see what’s best for their organisation.

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