Has a pair of human eyes even seen your job application?

Between job cuts and recession, many talented marketers and business people have found themselves in the frustrating situation of competing for jobs. Sue Parker uncovers some of the reasons why your job application might be culled before it is even viewed by the human eye.

If you are applying online for marketing roles (or any other profession) there is a high probability that your carefully crafted application won’t even be seen by a pair of human eyes.

As I wrote previously, online job applications should take up only 25 percent of a professional job search strategy with 75 percent proactive marketing focussed.

But that 25 percent needs to have a solid hit rate which many lack. The angst in waiting for an acknowledgement, let alone a coveted phone call or interview is palpable. And even if you do receive an email acknowledgement it does not mean your application was seen by a human.

Reasons for the application no-go

There are a range of reasons why you don’t hear back from job applications. There are infinite stories where highly relevant candidates are left in the ‘WTF’ conundrum. As an ex-recruiter, I know full well that despite believing you are a match in heaven, that isn’t always reality for a myriad of reasons.  And many of those reasons have actually nothing to with you, your experience or value. Hiring via job advertisements is like ducks gliding in a lake. You don’t see what is going on under the water’s surface and what obstructions may lurk. The other reasons include:

a) It was a fake-fishing role

b) You just didn’t have the right experience

c) Poor quality application, CV or cover letter

d) It didn’t pass the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) robots

A case in point

Not passing the ATS occurs frequently. A true story was shared last year that is a clear case in point. Bill (not a real name) had applied for a marketing management role via SEEK. The organisation was a large employer of choice and Bill ticked every box and more. Yet he never heard back for an interview.  A month later Bill ran into a mate who worked at the organisation. Sharing his frustration the mate was equally gobsmacked and spoke to HR. The story unfolded that Bill’s CV wasn’t shortlisted by the ATS system at all and never seen by a human eye. Fortuitously, the role was still open and the upshot was that Bill had an interview and eventually landed the job.

As is replicated hundreds of other times, the issue was that the CV that wasn’t ATS compliant. But the other issue was that Bill just pressed send and prayed.  Not a great idea and I will address what to do next after shooting off your application later.

What is an ATS and why should you care

Circa 75-85 percent of online job applications go through some sort of predictive culling software system, via job boards or LinkedIn directly. There are hundreds of different systems that recruiters, organisations and government departments use to funnel CV’s. Many smaller organisations and boutique recruiters don’t have them but the learnings are valuable and applicable to all job application and search activities. But major companies do and they play a crucial role. That said these systems need to run in conjunction with other hiring and human processes.

Essentially ATS technology drills down keywords aligned to job specifications and advertisements that the hiring company is seeking and delivers shortlists of appropriate candidates to be then reviewed by a human eye.

And organisations often in their laziness or resource limitations rely far too heavily on the software (i.e. variant IT capability and not enough intelligent algorithm data inputted) which often culls great candidates from a human view.

It’s imperative to have a CV which gets to a human eye. I am often asked why a CV has to look so plain and it’s simple: you don’t want your CV rejected by a pesky AI robot. But there is more to it than just a pretty document. If a CV isn’t being pushed through an ATS (or when it has been shortlisted to view) there are multiple devices that it needs to be read on (iPad, mobile, iPhone, Desktop). 

CV Format Tips

Ignorance means that despite the most amazing skill sets and background, a CV that gets blocked by an ATS robot has zero chance of being shortlisted. So ensure this doesn’t happen by:

  1. A plain formatted CV that can be easily scanned – no graphics, text boxes, tables or images (yes it’s dull but that is the way it is sorry).
  2. Word Format only – or in tandem with a separate PDF or Jpeg.
  3. Keywords – this is the gold of the ATS to select for a role. Make sure the job title and top 10 keywords are on the first page of your CV and in the cover letter.
  4. Well spaced out – not cramped with a clean and clear appearance.
  5. Ideal fonts : Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri (minimum 11pts).
  6. Location – put in your city and state (sometimes suburb). Some ATS programs will reject a CV if a state isn’t included (i.e. Melbourne, Victoria) – no need at all for your full address though, and be discerning to include a suburb if needed.
  7. Clear structured logical sections.
  8. Industry language – if you are applying for roles outside of your current sector check for industry jargon and acronyms and tweak to simple general phrases.
  9. Headers and footers –NEVER have your contact details within a header or footer. A footer is to be used on for a page number and a repeat of your name only.
  10. Lines and large font sizes are fine and even a different dark colour on the headline or your name. But no fancy pants fonts or styles.
  11. Content – now this is where you shine brightly. Use them well, after all you are in marketing, media and management. Oh and no more than 3 pages ideally.

How to follow up

Bill clearly sent and prayed, giving his confidence and and power away. He found a comfortable seat on a ‘submissive and reactive’ park bench waiting to be contacted. WRONG.  He was fortunate to have run into that mate but he should have taken a proactive stance after sending the application.

My tip for professionals is to contact the organisation/recruiter/HR within 5-7 working days. Take an equality value stance with the intent of raising your brand and value proposition Approaching a recruiter or HR person with the, ‘I’m just calling to check if my CV has been received’, is a pretty low fruit approach and will not be well received. So ramp it up with skill and a clever problem solving (for both sides) approach. Use the call to open dialogue and demonstrate value first.

A word from Pantene

Going for a job is never easy and particularly challenging this year. Beat the robots, amplify your value and always follow up. And from the Pantene commercials – it may not happen overnight, but it will happen. Believe in yourself!

Sue Parker is the founder of DARE Group Australia, a unique Career Communications, LinkedIn and Personal Branding consultancy.

Photo by Gertrūda Valasevičiūtė on Unsplash.