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How To Improve Your Hit Rate When Applying For Jobs

  • Posted 17 Jul 2020
  • Richard Holmes
  • Article

Looking for a job these days can be incredibly frustrating and difficult. You’ve applied to several roles that you could be great for but no one is contacting you or calling you back. Why? KEYWORDS.

Keywords don’t make you the perfect candidate for the job and throughout my recruiting career I haven’t placed a candidate because of keywords but if that’s how companies are differentiating candidates then you have to understand how to work it and apply it to every job application you make.

The days of the start-to-finish manual process of screening job applications by companies are almost over, if not over already. Almost all categories and sizes of companies in recent times, either use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or employ the services of recruiters, who sometimes, also use the ATS during their recruitment process.

Before now, the dated and traditional method of screening job applicants involved the company’s HR team or Hiring Manager, going through thousands of applications. While a thorough, manual screening process will ensure that the most qualified candidates proceed to the interview phase the reverse is often the case when uncertainties like deadlines and fatigue set in. At this point, they could pick candidates at random or based on bias. The other disadvantage was that it took lots of time and resources to carry out a complete manual screening process hence the need for an automated assistant.

The ATS is a screening system that makes work easier for recruiting teams by scanning the resume of applicants in search of keywords entered by the Hiring Manager or the recruiter themselves. After vetting all the applications, the ATS ranks the applicants in order of those whose resume had the most relevant keywords ranking the highest. However, the prominent con here is that most talented and qualified candidates, who could arguably do the job the best, are often ranked below less qualified candidates because a bot that searches for keywords said so.

Knowing that the ATS is here to stay, there are two ways to easily secure a job interview during application. 

  1. You can register with a recruitment agency; they will link you to employers when they have vacancies relevant to your field. If you’re in the Accountancy and Finance field I can highly recommend HPR Consulting in Sydney.
  2. The second method, which we are addressing, is to optimize your resume to match the keyword search of the ATS. For your resume to be ranked at the top, you have to first understand how the ATS works.

How The ATS Works

The basic function of any ATS is to analyze and store submitted resume information into its database. It then compares the contents of applicants’ resume to the keywords entered by the end-user or recruiter and brings up the resumes with most keyword matches. 

An advantage from the way ATS works is that based on keywords, you may not qualify for the job you applied for but there is a chance your resume is pulled up if keywords relating to another job title is entered. However, the tendency is very minuscule, and who knows? It might take months or even years for that. That is if the recruiters do not clean their database after each recruitment exercise.

How To Make It To The Interview List

Some companies instruct applicants to send their resume via email usually start their screening from the cover letter while others may not so, to be in the safe zone, start the keyword optimization from your cover letter. , you don’t have to send a cover letter though. 

So, now that you are up to speed with how the ATS works and where screenings may start from, let us look at how you can use the following tips to get the conversation going and ultimately get you that job.

Go Through The Advert For Keywords

The function of a resume is to tell the recruiter that you are the person for the job which means you are the person with all those qualities stated and you can handle all the responsibilities stated in the ad. For that, you have to mine your keywords from the ad.

Take this example advert. If you were applying to this role I have highlighted keywords that you would incorporate on your resume/CV.

Where shall I insert these keywords?

You should have a profile at the start and you want to tailor this part and populate with the highlighted words you found in the advert. 

Tip - Tailor this profile section for every application you make. 

You don’t have to use all the words here though. It is important to use the keywords in your job responsibilities, achievements and key skills too. 

Here’s the start of a copy of a resume template I use with my candidates. 

No alt text provided for this image

For a full version of the resume/CV template follow this link - Resume/CV Template

When inserting your keywords, there are two major types you must ensure are present. The first is the “job-related” keyword, which describes your work-related skills, and qualifications for the job. Focus on the hard skills as they believe soft skills are general skills most of the applicants will possess. In the example advert, these would be CPA/CA, Modelling, Analysis, Forecasts, Oracle, Hyperion, etc. 

The second type of keywords are the “Action words,” that show what you have done or are doing if you currently have a job. Examples are managing or leading, planned or planning, driving, partnering, etc.

Use The Company’s Word Format

In recruitment, there is a high tendency that the person who writes the vacancy is the same person who will enter the keywords in the ATS. You should adopt this from the start (if they require it), with your cover letter because if you miss this step, almost every other step will be futile. If it is English, note the variant the company used in the vacancy. For example, do not use “Colour” when the vacancy said “Color,” or “nonprofit” instead of “non-profit.”

Think like the ATS

Computers may be smart but they still follow the instructions of the programs which means your cover letter and resume must have the following:

  • Emphasis on the job description and other keywords as stated in the vacancy. If the description wants a “Financial Planning & Analysis Manager”, do not use “FP&A manager” or “Planning Manager”
  • Do not use synonyms to replace keywords, unless as a compliment. For example, if the keyword is “Teaching,” then you can use “Teaching and mentoring;” “Teaching and educating,” and so on but “Teaching” must be present. The complements are for keywords the recruiter may add when searching.
  • Write keywords like acronyms or abbreviations, dates and other values in full. The ATS does not think like humans and may not recognize common acronyms or abbreviations if they are not among the search words. For example, do not write “Tech” or “Technology” or “BA” for “Bachelor of Arts.” Also, it doesn’t take anything to write “1998” instead of “’98” and 09-02 could mean 9th of February or 2nd of September in some calendar formats so stay in the safe zone by writing these things in full.

Also, remember that the final screening phase will be conducted by a person with intuition. What it means is that you must ensure that your resume is sincere because, during the interview, the recruiter will want to know more about you, more than what your resume said. There are some keyword generating tools you can use if extracting yours from the ad seems challenging.

Finally, show enthusiasm. The way some applicants draft their resume may already tell the recruiter that they are not enthusiastic about the job. You can go about this by doing some research on the company, you can even try reaching out to the company’s HR division after applying.

To most recruiters, these little efforts could be the qualifying factor, and that also means that irrespective of when you see the ad or how many people that may have applied, you still have a great chance of being called for the interview.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and happy job hunting. You can do this!

Richard Holmes is Co-Founder & Director of HPR Consulting, a leading Accounting & Finance recruitment business in Sydney, Australia.

He has been in the Executive Search & Selection Industry since 2003 and has developed a track record of recruiting senior Accounting, Finance and Commercial professionals into leading ASX listed, private and multinational organisations. Passionate about connecting talent, he has an in-depth knowledge of the Sydney market and brings a significant amount of intellectual property to his clients and candidates.

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