I attended an interesting talk given by someone who has been a recruiter for several large firms, both temp agency and principal, for all level of jobs, focusing on the application process. I’ve been to a few of these deals and they tend to always follow a predictable pattern, the gist of which the person running the class is just telling you his or her pet peeves about resumes and applicants. But this one was better than most, the main speaker verified a number of things I had inferred, was at times brutally honest about existing biases, and added some fascinating details. I’ve posted a few tidbits from memory below. Apologies if I got something wrong.
A typical online job posting will start getting applications within a minute or two of going live and will on average garner up to 250 applications for each available opening before the spigot is turned off in some way. Companies are doing their usual post recession penny-pinching where they under-staff and over work their hiring department. This means hiring personnel are so overloaded with applications that the only way they can get a handle on it is to employ a fierce culling process, to knock-out as many as possible as quickly as possible. By the time the hundredth app comes in they may have already stopped reading them, and 100 qualified apps can easily come in in the first few hours of a job being posted.
This next part is key: many in the hiring chain are using tools that scan resumes for keywords. Outside of a handful of senior executive jobs, cover letters are probably a waste of time. Definitely don’t bother with a cover letter explaining how great your hobbies are, do bother to have a short summary at the top of your resume that’s been custom tweaked. If the job posting says something like “HTML a plus,” or “familiarity with TPS reports preferred,” you better have those letters in that summary up front where the tool can pick them up easily. That’s why, for most jobs, stay away from .pdf or any other atypical format. Don’t worry about your resume being pretty or flowery. Your best bet for that tool to work is to stay away from special fonts or different character sizes and stick with plain default text in MSFT word.
When you don’t hear anything back at all, it often means your resume was not even scanned, it might have been unscannable by whatever they are using. You can get an idea how scannable your resume is on many job sites by uploading your res and seeing how well it populates their own format. One more thing, a single dumb obvious typo can get you rejected before a human ever lays eyes on it.
About four out of five applications are rejected at this scanning step. Just FYI, I got wise to this keyword stuff a couple of years ago and my initial acceptance rate jumped from basically zero to about one in 20.
If it passes the scan test it usually gets eyeballed by a human. But that person is grossly overworked and swamped every day. No matter what the company says about how awesome their hiring process is, you are lucky if they’re able to devote more than 20 man-seconds to a given application. Often times this means, if they have a system which uploads and populates their own fields with your submitted data, that’s all they have time to glance at. When a hiring person knocks out a res, they usually click a button that either sends out a generic rejection letter they don’t even see and may have never read, or they pick from a short crappy list of prewritten ones, which is why those letters sometimes don’t seem to make much sense for you and your app specifically.
If you’re starting to get the idea this is all much more automated than it used to be, that the HR or hiring people are under the gun and measured every which way by all kinds of metrics, and applicants might as well be virtual cattle being rushed through vaccination chutes and weigh stations at an industrial ranch, you’re getting the right idea. Most of the people doing the hiring these days are low level HR assistants or third-party contractors. Most of them tend to be fairly young — they’re often being paid pretty lousy, say from nine to $12/hr — and you better believe conscious or unconscious bias for age, gender, and race is rampant.
If you have an ethnic sounding name, say “LaTonya,” figure something out, if you have a name like “Terri,” you might want to consider spelling it “Terry” or putting “Mr.” in front of it. It’s only after all this that education and experience start to count a little, but only in the sense that they are looking for lack of same to knock you out. That experience and edu data better be brief, easy to find at a glance, and relevant to that specific job. The other two big strike out factors here are if you are currently unemployed — use the term freelance or private consultant or charity work to cover gaps — and if your last three years of work history aren’t specifically relevant to the job being applied for.
On average less than half of the remaining apps get over this initial human eyeball hurdle. If yours is one of them, you’ll probably get a phone interview or an online test, and often times those tests will be as simple as a typing test. If it’s an online deal and you can’t hunt and peck worth a hoot, get someone else to take that part for you. If its a phone interview, look up common interview questions no matter how silly and have those answers at your finger tips ready to regurgitate.
Bear in mind there’s a lot of mythos out there, for example it’s against the law for age to be the determining factor in hiring you, but it’s completely legal to ask how old you are and you better have a simple three-word no BS answer. Having dealt with this issue I’m sorry to say, your best bet for many jobs — if you are just a few years over a benchmark age like 50 or 60 — might be to lie without missing a beat. Just don’t do it in writing; few companies are dumb enough to document that kind of question.
Often times during this portion you will be asked to provide references that can be contacted and fill out a questionnaire on you. Be absolutely certain your references know this is coming, that they know to score you the max on every single question and category, and know not to add any any comments at all. Don’t play any games with this to try to make it look “real,’ it’s usually a pass-fail thresh-hold and once you pass it’s over and forgotten. If you’re worried that a perfect score will stick out, pick one person only and instruct that one person to pick one notch below the max on one single question out of ten. If any of your references pull the slightest bullshit when you contact them like “Well my credibility is on the line and a perfect score might look suspicious,” don’t use them, they’re wrong, don’t chance it, just find another reference.
If that step is successfully completed, you may be asked to come in for an in-person interview, you will on average be one of three to five people getting that interview per available job. If you are over 35 years-old, odds are good that that person will be younger than you. If you are over 40 years-old, do everything in your power to modify your appearance to look younger — without being too obvious. If you’re male, keep in mind women in particular can usually tell with a single glance if you have a cheap hair-color job. If you’re going to wash the gray away, make it subtle, do it a couple of days before the interview so the roots don’t show but the hard edge has had time to wear away, and use a professional cosmetologist.
Weight — start losing now if you are overweight. I don’t want to get anyone sick here, but if you only have a few days the most effective method of losing a few critical pounds is to research and decide if you are willing to dehydrate yourself over a three-day period. Something as simple as eliminating salt from your diet for a few days can get you started. Remember, same as the phone interview, have your answers to stupid and even offensive questions ready to go. Interviewers can and sometimes do claim they ask an offensive question to see how you respond under pressure.
Here’s an example the speaker gave of a jarring question and good answer: “I see you’re only making $11/hr and yet you are 45 years-old, how do you explain that …?” Good answer: “[Current employer] is just so awesome, the people are the best I’ve ever worked with, and I love the work. But you’re right, even with the help of a few small investments it’s tough to live comfortably on that, which is why I was so excited when I saw you guys were looking!” IOW, lie your ass off. Never, ever badmouth a current or past employer, even if the interviewer leads you on.
This person showed us a few examples of how all that above plays out and the bottom line it adds up to: right now your odds of being hired for a job you are ideally qualified for is on average about 1% – 2%. It gets worse, a lot worse, for large well-known companies with a half decent rep, like Google or Facebook. Those guys can receive hundreds of thousands of applications a year, meaning your odds of being hired there are way, way less than 1%.
I don’t know how much of the above is accurate, but it was consistent with my experience and it sounded plausible to me. What I can be sure of is you will need luck, pure blind luck, on your side and the only way to generate that is to play the odds. You do that by putting in as many customized tailored apps as you can.