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Astronomers define a black hole as a region of space from which nothing, including light, can escape. I have often heard job seekers refer to the application process as a “black hole where resumes go, never to be heard from again”. Did you ever wonder why this is? Considering the frustration that can result from the online application process, I would like to shed some light on what really happens when you apply online.
Not only will this provide you with an effective strategy to increase the odds of getting your resume into the right hands, but it might actually increase your level of sympathy for the HR professionals around town – ok, maybe just a little! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BOL), there are 6 job seekers for every opening. This is the worst ratio on record since the government starting tracking these numbers in 2000 and compares to a ratio of 1.6 to 1 in mid-2006.
To gain an understanding of how this imbalance affects the hiring process, let’s take a look at what happens when a new job is posted. Today, each new job posting elicits an average of 300-400 resumes. Some companies use software that automatically screens resumes for relevant key words. However, most companies use an actual person to screen resumes. Therefore, assuming the average HR professional spends 20 seconds reviewing each resume, they are committing over 2 hours to the identification of the top 5-10 resumes.
Multiply this by 10 or 20 positions – the average number of openings managed by each HR professional - and they wind up spending 20 – 40 hours just screening resumes! And for those of you who know people in the HR profession, screening resumes is far from their favorite pastime. Keep in mind that this same individual is most likely responsible for tracking and organizing these applications through their applicant tracking system (ATS) which, in some cases, is nothing more than a file folder, an excel spreadsheet, ACT! or a simple Outlook file.
It is now time to divide the resumes into the proverbial “A pile” and “B pile”. In some instances, there are literally two piles and in other cases, applicants are tagged as “hot prospect” (A) or “reject” (B) in the ATS. The all-powerful “A pile” represents candidates that were referred by an employee or “friend of the firm” and in some cases, it also includes the top 3-5% of online applicants. These “A pile” candidates will receive further consideration and perhaps even a phone call. The dreaded “B pile”, however, consists of the remaining resumes that will never again see the light of day! Unfortunately, if you were not able to secure an introduction into the firm, if you did not customize your resume to include the relevant key words, or if your resume does not offer that initial “wow factor”, chances are your resume will be sent straight to the “B pile”.
Once these piles are created, depending on the company, the HR professional will take one of two steps: she will either present these “A candidates” to the hiring manager for review or she will conduct an initial phone screen (in today’s market, the majority of first interviews are conducted by phone). Now the fun really begins! The next challenge facing the HR professional is whether or not the hiring manager provided enough detail and metrics to evaluate the applicants.
Assuming the answer is yes – and this is a big assumption – the HR professional then presents his recommendations to the hiring manager to determine which candidates will make it to the holy grail of job searching and ultimately the in-person interview! Now the waiting begins. This waiting period may span from a few hours (not likely) to several weeks (a bit extreme). Once the decisions are made, the process continues with interviews, feedback, questions, more interviews, references, salary negotiations, background checks and finally – hopefully – an offer.
Meanwhile, back on the resume front, for those individuals whose resumes did not make it to the “A pile”, your poor resume is still sitting all alone in the company’s ATS, on their desk, in a file folder or in someone’s inbox. The odds of you getting an email – or heaven forbid an actual phone call – thanking you for taking the time to apply are minimal at best. In fact, while a few “best in class” companies will respond to each and every applicant, the average response rate to an online job application is less than 5%!
The first question then becomes: what can you do to ensure your resume doesn’t wind up in the “B pile”?
1. Apply only to those jobs where you possess 85% or more of the requirements.
2. Customize each resume to include every key word that is mentioned in the job description.
3. Develop a headline that provides a “wow factor”, uniquely defining your area of expertise.
4. Create 3 or 4 key sentences at the top of your resume to highlight your Unique Value Proposition (UVP).
5. Focus on promotions, results and direct contributions, not responsibilities and tasks.
The second question, and the one rarely considered, is: what can you do to ease the pain of the HR professional?
1. Focus on securing an introduction to the company through a mutual colleague; contact the hiring manager and/or HR professional to leverage the contact and get yourself on the radar screen.
2. Clearly indicate how your skills match up with the job requirements – don’t make them search for your relevant skills.
3. If you are unable to secure an introduction, call the HR professional and/or hiring manager 2 days after sending your resume, to ensure it was received; during this call, acknowledge that you are aware of the volume of resumes they have received, and request “5 minutes to provide 3 factors” that will demonstrate your fit for the position.
4. Send a thank you/follow up card by mail to the HR and/or hiring manager reminding them of the “3 factors”.
5. Develop a campaign to follow up with the HR and/or hiring manager on a weekly basis.
While the job market continues to have its challenges, developing and maintaining a consistent strategy will greatly increase your odds of getting your resume into the “A pile”. Today’s job market is about visibility and differentiation
Guest Contributor: Ken C. Schmitt Turning Point Executive Search