Modern Resume Dilemma: Keywords or Human Touch?
Author: Ana Lokotkova
Published: December 28, 2017 
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If I you ask me to describe a typical job seeker, I’d say:

1 – frustrated with long and confusing online application processes,
2 – discouraged and demotivated by rejection or zero response at all,
3 – blaming market conditions and the universe for their bad luck,
4 – not knowing what else to do to make things work.

This is a portrait of a candidate who is still in a pretty good shape, considering possible implications.

Of course, how can it not be frustrating?

On average, only 5 out of 250 applicants may get invited to job interviews. And only 1 of those 5 may get the job.

I chose to use the word “may” intentionally.

By applying online, you are entering the worst lottery imaginable. 

You think you are fighting for the chance to get invited for an interview.

The truth is: you are not even guaranteed that your application will ever be read and conscientiously rejected. Nor that the job is actually real and up for grabs.
Companies are unwilling to risk making hiring mistakes. They start drawing their candidate pool as safely as possible, starting with the circle of internal candidates or their closest network. Employers know those people are reliable, and they don’t need to spend any time or money on careful detailed screening.

But they are obligated by law to publish a job posting any time there is an opening.

As an external applicant, you’ll never know if the job you are hoping to get has already been taken by the hiring manager’s qualified friend from another department.

Yet, you spend hours tailoring your resume, worrying about keywords, writing a compelling cover letter, filling out all the repetitive questions the system asks you…

Then you wait, never knowing why no one reacted to any of your efforts.

How is that possible?

The above scenario happens all over the place when you approach the point of contact most convenient to the company – Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Some people also call it the Black Hole where resumes get lost .

What is an ATS?

It is a software program based on a keyword-focused algorithm.
This algorithm is meant to help employers deal with large volumes of incoming resumes by screening them for relevant keywords and a number of basic pre-specified criteria, such as particular skills.

You can find a much more comprehensive explanation of this algorithm in multiple online articles, including this one.

If ATS decides that your resume does not have enough keywords, a human eye never gets to see it.

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There’s got to be a better way!

Although the reasons why employers choose to use ATS to pre-screen resumes are understandable, there are two worrisome problems related to the quality of such screening:

1 – Keywords do not measure talent and potential of the candidate,

2 – ATS doesn’t make hiring decisions, nor does it have to work with the hired candidates afterwards on a daily basis.

After I've lived, studied, job searched and worked in three different countries half the globe away from one another, I was amazed at how common those hiring challenges are, no matter the external conditions.

Ask any employer, and they’ll tell you how they have to fight for top talent and never have enough of it, with or without the ATS.
People hire people.

When I used to be on the hiring side, I realized the enormous value of building a human connection with job candidates. Regardless of the final outcome.
I also remember how few of those candidates made it their goal to build a connection with me, the recruiter, or the employer.

Here’s what you can do.

You need to start a real human conversation. Create a real-life connection with the employer.

Instead of spending hours looking for job postings that fit your profile, you can focus on the business problems you as a professional can help resolve.

Instead of smashing tons of keywords in your resume and cover letter, like everyone else does, you can be human and write how your unique strengths and skills can benefit the employer.

Instead of aiming to resonate with ATS, you can aim to resonate with your actual target audience – the decision maker – by anticipating their needs and presenting your personal brand in the form of real solutions.

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You can skip the merciless online application process.

Why play the Elimination Game, where one keyword or unsatisfied criterion can throw you out?

Instead, you can play the Hiring Game.

Here are the basic rules:
1 – Find the hiring manager who has the power to make the hiring decision and reach out to them directly

2 – Focus on their needs and challenges, as opposed to your own objectives or credentials

3 – Send them a human-written resume with a cover letter, explaining how you can make their life easier

4 – Invite them to start a real conversation without obsessing over getting a job offer right away

5 – Be authentic and not afraid to express your voice

In this game you don’t lose anything.

And your guaranteed prize includes:

• winning invaluable human trust,
• gaining a real-life connection and expanding your network,
• having your application read by another human,
• separating yourself from hundreds of other applicants,
• increasing your odds of being invited to an interview.  

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About Ana Lokotkova: Hi, I’m Ana. I am an independent job interview coach and resume writer based in Calgary, Canada. When the energy-focused economy of our province of Alberta was hit hard by the recent oil price collapse, I took on the mission of helping job seekers fight for the careers they love and deserve. I am fortunate and grateful to be serving clients who come from a wide variety of locations, industries and position levels. I help them approach their job-hunt with confidence, effective tools and strategies, and a clear action plan that gets them noticed by decision-makers. If you are seeking career search or resume writing assistance, please connect with her on LinkedIn.
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Talent Hack was founded by Lindsay Mustain, #asklindsay. I am a recruiter by trade and a humanist by condition. The existential question that drives me is "How can I help you?" Marrying together my expertise in talent acquisition and candidate experience this question becomes "How can I help you find your dream opportunity?"

My vision is to one day help organizations realize the impact of valuing human beings as people and not as pieces of paper. Until that time, I share unapologetic advice and job search strategies that work within the current system. Learn more at:

I help to bridge the gap between job seekers and employers through branding, the candidate experience and journey, along with disruptive talent acquisition strategies. My journey at Amazon led me to becoming their most visible employee by speaking on talent attraction, candidate experience (CandX), and humanizing the talent acquisition process.

I launched Talent Paradigm in 2017 with the goal of leveling the playing field for candidates in the job seeking process. My organization provides coaching, resume writing, branding, and consulting services and products to help improve candidate outcomes.
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