How to get past applicant tracking systems and reach human human eyes.

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When you search Google for information, your success in finding what you want depends on typing the most appropriate words. So it goes when employers search for job candidates.

Most large and midsize employers use applicant tracking systems — software applications that cull applications for a posted position. The systems make cuts by matching words in résumés to the same keywords posted in the job descriptions.

Industry experts estimate that automated cuts often dump three-fourths of applications before human hirers enter the process. That’s a huge reason you must tailor your résumé to each job for which you apply.

Job hunters understandably get frustrated when they believe they’re perfect for a job but fall into a cyberspace black hole. It’s absolutely true that terrific matches are missed by computer scans, so read these tips to improve your odds.

Word for word
If a job description says “work experience” is required, use those exact words in your résumé. Don’t expect the tracking system to know that “career experience” or “work history” means the same thing.

Optimize keywords
Research multiple job postings by the organization to find the keywords used most often. Look for the LinkedIn profiles of people who hold the position you want or of people who work in that organization. What words do they use?
Most tracking systems weigh keywords. If you have more “high quality” keywords, the system will award you a higher score and your résumé is likelier to reach human eyes. Weights vary by organization. Some online services, such as Jobscan, market themselves as a way to win over the “résumé robot” by analyzing your résumé compared to the job description.

Match with social media
Make sure your social media profiles include keywords that might help your job search. Some employers also use social media recruiting software that trolls the internet for candidates.

Spell it out (right)
Don’t use abbreviations that the tracking system might not be programmed to recognize. Spell out words. And spell correctly.

Standardize format
Don’t submit résumés as PDFs. Don’t use tables or graphics. Don’t use unusual typefaces. Any of those can cause your resume to be ignored or misread.

Get it all in
Unlike human readers, applicant tracking systems won’t dump your résumé because it’s “too long.” If you feel that you can’t squeeze your relevant experience on the usually recommended one or two pages, go longer.

Wasted trick
An aside: Most newer tracking systems aren’t fooled by a trick that used to work. In earlier versions, applicants could aim for a higher ranking by hiding multiple keywords in their documents, using white text that human eyes couldn’t see but that the software could read. Not likely anymore.


Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Email her at dstafford@kcstar.com.