IT Employment

Why keyword-scanning tools are used on resumes: A recruiter's perspective

Recruiter Tim Heard responds to Toni's blog on keyword-scanning tools used to sort through resumes. He explains why they're needed and how they can actually help qualified applicants.
Toni Bowers: Recruiter Tim Heard wanted to respond to my blog about the misuse of keyword scanning technology. Here is his response.

One of the things I really like about being about to write for TechRepublic is that it gives me the opportunity to peel back the curtain from time to time and give job seekers a peek at what happens on the inside of companies with respect to the screening and hiring process. So, I was very appreciative when Toni agreed to let me offer a differing perspective on her article, "Why you may be cheating your company when you use keyword scanning apps."

Without rehashing much of what I said in "Perception and Reality in Today's Job Market," I'll start by saying that all the recruiters I have ever known have cared about doing their jobs well. First, they get to know the hiring managers, who often are overworked and understaffed. They know that it's important to get people on board who can contribute to the team and who can be relied on to do a good job. Second, they often get to know the candidates too throughout the hiring process.

I got an email just yesterday from the first person I ever placed as a consultant. That was over ten years ago. I think his assignment maybe lasted six months, but we have stayed in touch since then. He's now a manager and was asking advice regarding how he could prepare himself to grow into positions of greater responsibility in the coming years. Interestingly, his boss back then, my first client, became someone I recruited for a BI leadership role just a couple of years ago when I was working as a contract recruiter for a large corporation. (He owned his own consulting company at the time when we first met.)

I can remember lots of stories (and have forgotten far more) of recruiters telling me how glad they were that so-and-so got hired, because of how badly that person needed a job. Or taking pride in how well someone was working out.

Is it true that  all recruiters, or that even the good ones become best friends with all the candidates that they meet? Of course not.  There aren't enough hours in the day, and most people have only so much emotional energy to invest. I'm starting with this assumption though, because you don't have to look far to find reader comments who believe that all recruiters are uncaring idiots, or that companies don't care about hiring good people. (Yes, I agree that some don't.   agree that some companies have commoditized people - especially contractors - and we can discuss that at length in another blog article.)

Why keyword search tools are helpful

Let's look at an example of an average recruiter, working for a fairly large corporation. Let's assume it's large enough that they are able to post positions on their website, and have a reasonably good applicant tracking system on the back end. Let's assume that the recruiter has 25 open positions to fill and each open position received several hundred online applications. (I have seen some positions receive over 500 applicants in a matter of just a few days.) If that recruiter spent just one minute skimming through every resume submitted, with no breaks for anything else...lets assume an average of 200 applicants per job...it would take 5000 minutes, or over 83 hours, just to skim through the resumes.

#1 Eliminating the 90%

I just got off the phone with DK Burnaby, a senior recruiter with Concur. He agreed with my basic premise. (I almost said, "He concurred," but thought that would be lame, so I didn't.)

The issue, from his perspective is one of prioritization. That is, you want to focus most of your time on the candidates that are most likely to be a fit.

The average recruiter, he said, probably is working on anywhere from 15 to 50 open requisitions (positions) at the same time. When you take out meetings, phone calls, interviews, extending offers, and all the other things that take up a recruiter's time, he or she may only have as little as 30 minutes per opening to spend screening candidates. Sticking with the one minute per resume assumption (though it often takes much longer) the recruiter could screen 30 resumes. If she found two she liked and contacted them out of the 30, they might be good candidates, but they might not be the "best" candidates, because there would be 170 that didn't get looked at.

DK primarily does technical recruiting. In his opinion, about 99 percent of the positions he supports benefit from using key word searches to help narrow the field. "Even for sales positions," he added, "there are generally some key words or phrases" that can be used to help narrow the field to "most likely" prospects for the position. In addition to key word searches, he often uses pre-screening questionnaires to further narrow the field. All of this is so that he can then spend more time reviewing the most likely prospects.

My personal experience is that, at best, the most likely candidates make up maybe ten percent of the applicants for any given position. Many are not even remotely qualified. When a corporate recruiter who's using a reasonably good system pulls up an applicant, she can see the applicant's entire history. Often, I'd see candidates who applied for every single position that a company had posted, with no regard to what the position requirements were. Also, it isn't unusual at all to post things like "local candidates only" or "must be able to work in the U.S. without sponsorship" and get a huge influx of resumes from Hyderabad, Moscow, and East Timor. I can remember posting a temporary, entry level customer service position a number of years ago that happened to require someone who could speak Spanish. In the ad, surrounded by stars, I said something like, "This is ONLY a temp position and the client will ONLY consider local candidates." It didn't matter, candidates from all over the world zeroed in on the word "Spanish" and sent me their resumes. My point is, that I don't want to spend my time on the 90% who aren't remotely qualified. Key word searches are one of several tools a recruiter can use to narrow the field.

#2 Tools help less experienced recruiters

I don't remember exactly what the situation was, but when I was still fairly new to technical recruiting, I had an opening for a Java developer that also required some sort of specific technical experience. I came across a guy who I thought looked promising, but was concerned because he didn't seem to have the specific word listed on his resume that I was looking for. When I spoke with him, I expressed concern that he might not be a good fit, because he didn't have that specific type of experience.

Apparently, he had dealt with a lot of similar recruiters in the past, who maybe were good at key word searches, but lacked a broader understanding of the positions they were filling. It happens. Even experienced recruiters find themselves venturing into water that's over their heads from time to time. Anyway, he unleashed on me, and let me know his opinion of recruiters in general (which wasn't good) and essentially said that if I had any brains, I'd understand that he DID have the experience I was looking for, but not listed in the way I was looking for it.

I apologized, and ended up forwarding his resume to the manager, even offering the manager a discount on the placement fee for that individual if he hired him, because I had underestimated his qualifications to begin with. The manager ended up interviewing him, but not extending an offer. It was a good learning experience for me though, and I was able to redeem myself in the eyes of the developer, as well as scoring some points with the hiring manager.

The thing is, there are tools that would have actually helped me identify that the candidate was a likely fit. I can remember working with a company quite some time ago that didn't yet have an applicant tracking system. That is, they were receiving all resumes by mail or fax, or else people could walk in and fill out applications. All logging and filing of resumes was done manually, which was a nightmare. I started doing some research, and hit on a product at the time that was the gold standard of applicant tracking systems. They had compiled a database of every skill known to man, and all the various ways that the skill might be listed. So, if I searched for ERP experience, it was bright enough to also flag anyone with any of the various ERP solutions listed on their resumes, taking into consideration the variety of ways many of them might be listed.

That was over 10 years ago.  There have been a lot of advances in the industry since then.  A good candidate management system can take a job description and create a profile of what the recruiter is looking for, then find candidates who generally match the profile.  That is, a system can differentiate between someone who leans more toward user interface development work, as opposed to someone who really is better at working on the back end and has really solid database skills.  They do more than look for a key word.  They can look at the total picture.  (Admittedly some do this well.  Others don't. )  The point though is that if the recruiter only knows to look for the acronym "ERP" because the job description says, "ERP experience required" the system can probably help, and also can probably differentiate between users, implementation team leads, developers, and so on.

Word searches don't make hiring decisions

Some time back in my history, I had a boss who was feeling some pressure to get a particular position filled that I was working on. He got online and found a bunch of resumes that listed a particular skill and emailed them to me with the instructions, "Call these  people."

Let's pretend the skill was Dataflex programming. (It wasn't. I just don't want to put a date on the search and then reflect back to *which* of my many previous bosses did this.) As I looked at the resumes, most listed Dataflex under education, or in statements like, "Some day I'd like to learn Dataflex." None were even remotely qualified for the opening I was working on, and it seemed unlikely that they even knew someone who was qualified. My chances of networking with them to connect with someone who was qualified were about the same as opening the phone book and calling random numbers.

My point is that someone has got to read and discern what the applicant has written. That's generally left to the recruiter as the first person who slogs his or her way through hundreds of resumes or more in order to find some worth screening. Ultimately though, there's always a hiring manager, who is an expert on what he or she needs, who is going to pass judgment on the job the recruiter has done of turning up good candidates. Let's face it, if the recruiter isn't turning up qualified people, the recruiter will be out of a job soon enough.

So, why not game the system then?

I see a lot of variants of this posted by disgruntled job seekers: "OK, so what I'll do is just list every key word under the sun on my resume, and then I'll get lots of calls."

That's possibly true. Of course, the people who are calling will most likely be idiots. Because if you have every skill under the sun listed, you're misrepresenting yourself and they should be able to see that. Furthermore, most of the calls you get will be a waste of your time, because they will be likely keyed in on some skill you listed that probably isn't even one of your strengths, or something you enjoy. "Yes sir. Thanks for calling, but it was 15 years ago when I programmed in COBOL, and I'm not interested in moving to India."

I used to regularly get emails from a candidate who was a master of gaming the system. Not only was his resume packed full of key words, he had his own website, also packed with key words, and had developed a resume blasting tool that he used to regularly spam countless recruiters and hiring managers. While I gave him an A for being creative and persistent, ultimately I ended up blocking his emails because I had interacted with him enough that I knew what his skills really were, and knew where to find him if I needed those skills. (I hate being spammed. I have come very close to blocking emails from a close relative who can't seem to resist forwarding every email to me that says "send this to 10 people you love," that Apple is giving away iPads, or that there's a bill going through Congress that would make owning an Afghan Hound illegal because it's unpatriotic.)

If you're qualified, these tools are your friend

This isn't rocket science. Good recruiters know that not everyone lists every single thing they know on their resume. They also understand that there are a lot of variations with respect to how a skill might be listed. For the ones that don't yet know this, various search tools can be a big help.

You can definitely make it easier for recruiters to find you by providing a few details about yourself. If you are applying for a technical position, having a technical skills summary near the top of your resume is a good idea. Here's a pretty good article on the subject, and here's a pretty good example for developers. I gravitate more toward the bulleted approach like those in the article with skills listed out to the right, rather than long columns of skills:

  • Languages:
  • Databases:
  • Operating Systems:
  • Software:

This approach takes up less space, and is easier for hiring managers to read. I think the examples provided in the article may be a bit over the top but wouldn't fault anyone for listing so much.

If you want to include a keyword section, that's fine. Rather than list everything under the sun, focus on variations of what you consider to be your strengths, as well as skills that may set you apart from the rest of the pack. Put it at the end of your resume, and call it something creative like, "Keyword List."  Here's another tip. If you are concerned about appearance, change the font color in the key word section to white. It's still text, and search engines will still find the keywords. If you list a skill though, be prepared to justify to someone at some point in the interview process why you listed it, especially if it happens to be the key skill that's required for the job.

Again, as a recruiter, I want to spend as much time as possible reading your resume rather than the resume of the person who majored in art history, sold farm equipment for the last ten years, and now wants to apply for mobile device testing position I'm trying to fill. I would rather actually even have time to call you on the phone and get to know something about you beyond what's on paper, than individually reading the resumes of all the people who indiscriminately blast resumes out for every position they see posted on the Internet.

After all, to paraphrase a really great editor I know, finding the right person for a job is about much more than just matching key words.

52 comments
marcuspol
marcuspol

Don't employ unlucky people! If you have too many CV take a pile and put them in the bin, those are the unlucky ones, don't employ them ;)))

schmidtd
schmidtd

Have you compared your success rate with resumes that match your keyword searches with a pool of randomly selected resumes? Perhaps taken 50 random resumes at the start then used the screening software to find the best 50 from the remainder and determined where the successful candidates (or top candidates) came from and how often. I know you are saying to yourself, "well, if I am looking for a SQL admin, if SQL isn't on the resume there is no way this person is qualified". Let me suggest the following, if you correctly communicated your requirements, I highly doubt 90% of your applicants have no clue what the job is about or any ability to do it. Or in other words while there will be a percentage of people who will throw in a resume on a job they know nothing about and can't quickly learn to "give it a shot", most people today still will not. I can be proven wrong, but you have to perform the test like the one listed above! Again to use the SQL example, if you are looking for the term SQL, if you have it in the job announcement you will get people who are just parroting the announcement. If you keep the term hidden, then you aren't communicating your needs. Note also by performing the above test, even if you found a difference in candidates, it would help you figure out how helpful different types of keyword searches are! Wouldn't you at least like to know you are using the software right? To paraphrase the OP, the *real* problem appears to be recruiters get too many resumes to examine so they must rely on software to screen out resumes. BTW this is no surprise to me, I have always been a little suspicious of posting job opening on the internet. It is fairly obvious that you could get way to many applicants to do anything intelligent with. Maybe the issue has to do with the ways people are recruited in the first place?

Englebert
Englebert

Lets say you have a company looking for candidates with experience in, lets say, Java, SQL and COBOL. To keep things simple, two candidates present themselves. Sally Smart has Java and COBOL, but no SQL. Dan Dumb has all 3 and gets hired by virtue of those skills. After a year, Dan has to be let go, because he lacks all of the other intangible, interpersonal skills and even learning skills that would have made Sally the better employee had the company given her the opportunity to pick up tech skills and run with. I've seen this happen. The tangibles are easy to master, the intangibles perhaps never. And companies hiring based on key-word searches are operating on short-term quarterly performances following the business model of their executives who cannot see beyond a year.

redux
redux

Wow, Tim. You give so many reasons why managers should never use internal recruiters, and why they should choose recruiters with some care. First, 2 weeks to review resumes for 25 jobs that had better take a recruiter at least 3 months to fill -- or the recruiter cannot be doing even a portion of a decent job -- is hardly out of line! That's only half a day per position! That's really way too little time. Perhaps that's why corporate recruiters give recruiting such a bad image: half a day isn't even enough time to find out what skills are needed, what the terms of art for the position are, and how to tell the difference between a candidate who knows something and a complete misfit. I also take exception to your calculation for the time to review 200 resumes. Although 3 1/2 hours might be right, it certainly shouldn't be done at a minute per resume; more like 5 seconds per off-target resume, and 10 to 15 minutes per reasonable resume. Both of these points make key-word scanning software worthless. Once I have an idea what a good candidate looks like (by going over several resumes), then I can scan a larger number of resumes looking for the skills and dynamics of a good candidate -- and how good candidates describe what they do. Only then would I be prepared to set some automated tool to scan resumes -- but how worthless, at that point, since I have already scanned some number of them, and by the time I think through the hierarchy of appropriate phrases to scan for, I can scan a hundred more. Of course, by personally scanning the resumes, I have begun to prepared myself to be able to speak with good candidates intelligently and can then learn distinguishing aspects of the skill sets needed -- because I have some rudimentary knowledge of the position. There may be a simple lesson for candidates here, at least for ones with job-specific knowledge and skill: if you apply online ANYWHERE, you are making a big mistake, because the odds against a machine (or the process described by Tim) finding you are minuscule, and you are no longer a viable candidate for a recruiter who does a real job. Think about it.

IT Resume Writing Guru
IT Resume Writing Guru

I write resumes for a living for IT recruiters of all people. Most of the time when I hear candidates say they get calls from clueless recruiters, it because of one of two things: 1. Resume isn't targeted to one position 2. Use the wrong keywords I'm not saying you won't get the occasional call from a clueless IT recruiter, however, I found a well-targeted resume with keywords targeted towards the position you are looking for will help you avoid the clueless ones. That's just my 2 cents.

bastokyg
bastokyg

To me, the key is "...you want to focus most of your time on the candidates that are most likely to be a fit." I constantly get email and phone calls from recruiters who obviously aren't focusing, period. They say, "we reviewed your resume and think you would be an excellent fit for this position." The position has the word "manager" in it and I worked on designing the UX for a software product with the term "manager" in the title. I'm not a Bank Manager. I don't manage IT departments. I'm a UX Designer and not an excellent fit as a Bank Manager (although these days I have to wonder...). If this happened occasionally, I could understand, but twice or more a week? Come on, my time is worth more than that, and I would appreciate the courtesy of a recruiter actually spending their time, not mine, filtering out the applicants. I haven't even applied for these jobs. Sorry, but there is no excuse.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

When I worked as a BDM for a major recruiter, there were at least 5 companies that published keywords for potential applicants to pepper their resumes with, based on a monthly subscription of course. they would find out exactly what a particular company was seeking, and sell you the list so you would be found, they even guarantee their accuracy and your ability to get interviews. As a recruiter, we would then start including 'tagged' keywords so we knew when someone had simply paid a service to find out what a particular company was seeking and we could easily identify people who were literally BUYING keywords to get interviews. This whole keywords in a database crap is so badly thought out anyway, it is a tool for recruiters (who you really must avoid using at all costs)and not a very good one either. What even happened to the age old format of cold calling and presenting your skills to an employer you CHOOSE to apply to instead of using online tools to simply bomb advertising employers/recruiters with resumes, its SO inefficient and you get paid less! Many company's use recruiters these days and are bound to not hire outside of that channel, BUT, they have loophole sin their contracts too and a GOOD QUALITY cold call, rehearsed, to a key contact instead of HR, will usually sidle right around HR completely and get you an interview with a hiring manager instead of HR, regardless of the usual company policies. Companies, make that the C-Level staff, will be happy to push your resume through if they like what they hear, they only resort to recruiters as it is the best method THEY have for searching, a well presented prospect always gets noticed and pushed through though, I don't care what your company policies are. I've been told before, "there's no way you can talk to anyone but HR at our company, you will just get redirected to HR if you call through the back door." A quick, well planned call to the owner has us having lunch the same week and bypassing HR and all shortlisted applicants in no time. Ever ALMOST had a job and then been told it was filled, when you were SURE you were the best applicant? Maybe someone one upped you and bypassed HR altogether, their pick only works unless their boss hasn't found someone better already. Keywords, blech! Write a good resume and pick up the freakin' phone! A little practice and you'll be bypassing the receptionist/gatekeeper, you'll be talking to key people, gathering key email addresses, setting your OWN interviews with the people that actually run the company and make decisions, not the HR staff that work for it but have little knowledge of your role.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

So what you're saying is IT s*****d the pooch! Brilliant! We already knew that. Everyone has too much noise input. Welcome to the internet age. We should never have created email. And the intelligent web was a mistake. There's only one problem. Keywords are not the complaint you keep hearing (it's only a symptom). The problem is the recruiter you are describing (caring, both sides of the job, over 10 years, able to read and understand) is few, far between and I have met exactly one in the past year! 99% of the recruiters now have less than 3 months experience, are barely able to read a secretarial resume let alone a technical resume, and don't have a clue about the other half of the job. Bottom line is that recruitment agencies are paid to provide a single service -- find applicants who match a need. The structures that are now in place no longer support that service. Recruitment agencies have ceased to provide value for cost. Instead they are focusing on their own (short-term) profits at the expense of their ability to provide service. And, BTW, focusing an article solution on wonderful software that no one has (or at least no one seems to use) is silliness at its worst. You would have been better to focus the article on the problems recruiters face -- such as lack of experience, knowledge, training, feedback and time.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

This is about your business model. With these tools You can employ cheap clueless numpties with a phone and email. You can build a relationship with a client over dinner. You can cut the amount of applicants using effectively irrelevant criteria easily and cheaply. You, you, you and I'm sure there's another you or two in there as well. Naff all about them (the client), or us the applicant! Doesn't matter what keywords I put in my resume, I still get calls for roles I'm wholly unsuited to, or are a nonstarter for me. I got one because the name of the road I live on happens also to be the name of a proprietry tech! One lot never sent me anything because I put location Europe and they hadn't passed basic geography. I had to put UK in as well ! I've had three for helicopter maintenance, because I had engineer in my job title once. I was discounted for one role because I'd spelt SQL correctly! As for gaming, what do you call some of the adverts that are put out. Wanted MCSE,.Net, Java, SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, ASP, Linux, MCSE, CCNA, MCP, Sharepoint, IIS, Lotus notes, Phd in computer related science, minimum five years experience working alone in a team environment, will do overtime for free, for a move to basic with line numbers. Salary up to 15k FOR THE RIGHT APPLICANT, Knightsbridge, must live local. Anyone with knowledge of AI, genetic algorithms and neural nets will have an advantage. You want to be more efficient and offer a higher quality service, stop soft soaping your clients. Tell them this sort of thing is f'ing bollocks, it's not as if you are going to get paid anyway is it? I've had recruiters on the phone begging me to put myself forward for roles like this even though I wouldn't take the role as advertised in a million years, and so THEY can get paid. Me taking time off and commuting a few hundred miles was just a price I had to pay for such an unmissable opportunity. Sort yourselves out!

sherman.meeds
sherman.meeds

When I and my supervisor both submitted resumes for the same job, I scored a 95% based on keyword recognition and he scored a 73%. He had twice the experience I did and as well rounded. However, he had chosen different "key" words than I had. I was called in for an interview, and he was not. It was not to the company's benefit that he was excluded, since he would have been the better candidate.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but your's is probably cheaper. Another option that would be equally successful, would be to make them in to paper aeroplanes and then pick those that fly furthest.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

I promise you. This isn't just people responding to ads. This is people responding to positions posted on corporate websites. I know it sounds insane, but as much as you all can't believe a sane recruiter would call you about a position that's clkearly not even related to your firld, I can't believe the resumes I get, and I'm not alone. Yes, people can improve their results some with better ads. Having said that, when I post an add and then say "****Candidates ABSOLUTELY MUST be able to work in the US without sponsorship*****" or "***local candidates only***" and then get inquiries from the other side of the globe, it isn't a matter of writing good ads. There are people who will go to a company website, and then apply for every single open IT position. Or worse, every single position. Or in the same way that a recruiter will mistakenly key in on 1 word on a resume, candidates will do the same with a job description. Also, to be clear, not ll keyword searches are software driven. For example, I can make up my own search strings if I want to, which is what I generally will do.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

You're absolutely right. if a company is not also taking behavioral skills into consideration when making the hiring decision, they are setting themselves up for failure. And you're absolutely correct too key word searches don't do a good job of determining things like interpersonal skills, learning aptitude, and so on. Neither does reading every resume in detail though. You can't physically interview every person by phone, or in person, so you have to use some mechanism for determining how to narrow the field in a way that yields reasonable results and works within budget and time constraints. Any system that is adopted obviously has shortcomings. For example, a company could hire enough recruiters that they had a ratio of 1 veteran recruiter per open position and all recruiters could meet individually with all interested candidates. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how and why that approach wouldn't last long. Seriously though, anyone who can think of a mechanism that would significantly improve the process is welcome to email me with the idea and we can discuss it. My frustration, Englebert, is when Fantastic fred has all the skills that the company needs PLUS solid behavioral skills, and still doesn't get selected. Or the company's hiring manager is so busy that the interviews get delayed until the candidate ends up taking another job. ... Or there's a hiring freeze, leaving candidate, hiring manager, and recruiter all pulling out their hair...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Nigel Nearly having all three and not being as dumb as Dan. Techs are two a penny you see, knock up personal website, do a boot camp, and a advertised on TV excel course and you too could be be an IT professional and earn pots of money. Ho hum, their bed, let them lie in it.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

Maybe I need to go back and reread my article, but I think what I said was in agreement with your assessment that to truly evaluate any given candidate, you need more than a minute per resume. The numbers were an example of how idiotic and time consuming it would be to try to evaluate ALL of the people who apply one-by-one, given that 90% aren't remotely qualified to begin with. Furthermore, a good deal of any recruiter's time needs to be spent not on just looking at people who have applied online, but searching and networking externally, actually targeting people who likely have the required skills for a position. Again, to be clear, someone who's using key word searches is simply narrowing the field to something that's manageable. Sometimes, just by entering a word or two, you can eliminate scores of people who clearly didn't read the ad at all. If you then ad something like degree or residency requirements, you are able to further focus on people who are likely prospects ... the ones you want to invest your time really reading in detail. If you're a network engineer and have applied for a position at a company, do you really want the corporate recruiter reading resumes in detail from accountants, English majors and sales professionals rather than using some key words to weed those folks out?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

works. My biggest problem isn't coming up on the radar in terms of keywords, (after twenty+ years you end up with lot of them), it's avoiding coming up for damn near every coding job they have. I've been chopping keywords out of my resume. Took javascript out because I kept getting hits for java roles for instance. A true story. I got a hit for DEC Basic, which of course I've never done, Visual Basic, even Quick Basic. However I have done Fortran and C on DECs. I was somewhat puzzled why someone was still looking for this stuff, the recruiter cleared that up. The last guy doing the job died! Relocation coupled with a 25% paycut and stepping backwards a tech aeon, dimned the attractiveness of the opportunity even further....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

How do you target the role detailed in my "bollocks" post. How do you have one resume that targets a number of roles in an arena where tool usage has a greater appeal than than skill with the underlying tech. Oh right you get paid for each one, no problem.... The mass market approach, one resume plus wordsearch has made you a niche profession and I'm afraid I want to get paid isn't going to cut it in terms of reversing that trend. Opportunities to get a return on the service you provide are minimal in the mainstream market, and you sure as heck aren't going to guarantee them are you? Might as well by the 2 quid how to write a cv book or hit the interweb for the basic don'ts. If through networking, or searching myself I found that must have role, I would be tempted to get a resume makeover to improve my chances, for a run of the mill techy role, not worth the time or the effort. Like I said I got one hit because I live on a road with the same name as a tech, you weren't going to leave off my address were you? They don't read them, they wordsearch them. Some people just insert masses of buzzwords but in white text on the white background, easy and doesn't even cost 2 cents.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

I think you just helped make my point, but also the point of the many others who have had the frustrating experience of dealing with recruiters who really didn't understand the roles they were trying to fill. Again, to be clear, key word searches, if used properly, are sort of like the GPS system that can help you find your way to the mall. Once you get there, you still have to figure out what to get your wife for Christmas. If you're a clueless recruiter, it's much like a clueless husband who brings her home a giftwrapped PS3 or a new riding lawnmower. ... He was in the right neighborhood and walked right past the jewelry store, but was too clueless to know better. It wasn't the fault of the GPS system though, which got him where he needed to be.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

It's a whole different topic, but there is definitely a lot to be said for networking. For example, when I get open positions I automatically go to my contacts and see if they know of anyone who's good. One problem that many people have is that they think of networking as something that they should do once they get laid off. Networking is something that they should always be doing. Everyone reading this article, for example, should have a LinkedIn profile and should always be using that tool as a means of connecting with more people in one's respective field. ... That's even if you are extremely happy with your job. Not every though is going to get filled because someone got a lunch appointment with the CEO, or with the hiring manager. I frequently exchange emails with high level individuals very late at night, when they are finally getting to their backlog of emails. They are so busy that lunch appointments or phone calls with would-be applicants don't rate very high on their priority lists. In instances like that, LinkedIn can be a handy tool.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

PMP, that would be a good article. I have hit on many of those things in past articles, but I'm not sure of the benefit of saying that not all recruiters are experienced. That's sort of like saying that not all developers have strong database skills. It's a given. You can't only employ veterans in all roles, regardless of the profession. Also, keep in mind that the technique I described for finding candidates isn't just used by agencies. It's corporate HR departments too. The question I would ask is what's the alternative? Yes, we all work hard to develop relationships with people in the community, and I make a lot of placements based on referrals. Still, when resumes come in, you have got to have a way to make the tasks manageable.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

for repeatedly *****ing it.. And of course us and his customers should juts live with it.

jonrosen
jonrosen

This is one of the things that I see often and is just idiotic. Most of the top techs I know, never did computer science as a major in college. Why? Because 99% of the Comp-Sci major (at least when I went) was programming. I. HATE. PROGRAMMING. Can I do it? Yes. You'd better be paying a LOT more than the default. I do a good job at it, and it bores me to death. I knew before college, that I wanted to do networking, systems, and just general tech (I like working with my hands). Not one course in college ever related to any of this. So why would I bother? Hell, I took AP Computers in High School, and even before that, I'd written most of the 1st and 2nd year Comp-Sci programming on my own. I was a Theater Arts major. I'm also a Certified Hypnotist. I'm an Eagle Scout, and more. I've over 10 years doing general IT.. I've gotten turned down because I wasn't a Comp-Sci major. And no, most of them weren't for programming gigs.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

The recruiter gets a percentage of the new hires first year's salary, that's why you always get paid more when you find your own job. 12-16% is average but I've seen some cut deals in the mid 20% range. The company offer's $50K, 16% of that goes to the recruiter and the company pays the new hire $42K/yr. This is where the scam begins. They find overqualified people, desperate for work, they put hem forth to the employer who thins WOW, this recruiter gets excellent prospects, CHEAP!! The employee takes the job, at a loss, and stays for one year then moves on to something better. The company then hires that same recruiter that brought them such overqualified talent so cheap and the process continues. The recruiter finds another, overqualified employee who works for low pay out of sheer desperation, for one year then moves on. The recruiter LOVES this, as they get paid a percentage of the FIRST year's salary, if you stay they stop getting paid, if you leave they make more money. Recruiters are NOT there for the employee or the company, they are there to find temporary placements, annual turnover is where they see real profit. Why do you think there are so many recruiters these days? I had one call me out of the blue (I wasn't looking at the time)and qualify me for a role with a company that I wasn't too keen on but it was a decent starting point with a good potential future and FAIR salary even if low for me normally. I was working at the time and said that IF the company would meet me, I would consider a role with them. Two weeks later she followed up and said she wasn't successful but she gave me the company name at that point. I just happen to know the owner VERY well, so I called him to see what was up. He told me the recruiter was not even HIRED by them and that she had been trying to sell him their services by proposing potential employees to them. It's not unique, they do it all the time as it is how they scour for business, find candidates and use them to sell their recruiting service to employers. Recruiters are just sales teams, that's it.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

First, I automatically like anyone who uses the word "Bollocks" in a post, even if it's common on his side of the pond. :-) Second, I totally agree with you regarding unreasonable job postings. It's a common problem when the supply of candidates is much larger than the supply of jobs. ... Much different than back in the day (for instance the height of the dot com days) when all you needed was a pulse and some semblance of web development experience. ... Or back when having COBOL on your resume would guarantee you a high paying Y2K consulting job. As someone who doesn't get paid unless I place the applicants with whom I work, I can definitely appreciate the frustration of knowing someone could do the job, yet not being able to convince the HR Manager (or sometimes even hiring manager) that it was the case. I can't say though that key word search software necessarily is to blame, not that it solves the problem. When 500+ people are applying for 1 opening, sometimes the best person doesn't get picked. (Or at least the one I feel is the best.)

Ed.Pilling
Ed.Pilling

I have submitted resumes for jobs I was qualified for and less then 30 minutes later I got a auto response saying sorry Charlie. Then a friend of mine told me this trick. Copy the requirements out of the job posting and put it into word. Remove all commas and periods so it looks like one run on sentence. Then change the font to one point. It will now look like a thick line. Copy that and put it just under your name on your resume. When the scanning software sees it, all the requirements are in your resume and it will put your resume into the good pile.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Usually they interviewer has the applicants resume at hand, the applicant may question why it has airplane like folds in it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

One set of idiots turned me down as a client server developer because the other guy was an "ADO expert". That's like picking an author based on how good they are with a pencil sharpener. My personal favourite, you'll like this one the recruitment firm in question must have laughed their arses off all the way to the bank. Applied for a role got an interview, did very well. They wanted someone with my tools and ten years minimum experience. Didn't get the job... Six months later same recruiter rang me up and asked if I wanted to go again, the cheap newbie grad they'd given the technical lead role for a high impact critical development hadn't worked out.... Don't know if they filled the role, because I won't work for proven morons, but if they did they got paid twice.... They probably ruined or at least damaged the poor gowk they gave the job to as well, talk about being thrown in the deep end... No long term in corporate IT is another endemic problem.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but accountant is on my resume. I write software for them....

IT Resume Writing Guru
IT Resume Writing Guru

Unfortunately, there are two types of IT recruiters -? inept and competent. The inept IT recruiter will write a job posting like the one you listed in your Bollocks post and will quickly scan your IT resume. A competent IT recruiter will write a targets job posting and use the keyword scanning to narrow down their choices. Unfortunately, there are too many inept IT recruiters. If you want to competent IT recruiters to find you -- write a targeted IT resume for the position you are looking for. That?s my only point. I write resume for IT recruiters not the general public. The number one complaint of most of my clients [IT Recruiters] have is ?- ?I have a great candidate but their IT resume isn?t targeted to the position?. Can you fix it? 9 times out of 10 a well-targeted IT resume gets an interview and ultimately the job. For the record, I do offer a money-back guarantee.

bastokyg
bastokyg

Well, it's a bit disheartening to experience such a high percentage of cluelessness (if that's a word). Are these the same people who are out there voting? Do they read the voter's manual or do they just scan the ballot, close their eyes and pick one? From the look of things, I'd guess the latter. In any case, there are lots of tools out there that were created with the best of intentions, but it's the user who has to take responsibility to learn to use them properly. Figuring out how to use GPS is much easier than figuring out what to get your wife for Christmas! Even if you're in the correct store :-)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

He bought the lawnmower because the location he put in the GPS, was "something that will vibrate between her legs", slightly ddfferent to the intent which was something that will give her pleasure. Open to even further misinterpation of course. Could have come home with the right or wrong sort of power tool. Still enough of that, the coordinates are remarkably iffy, and word search only clears that up when it come back with no hits, such as hopefully for windows SLQ server....

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

You mean like business facebook? LOL, I use it and several others. LinkedIn is getting a bit cheesy though, I joined a sales group once and the managers that post questions there have got to be the most inept sales managers I've ever encountered. There are guys with a supposed 20 years experience in sales that are asking sales 101 questions. It got to the point that despite the praise for tips I offered I just gave up on it, it's started to turn into Facebook, just a bunch of nobody's trying to pretend they are corporate bigwigs while asking how to sell vacuums door to door. My social networking is mainly bar based, some of Vancouver's greatest contacts hang out in one of three main bars, it's a goldmine for corporate ins.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Some of them are really crap, but there are some good ones about at least in my area (developing). They can be a bit scary, I thought I'd done poorly at my last one and was shocked at the reasonable mark I achieved. Investigating the results breakdown, the areas it said I was weak in were right (because I haven't done anything in those areas), it was surprisingly accurate. It's a challenge test, the more correct answers you provide the harder the questions get. I was well done by the end of it, but it won't scare me as much next time, so maybe I'll do even better. I see some mileage in loose criteria and an email here's the role, take the test if you are interested. Get the arcane techy stuff you will always be generally weak at out of the way, then you can concentrate on the fuzzy people type stuff non-technical people can get better at. Not sure what a deal with n on-line tester will cost you, but they wouldn't have a market at all if the value couldn't be realised. I know certs and scrolls were meant to sort this out, but that was quite obvioulsy wishful thinking.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Never blame on enmity ...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

CS should be my thing, but I have very little time for it. It turns out people who theoretically can code instead if people who know the practical aspects of coding, all art no science. Have to spend the first six months unlearning drivel, and breaking bad habits. Now degree as keyword, that one makes me roll about. I don't have one and recuiters assume I just left it off my resume because it was so long ago.... Employers have simply assumed I must have one because otherwise I wouldn't be able to do what I do. Bass ackwards like much of the rest of their thinking.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Some get paid for interviews. Contracting can be a %age of hourly rate. Some negotiate exclusive deals the client. The entire industry is misaligned, you can make a profit from being really crap at finding the right person for teh job, and vice versa. It's one of those places where the market judgement of good enough really falls down.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you are on a percentage of salary or percentage cut of hourly rate, best for you is the most expensive you can get the client to take. Worse still if you place an unsuitable applicant (blagger, arsehole or left for something better), the role becomes available again and you or someone else gets paid again. You benefit from low retention as an industry. That's why I said it's your business model. How about offerring your clients, a deal where they pay X% more, but those payments are spread out over the employment. Or if it's a contract and you are taking a cut of their hourly rate, you scale that back some to the employer and some to the contractor, and of course reatainng a bit for yourself. You build up a database of clients and candidates who value you as a middle man, as opposed to seeing you as a necessary evil. One of the things I always point out to recruiters is that I'm a direct sort of bloke, and wouldn't be suitable in roles where that attitude isn't welcome. I've been binned by employers with phrases like "too forthright". Not bothered mind I've barely been out of work for near three decades, and have no desire to cope with people who are scared of the truth as I see it. Show me I'm wrong fair enough, hide under the desk when I pass, can't be arsed. Time to start thinking sideways, too many people in all parts of this equation are delusional, from the world owes me a living to I can swap a guy with twenty years in for some cheap twit with a boot camp cert and nothing else. PS Points for having the bollocks to respond, most are still hiding under their desks from the last time they came on here.

dkburn
dkburn

A lot of the comments from readers seem to assume that the recruiter you are dealing with is a bad one. And that very well may be the case. However, I don't think the point of this article is to justify recruiters doing their job poorly. The intention is to assert the validity of keyword searches as a useful tool. Of course keyword searches are going to be useless if you don't back it up with a qualified understanding of the skills required and a competent review of the candidate. However, when combined with best practices in recruiting and a competent recruiter, keyword searches do help make the process more efficient and more accurate. If you are a qualified candidate, this is to your benefit- as it means that you are going to be contacted more quickly and it is less likely that you'll be overlooked among 150+ other applicants. Keywords are a reality of resumes. I have been recruiting for a long time, and I can tell you that it takes me about 10 seconds to identify someone who has just popped in as many keywords as they can without the experience to back it up. Those applicants go into my decline pile immediately. When I review candidates using keyword search, I skip over the big block of keywords. I look for them in context, and only then as a way of moving my eyes immediately to the most relevant experience - which I review in detail. I'll come right out and say it - any recruiter who simply schedules interviews based on a key word percentage match is doing a shoddy job. You can NOT use a percentage match on keywords as an indicator of qualifications. However, you can safely assume that if a candidate has NONE of the keywords for the critical competencies - they aren't a fit and aren't worth spending your time reviewing. YES, there may be exceptions to that, in cases where highly qualified people have no idea how to write effective resumes. But being qualified for a job is not an excuse for being unable to effectively present yourself and your qualifications - all jobs require the ability to effectively communicate. One thing that I want to point out is that, at the end of the day, any recruiter's job and purpose is to find the right talent to fill the need for either their corporation or their client (depending on whether they are corporate or agency). Recruiters do not exist to help you find a job. However, good recruiters care VERY much about providing the best experience possible to the candidates that they come into contact with. Our reputations and networks are key to our success, as is our employment brand - good recruiting teams work very hard to build a good reputation and to provide a good experience.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

LOL. I actually like the creativity. Of course, at some point you have to be able to demonstrate to someone that you have the skills you say you do. With respect to Sherman's comments, he demonstrates that clearly there has got to be someone reviewing the applicants who understands something about the screening process. However, it's equally possible that his supervisor didn't get called in because he was a supervisor and his objective said something about seeking a leadership role. What I'm talking about is not drilling down and only considering applicants who list 100% (or evn 90%) of the desired skills that are listed. What I'm suggesting is that you want me to at least narrow the field if I'm looking for a .Net developer by eliminating everyine for starters who doesn't have C# and SQL listed. (Assuming both are required.) Or if I'm looking for a network engineer, starting off by eliminating everyone who doesn't have Cisco listed somewhere. Yes, you can absolutely drill down so far, or employ so many key words that the search string becomes counterproductive. No doubt about that. If I find some "nice to have" obscure skill that most people in a field take as a given and wouldn't consider listing, then use that to eliminate most of the pool, then it isn't the tool's fault, it's mine.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

MIGHT get you an interview but NOT a job. YOU get the job.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

hope you get some business from US members for it. Integrity should be rewarded. In the UK, near everyone uses job boards. Targeting a resume on there is mistake. Some allow more than one but that won't cut the unwanted hits. It gets better though, many employers have an exclusive deal with an agency, they won't go direct because they'd have to pay them anyway! Better still because job boards are so prevalent, they all or their recruiters advertise on them. The job description you are going to target your resume to could be of bollocks quality and if it isnlt on there you ae down to networking to get a sniff at it. I've done a specifc resume for a role when the recruiter has advised me to do so, but that was basically emphasising an aspect of my experience at the expense of something they assured me would be irrelevant, chopped out a bit of tech that came up in the interview as useful..... Another one advised me to chop out my earliest roles at the place I was going to be interviewed, before their name changed! You'll have to pardon me If I'm somewhat wary of their judgement, on which you would be relying. From the sound of it the UK tech market, except for really rare and top roles doesn't work like yours does.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

role I went for 500+ applicants wouldn't have survived it. You'd be unlucky to get one guy who could score as well as I who would be prepared to get some clueless cheat a job they couldn't do. All the wannabes would log off after the introductory blurb, scared me and I've been coding since I was 14, which was one heck of a long time ago. The mark I got was based on comparing me to the ideal and others who took the test, anyone clever enough to fool it by themselves is worth employing anyway. :( It's not a can't get them all to take the test, it's a don't want to because it will eat up your profits. However that's based on your model of wordsearching and then testing, discount for bulk.... As for saying they don't match the job requirements, nor do keywords, which is where we started. What you are really saying is that wordsearch is cheaper than on-line tests, fair enough you have a crust to earn after all, you don't work for laugh. You work in a highly competitive industry, opportunities for lowering your price have reached your costs, so your only options are added value, eking out subsistence level earnings or ripping off your clients only one of the is a win-win. To be long term successful, added value is the only option. Keyword searching is never ever going to be that. The scariest thing about on-line testing, would be boot camps to take them, businesses based in foreign countries who for a small fee would offer to take them for you. All you can do is make it harder for cheats and numpties to qualify in a never ending battle, sort of a recuitment industry anti- malware. Just to put the tin lid on it, if you reduced the number of available IT people to only those who could do it, you'd hear your clients howling from pluto. There's a reason things like boot camps, testking, sell-a-cert, diploma mills, cookie cutters and the paper certified exist. It's to create an artificial abundance to reduce the costs of those of us who can, making your role harder effectively created your job! And everyone of those of those "work arounds", is to address technical competetence, not the far more valuable ability, how to apply it.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

A company, or agency, generally pays a fee per test administered, so you probably don't administer them up front to everyone. Also, since it's online, there's a matter of verifying that the person taking the test is the actual applicant. (Really. It's an issue.) Also, at least in the US, there needs to be a reasonable link between test performance and job performance. As a rule of thumb though, tests can be helpful, especially for technical roles. There's always the instance of someone who doesn't test well, but is really good. There are a lot of tools in the toolbox that someone can use. Tests, references, referrals, interviews. All of those tend to follow the initial resume screening though. The question remains, if you have 500+ applicants, and don't have an unlimited amount of time to review each one in detail, how do you narrow the field to something manageable?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

for hate. I've learnt to negotiate my way over, under, round or even through the obstacle course recruiters and HR put up to leave time for other pursuits. I have no objection to self interest either, I just won't tolerate people who think I'm dumb enough to believe our interest coincide.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

The company I worked for was UK based, offices here, Austrlia and US. They are that big company (you know them well I am sure) that everyone else started to clone about 12 years ago. They do have a lot of services they offer though, including training the company's HR department. LOL!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

trying to make it clear I'm not a cookie cutter or a one trick pony and that I know what IT is for in business, is the main purpose of that document you would be word searching if was across the pond. :p

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

Discerning between "good" and "bad" recruiters is something like discerning between "good" and "bad" IT professionals. There are a variety of attributes that can make someone one or the other, or both at the same time. Perhaps a topic for a later article. :-)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

attack, that was not the intent. That was you the recruitment industry, not you Mr Tim Heard or your company. You've sort of set yourself up for a spokesman for your industry's point of view and unfortunately some recruiters are "evil", and many if not most employers are satisfied with good enough, especally if it's cheap. Dont even try to tell me some recruiters aren't c**ts I know different. Don't try to tell me that good enough isn't the pervading attitude within corporate IT, I deal with that reality every day. So how do you as a truly professional recruiter, distinguish yourself from your less than reputable colleagues (good enough is insoluble)? A recruiter database where candidates and clients can wordsearch for the right one? The need to wordsearch is a symptom of a disease IT's own success created.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

OK, as the contributor of the article, I'm walking a fine line. The article is about why key word searches can be helpful and we have digressed all the way from "recruiters are evil and stupid" to companies don't care about the quality of the hires they make. I would request though that before you presume to know how I operate, take a look at my profile on LinkedIn and see what real people have said about me. It's really easy to find my email address, and if you wish to make the conversation more about me and less about the topic of the article, then I'd ask that you simply contact me directly.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The self justifying blather, is just irritating. You as an industry gleefully participated in creating the current mess, now you are getting found out. Tough! Tell me, how do you get us to use the keywords you need us to, so you can find us, without telling us what they are, because we'll use them to get found.... How do you make such a system efficient when you have no control over the input data, and as an industry have a habit of employing total numpties, because they are cheap? Seriously I'm interested, I've been creating systems to process data into information for decades, and I can't think of a way to make it work. By the way, the wishful thinking exhibited in your post does not strike me as solution, and if I tried to sell it to you, you'd think I was a c**t.

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