Are Your Online Job Applications Falling into the Black Hole?

These days the first person to look at your resume is not likely to be a person, but a computer. To deal with the sheer onslaught of job applicants, most medium- and large-sized companies use an automated tracking system (ATS) to do the first screening of resumes and applications to decide which ones move forward for a further look by a human or fall into the “black hole,” the corporate database for rejected applications.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the ATS resume robots are not kind to young professionals. The ATS software is tasked with checking off all the boxes, and if you don’t have an extensive job history and skill set that matches the job, you won’t score high enough to be passed along.

But there’s a way to get past the resume robots so that a human can see your resume and hopefully, take a more nuanced approach to your skills and abilities. In doing research for my new book, Graduate to a Great Career, I uncovered four tricks that young professionals can use to outsmart the ATS and land an interview:

1. Carefully study the keywords in the job post and match them on your resume. While this may be fairly obvious, many people use a generic resume for all jobs and don’t spend the time to match keywords. See if there are jobs, volunteer work or internships that you can rewrite so there is a strong keyword match. You can use web services such as Wordle, Resonate, and TagCrowd, which target the most frequently used words in the job listing, to help you do that.

2. Check out the company website for any deeper connections you can make. Look at the company’s mission statement, philanthropic interests and company activities to see if there are connections you can make in  your application with the company’s mission, causes and outside activities. Often, companies look for these kind of ties that show you’d be a good fit.

3. Redouble your effort to connect with someone who works at the company. Increase your efforts to find an internal contact at the company. Check out LinkedIn to see if any of your first-degree or alumni contacts work there or if they are connected with someone who does (second-degree contacts. You can also send an email alert to all your friends.

One young professional I interviewed set up a short coffee meeting with an  alum who worked at a coveted company. They hit if off and the alum  offered to call the hiring manager to put in a good word. The upshot of the 20 minute coffee meeting? Her resume got bumped to the top of the pile, bypassing the resume robots all together.

4. Follow up your online app with direct outreach to the hiring manager.  There’s no rule that says you can’t reach out directly to the hiring manager. Show initiative if you really want the job by doing a little research on LinkedIn and the company website to find out the name of the hiring manager or HR manager.

You will have a serious advantage if your online application is followed by a well-written three-paragraph pitch letter saying why you want the job and what you can bring to the party. The way you approach them is important, and you have options to choose from:

    • InMail: Send a short pitch via LinkedIn InMail to the hiring manager or HR manager.

    • Email: Send a short email pitch emphasizing your interest in the job with your resume attached.

    • Snail mail: You’ll stand out with a handwritten note: The note should say something such as, “Very interested and confident I can add value to your team.” Personal branding is important for everyone, but it is never more important than when you are a young professional building your career and trying to get past the resume robots. Follow these tips and you’re likely to land in human hands for deeper consideration than a computer can give you.

Catherine Kaputa is a personal brand strategist, speaker and author. She is the author of the best-selling You Are a Brand. Her new book is Graduate to a Great Career: How Smart Students, New Graduates and Young Professionals Can Brand Themselves for Success out in April 2016. She is the founder of SelfBrand