Story by Rebecca Picciotto
Nowadays, the first person to look at a job candidate’s application is usually, well, not a person at all.
Data from 2019 found that three out of every four resumes are never seen by human eyes. And in January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimated that 83% of all employers, including 99% of Fortune 500 companies, use automation to filter job applicants.
The result is what some experts have referred to as a ‘resume black hole,’ a void where certain resumes are automatically filtered out before they make it to a real person’s desk.
To be sure, artificial intelligence did not originate the resume black hole. Even when hiring processes were fully administered by humans, there were flaws in the system that led some applications to get lost in the mix.
“The black hole exists pre-technology,” says Frida Polli, chief data science officer at talent recruiting platform Harver. “The resume black hole oftentimes just has to do with the fact that companies are, quite frankly, just ignoring certain pools of candidates. And that’s been true for a long time.”
She says that Fortune 500 companies have always screened out candidates who do not have certain credentials to expedite the selection process, though she notes that in today’s tighter labor market, employers are trying to expand their hiring pool rather than shrink it.
Still, the black hole remains a fixture of the hiring process, and today, it is automated by an artificially intelligent algorithm.
Here are the three common mistakes experts see job seekers make that hide them in AI’s land of lost resumes.
Getting too creative
To separate your resume from the pack, it might be tempting to experiment with the design.
That strategy could certainly work for a human application reader, but for AI, non-standard formats are just confusing — and they are usually a fast track to the rejection pile.
“When you have systems on the other end trying to transcribe and annotate these resumes, they often get tripped up on something as simple as a blue background that make it impossible to read,” says Amit Bhatia, the cofounder of recruiting analytics firm Datapeople.
Of course, a resume template, of all things, is not a true reflection of a candidate’s qualifications. But AI vetting systems have made it such that “Format really matters,” according to Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume.
To AI-proof your resume format, Augustine advises the following:
- Avoid pictures: Usually, the algorithm skimming your resume cannot interpret visual images. Stick with words and punctuation marks for your resume to ensure that an AI screener can read the document.
- Hyperlink with caution: Augustine says that sometimes an AI will cut out a phrase with a hyperlink attached, which can lead to incomplete sentences. If you want to reference some past digital work within your resume, make sure the corresponding hyperlinks are separate from sentences. For example, you might place a hyperlink within parentheses at the end of a sentence.
- Don’t customize: Custom fonts and symbols are a red flag for AI, which may not have your favorite font in its system. Augustine suggests using default fonts that are commonly found in platforms like Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
- Be consistent: Use the same formatting for titles, dates and descriptions. At their core, AI systems are pattern detectors. So if you use a certain font, font size or indentation for one job description, make sure to use those same styling for the rest of them. Otherwise, you risk throwing the AI off its pattern, causing it to become confused and toss your resume aside.
Thinking AI are people too
When you message ChatGPT, it might feel as if there is a real person on the other end. Indeed, the generative AI platform is sometimes used like an online therapist.
But ultimately AI is not human and cannot always understand subtext in the way that a real person might.
That is especially true in hiring since experts say that most of the AI used to vet candidates is, at least for now, more rudimentary rather than the more advanced GPT technology. That means that when it comes to your resume, leave nothing between the lines.
“Sometimes being explicit about your skills and your responsibilities is helpful in case the algorithm isn’t as smart on the other end to make the connection as the human mind would,” Bhatia says.
Ultimately, the AI scanner is trying to match keywords from the job description with your resume. To optimize your chances of beating the bot, choose the most important listed job requirements and use those exact terms in your own resume.
Forgetting about humans
AI readers may increasingly become the first to see your resume, but they are certainly not the most important.
Experts agree that today’s job seekers should always assume that their application is going to be parsed by an automated algorithm at some point in the vetting process, likely early on. And they should prepare their application materials accordingly.
But that does not mean solely constructing your application to satisfy a machine.
“We should also assume that there is still a human on the other end, and human connections matter and human relationships matter and a well-crafted letter to a recruiter can help and a well-crafted resume can help,” says Bhatia.