Rise of the machines!

'Job bots' and résumé screening

By Donn LeVie Jr.

Career Connection: Building your professional career

Not all résumés get an initial screening by hiring managers or recruiters. Many human resources (HR) departments at large organizations have been forced to devote increasing resources to employment law, Affordable Care Act implementation and employee benefit packages. Therefore, many HR departments are turning to résumé- and job application-screening software. It's a good idea to know how these Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work so you can make your résumé more relevant to the job for which you're applying.

Most of these systems incorporate a "bot" (Internet-speak for robot): an automated application that performs simple and repetitive tasks that would be time-consuming, mundane or impossible for humans to perform. Organizations use bots for productive tasks, but, of course, cybercriminals use them for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or to launch denial-of-service attacks. (See Burgeoning bots! part 2.)

HR departments or third-party providers have been using "job bots" — software applications embedded in ATSs — since the late 1990s for screening pools of online applications and résumé submissions. As far back as 2001, some job bots were able to search 300,000 résumés in 10 seconds.

The U.S. federal government uses a system called Resumix to screen online applications and résumés. Resumix and other similar job bots filter these documents through tens or hundreds of thousands of "Knowledge-Skill-Ability" terms (called KSAs) to determine if an application or résumé meets the essential and preferable skills for a particular job vacancy.

The automated application-résumé screening process is designed to reject as many unqualified applications as possible. If you've ever been surprised (or angry) when you received a rejection letter stating that you "did not have the required minimum experience," even though you might have worked in an identical position for years, it's likely you were the victim of a job bot. A job bot in an ATS is programmed to look for specific information (job title, functional skills, years of experience), and if your experience isn't formatted in the expected manner, it doesn't exist as far as the job bot is concerned.

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