Resume Ignored by Online Application Sites? Here’s Why.

You’ve filled out hundreds of online job applications, and have never heard from an employer. You are beginning to feel rejected, unloved and unappreciated. Why doesn’t anyone call back? The reason may be in your resume and you haven’t noticed it.

This cartoon appears's site for Aug. 18, 2008.

I’m going to start with the assumption that your resume is neat, truthful, printed in a simple font, no smaller than 11 points, no more than two pages covering the last 10 years, and that it is spell-checked and proofread. No “manger” for “manager,” no “it’s” when it should be “its.”

There are two areas that will get your resume ignored–fast. One of them is the “Objective” statement. Anything vague  gets you rejected. “I’m looking for an exciting job to advance my career,” is an example of a sinker. So is “Powerful executive with 20 years of increasing responsibility available for lateral applications of bricks-and-clicks viral e-marketing,” or anything else that looks like it comes from a jargon generator.

The objective is not a PR statement–the purpose is to get your hired. You will need a new one for every job you apply to. Hate the idea? Then get used to longer unemployment.

Your resume is being scanned for key words every time you submit it. If you don’t have the right key words, your resume will be shot into the shredder. What are the magic key words? Read the ad. The job description contains the key words. That’s why you need to change your objective for each job. Because the key words change. Look for nouns (titles, duties, responsibilities), not verbs (action words). You’ve probably been taught to create a “results oriented” resume. They don’t work anymore. Everyone “generated top results,” “managed profitability” and “won industry-wide awards,” and the scanner is not interested.

The new resume flies in the face of reasonable writing, but right now, just for resume, nouns are winning the eye of the scanner. And they are the nouns in the job description the scanner is looking for. A match gets your resume in front of a real person. Until that happens, you won’t find a job.

The second mine-field is the words you use to describe your job responsibilities–especially if you are changing fields or job levels. Your resume is about your past. If you use words that link you to your past job, you won’t find the new one.

For example, if you were a financial writer and want to be a trainer, don’t describe yourself using financial language. “Wrote extensively on retirement plans, 401(k) investment options and high-yield portfolio management” are words that classify you as a financial writer. Instead, read the ads for a trainer and use those keywords to describe your old job. No, don’t make it up. I’m talking about using a different vocabulary to describe the work you did.

If the training ad is looking for someone who “develops training programs and is familiar with adult learning practices,” you might want to say you “developed stories to train adults to prepare for retirement,” or “Wrote material to familiarize adults with practices that provide a secure future.” Those aren’t wonderful sentences, yours will be better because you have more job description to choose from. The point is to use the key words for your future job to describe the past. So you can move out of the past and into a future–or at least get a job interview with a real person.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She is a trainer in business communications. © 2009 All rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “Resume Ignored by Online Application Sites? Here’s Why.

  1. I recently found out about this hard core truth..or should I call it the ” new game” ? hypocracy, and LYING through your teeth just about everything seems to be the way to live in this country…I lived overseas for the past ten years, and we just returned to States…and I am horrified…I could apply to jobs all over the world via emailing, I always ALWAYS got a thank you email…..HERE, not even that… is so pathetic how everything is automated, SCANNED on computer to do the job….why even work as an HR person if they have a scanning system that does the CHOOSING job for them??? yes they receive alot of applications but things should not be this standardized….people who find out about this haux now will do it, then what….call 100 people for the interview??? all will pass the scanning test….how do they really choose the top ten for interview is still the question???

    • I know this is an aggravating and difficult process. In part, we brought it on ourselves by participating in the culture of aggression, competition and striving for money-based success. Personally, I think we need a new way to approach work and jobs, but for right now, if you want your resume looked at, this is what it takes.

  2. Have you ever considered that majority of the job postings aren’t even real.
    They either already hired someone internally and therefore the job posting is just a formality or the job posting is really just a placeholder to collect resumes while on a hiring freeze with the hope that hiring will pick up in the near future.

    • One of the things I’ve learned about organizational development is never to assume someone else’s intention. All I can do is work on my part–with the POV of a job applicant, is to do everything and anything I can to get the interview. But to guess at your question: I honestly don’t think people are collecting resumes right now. They have too many with the huge numbers of unemployed. I think HR is shredding resumes by the truckload. Because they can.

  3. You are so right about those key words. Based on your advice I was recently complimented by my new employer about my resume. She even admitted that at first she thought I doctored it but when she checked out my references, she found that I was the real deal.
    I was able to craft my resume using the key words of the job announcement and related my past experiences directly to what they were looking for. It was totally honest and relevant to the job.

    Thanks Quinn for the coaching!

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