Beat the machines: Getting past electronic application screeners

By Jodi Hammer
March 18, 2015

I hear from returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) all the time that, given how few organizations have responded to their job applications, they feel like they’re just going into a black hole somewhere. 

Getting past electronic application screeners
Application screeners (and people, for that matter) read résumés similarly to how you read something on the Internet.

Sadly, with so many of today’s big organizations using electronic application screening systems to narrow their pools of candidates, this feeling may not be too far from the truth.

Given this reality, what’s a job-hunting RPCV to do? I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Check out the tips I’ve provided below to help you tailor your résumé to make it more readable and attractive to the machines. Once you’ve gotten over that hurdle, you’ll be able to interact with real people who you’re sure to wow with your friendly personality and the many marketable skills you gained in the Peace Corps!

Use word clouds to tailor your language

I’m a little hesitant to share this tip so publicly for fear that everyone will start using it and make it less effective. It’s really that good. But here you go: go online and do a quick search for “free word clouds.” Pick one of the options that pops up and then paste the job description from the job you’re interested in into the tool. Hit submit and voila – you have a visual depiction of the words that the machines will be looking for in their scan of applications. Simply choose from the words shown – especially those that are biggest since those were used more frequently – and plug them into the relevant spots on your résumé.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you include experience that you don’t actually have. This trick simply helps you choose the right language to describe the experience you do have. For example, a word cloud will show you whether a machine will find “analysis” or “evaluation” more appealing in your résumé.

Think like a marketer

Application screeners (and people, for that matter) read résumés similarly to how you read something on the Internet. Think about it for a second: When you visit a webpage, do you read the whole page from top to bottom? Probably not. Chances are you scan the page, looking at the headings, bullets, beginnings of paragraphs, and other visual cues to help you decide if you’re interested in reading further. Electronic scanners work very similarly, looking for clues in formatting and key words to choose the best candidates. Take advantage of this fact and use consistent, simple formatting with bold headings, lots of bullets, and key words that will catch the eye of the machine – and eventually the person – that reads your résumé!

Jodi Hammer