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Job Search Secrets to Win Over Computers and Recruiters

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Remember résumé paper? In the days before digital communication, job seekers hoping to impress prospective employers printed their résumés on expensive, heavyweight linen-textured paper in hues of white, cream and gray. Nowadays, snail-mailed résumés are a thing of the past, and paper résumés are printed on plain old copy paper — if at all.

Instead, job applicants can apply for scores of jobs right from their iPads or smart phones. While it is quick and convenient to apply online, you may wonder if your résumé ever reaches an employer’s inbox. There are some steps you can take to improve your chances of making it through to the right person at the other end.

Learn how to impress a computer

Most large companies now use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to sort and screen résumés. That means your résumé must first impress a computer program before it ever gets to a human being. Making your résumé attractive to both a computer and human is especially challenging since an ATS can only read your résumé in plain text format.

That means all that time spent choosing the perfect fonts, selecting bullet points, aligning margins and using bold or italicized text so your résumé stands out to the employer is ignored by the computer. Just changing the extension of your resume file won’t cut it since doing so may result in weird characters, spacing and punctuation issues says TheLadders contributor, Lisa Vaas. She recommends jobseekers create a plain text version of their résumés to avoid such snafus. But without the pizazz of great design, how do you get your résumé noticed by employers in today’s digital marketplace?

Speak the employer’s language

Market Watch contributor and founder of RetiredBrain.com, Art Koff, agrees that it is now necessary to have a plain text version of your résumé for online applications. He warns applicants that the average employer scans a résumé for only 20 seconds before deciding whether or not to read it. With that in mind, Koff advises job candidates to make their résumés stand out by tailoring each one submitted to the particular job and employer. Koff suggests describing your experience using words taken from the job description. ""This may lower the likelihood that it will be eliminated by résumé scanning programs,"" he says.

Mark Slack and Erik Bowitz at the Résumé Companion advise job seekers to ""beat the robot"" by using services such as Wordle and TagCrowd to help them choose appropriate key words and phrases. ""Input the job descriptions into these tools to create a word cloud that visually highlights the most frequently used words, and make sure they’re sprinkled throughout your résumé,"" they advise. But don’t go overboard, say Slack and Bowitz. This technique can backfire. ""Not only is the software sophisticated enough to see this kind of keyword stuffing, if your résumé does make it into human hands, no one will be impressed by a nonsensical résumé dressed to the nines in keywords,"" they explain.

Find an advocate

While all this advice is helpful, nothing takes the place of having an inside connection — knowing the right people in the right places. A dedicated recruiter can expertly market your skills and abilities to potential employers. Staffing agencies have the power to cut through red tape, get your résumé seen by the appropriate people and land you a potentially career-making interview.

Even so, recruiters have many qualified candidates they can recommend to their clients. What makes a recruiter take notice of your unique gifts?

Johna Koelzer, a seasoned recruiter at Aerotek says that in today’s world, it is crucial that candidates present themselves well on their social media accounts. That means having a LinkedIn profile that is up to date, since Aerotek and other staffing firms are directly connected to LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

Most top candidates have ""hard skills"" such as technical know-how and writing proficiency. That’s why Koelzer looks for qualities such as passion, motivation and leadership capabilities to set candidates apart. She and her colleagues take time to become well acquainted with all candidates — their strengths, personalities and work styles — to determine where a candidate fits in best.

An experienced recruiter has the expertise necessary to zero in on a candidate’s potential and her compatibility with a particular job and company, says Aerotek recruiter, Mackenzie Szawlowski.

When it’s clear to Szawlowski that candidates have skills and talent but lack self-confidence, the six-year Aerotek veteran is happy to provide pre-interview coaching. ""A while back, I worked with a client who had the soft skills for the job, but was having difficulty expressing herself, and showcasing her strengths,"" recalls Szawlowski. ""Because of Aerotek’s coaching process, we could spend time going through all the expected interview questions so she was well-prepared. After the interview, the employer called immediately to tell me they were offering my candidate the job,"" says Szawlowski. ""It was so gratifying to know I had helped someone to get a job she truly deserved.""

Robin Schlinger of Careerealism.com has seen job-seekers resort to all kinds of tactics to get recruiters’ attention. But she discourages them from trying gimmicks such as ""red ink, unusual fonts, purple paper or clip art"" to make their résumés stand out. Instead Schlinger has this advice to help your résumé get noticed:

    “Recruiters and human resource departments are only impressed by three things. [They want to see that candidates] have the right combination of skills, education and achievements, the ability to relay that information quickly and concisely and a clean, neat, easy-to-read format.”

The take-home lesson? Keep it simple and substantial and your résumé is bound to score points with computers and recruiters.