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What Hiring Algorithms Mean for Job Searchers Like You

A smiling woman with curly hair sitting on a couch at home, using a laptop. She is searching for a job while wearing a grey shirt, blue pants and tan slippers.

As a job searcher, it might seem like there’s a wall between you and the recruiters at the company you’re interested in. Behind that wall is some black box mechanism that picks the lucky interviewees out from the rest of the applicants, and gives them a chance to cross that wall. It can feel very frustrating not knowing the algorithm companies use to select candidates, especially if you’ve been on the receiving end of multiple rejection letters recently. But don’t fret —we’ll help decrypt what those hiring algorithms mean and how you can leverage them to your advantage. Keep reading, keep trying, and you’ll land that job!

What Are Hiring Algorithms?

Search engines like Google or Bing will scan through articles, web pages, and content based on the keywords you type in, and present the best-fitting results on the page. Job recruiters and HR departments use a similar tool to search through resumes and applications. It helps automate and expedite the process, as manually reading through dozens of resumes can be very time-consuming for the recruiting team. Hiring algorithms will be programmed to find and flag relevant keywords, skills, and qualities, and select resumes that match. 

While this expedites the recruiting, it also can be a somewhat unfair filter. Many worthy candidates may very well have the skills that an employer is looking for, but because they may not have the particular keywords listed in their application, they might not get picked for selection. The exact algorithm and words searched for may vary depending on the employer, even within the same industry. 



Step 1. Discovering Keywords 

Most companies aren’t trying to be mysterious or clandestine about what words they’ll be using. If you look on their websites and in the job descriptions, you might come across interesting word choices like “collaborate” or “insight” or “inventive.” It might not be a bad idea to sprinkle them into your application. They might turn out to be the keywords after all, and doing this also shows that you’ve done your research on the company’s site and job description, which is another way to set yourself apart from the talent pool.

Step 2. Build a list of targeted keywords

Keywords are the words or phrases you enter into a Google search box; for example, “Pizza near me.” Much the same as you may look for pizza; hiring algorithms use keywords to look for candidates. So if you want your resume and profile to stand out to a hiring algorithm, you’ll need to use keywords they’re most likely searching for.

Here’s how to build a list:
Find job descriptions in your field and for any position you’re interested in, now or in the future.

Copy and paste the text from these descriptions into one big document.

Once you’ve compiled all relevant job descriptions, copy all of the text into an online word cloud generator by clicking on “word list” and using the “paste/type text” function.

Go back to the “word list” associated with the word cloud you just made, and see how often each word appears on it.

Starting with the most frequently used words, highlight any that describe skills, experience, knowledge, responsibilities, software, degrees, certifications or traits you’d use to describe yourself on application material. “The” is not a helpful keyword.

Finally, go back and check your keyword list against the job descriptions you got them from. Is the most frequent word used over and over in only one, or spread across many? Are there any power words that show up prominently in only two or three descriptions, but seem important? Are there any two-word phrases that the word cloud generator broke up into separates? Add these to your list. The goal is to find language that’s most likely to help you.

Talking to an algorithm can be tricky. By using a little technology to find top keywords, you’ll be better equipped to speak their language.

Step 3: Customize your application materials using keywords

As you’re customizing your resume to each position you’re applying to, add keywords from your target list into descriptions wherever it’s appropriate and still sounds natural. Also include keywords in any supplementary written materials such as cover letters, sample work, emails and job board fields.

You’ll want to keep the following in mind:
You still want your job application materials to be readable by humans. The rules of grammar and sentence structure are still important.
No matter what the keyword list says, never lie or exaggerate on a resume.
Use your keyword list to guide your word choice. If your resume already mentions how motivated you are, but “driven” ranks higher than “motivated” on your list, use “driven” instead!
You don’t have to use every word on your keyword list, nor do you need to use the top ranking words over and over again. Just where appropriate is fine.

Keep in mind that an algorithm can’t hire you outright. Keywords simply flag your application for the human who can hire you, and those humans don’t speak Robot. So don’t overdo it.

Step 4: Posting Resumes

Where you post your resume can depend on what sort of job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re trying to land that job at a technology company, they might be interested if you send or link your resume on Instagram or X. But if you’re looking to go into trades or manufacturing, it might not be so useful. Instead, you might want to focus on staffing agencies or development companies in the area. 

Step 5: Keep Pushing and Recheck 

Resumes, applications and job boards aren’t the only platforms algorithms use to track candidates. Use the same keyword list you created to help you build and edit your LinkedIn profile, or any other writing you publish on the web. After all, a fresh algorithm might come crawling past your page at any time.

You can also remain more visible to hiring algorithms by staying up to date. Post on LinkedIn and other channels, and update your profiles and details often using your keywords. Some algorithms may filter for user activity level.

Also, remember that jargon changes fast. You’ll want to occasionally re-do your keyword list and check which social media hashtags are in popular use.

Keep at it even after you accept a job offer! You never know if or when a new algorithm will be the first point of contact for your next big leap forward.

Step 6: Algorithms vs. People 

Hiring algorithms are designed to help hiring managers spend less time reading resumes that don’t match job requirements. Instead of having to search through resumes by hand to see which candidates have a certain professional certificate, hiring managers can now trust a program to filter candidates automatically.

For job searchers like you, that means algorithms are a gatekeeper. They might not present the greatest barrier to getting hired, but they can limit your options if you’re not careful. Getting past them, and on to the human element of the job search, is where you’ll really get a chance to shine as a candidate.

We understand that it’s frustrating and a little unfair with hiring algorithms and their keywords —it’s like being asked to speak a language you don’t know, and without being taught. But with a little savvy research into algorithms, some reading between the lines on the company’s website, and putting your resume out there, you’ll learn to be fluent in hiring algorithms in no time. We sincerely wish you the best of luck with your job search and interviews, and encourage you to check out our job board for more information.