UPDATED ON 1/12/2022
This tailoring tool is meant to accommodate ATS systems, but it is actually making it harder for job-seekers and recruiters.
In mid-2013, I bumped into someone I haven’t ran into in a while.
He had just quit a coveted role as a software developer for a yet-to-be named startup. When asked what the startup did, he didn’t want to get too specific, but the product was supposed to help job applicants with the whole complicated job-hunting process.
That startup turned out to be JobScan.
As the startup grew more prominent during my excruciating search for a role in the corporate world, I decided to give JobScan a try.
Now, keep in mind, my resume at the time was already getting me an average of one interview every two weeks or so. For me, the problem has never been my resume; it has always been the interview itself.
Even so, it wouldn’t hurt to see what the keyword-matching tool was all about. If JobScan could make the process more pleasant while increasing my odds of enticing my targeted companies, then it would be a win-win for me and the hiring entity.
It didn’t turn out that way at all.
JobScan actually made the process more painful. Here’s why.
I was waiting for my turn to talk to the recruiter from a local Fortune 500 at a packed career fair.
I stepped up to the man, shook his hand, and introduced myself.
As I presented my non-JobScan tailored resume and dived into my 30-second elevator pitch, he voluntarily elaborated on some insider info on his company’s interview process.
His company quit using ATS!
This was a company with over 150,000 employees worldwide. Every opening would received hundreds of submissions. So to hear that it no longer used ATS was a complete shocker.
He went on to explain that it was because his team found countless applicants copy-and-pasting the job descriptions into their resumes nearly word-for-word!
So now, every resume passes through actual human eyes.
When we replace humans with computers for a subjective task such as reviewing resumes, we make computers set the benchmark. And to beat that benchmark, what’s easier and faster than copying the job description and pasting it into our resumes?!
Of course, anyone who has a single ounce of care would avoid doing this and disqualifying him or herself. But when one is advised to submit within a day or two after the job has been posted, this is very tempting.
Three vs. One
If we are honest enough to not copy-and-paste, then we must put in the effort to tailor our resumes every time.
Yet that can be wasted efforts as well.
For those of you who don’t know, JobScan, which mimics ATS, identifies verbs in different tenses as separate keywords.
For example, if a job description includes “develop”, “develops”, and “developing”, the scanner will view that as three separate keywords even though their base definitions are the same.
That also means JobScan may not count “developed” in your resume if the job description doesn’t have that verb in that exact past tense.
So when a number of my clients — especially the overachievers — tells me they would spend an average of three hours tailoring and restructuring their resumes to a specific job description so that they could get a high matching percentage, I’m not surprised.
I have done it myself, trying to rewrite bullet points in my own words to include every single keyword JobScan has identified and ensuring all the grammar is correct.
But within that same amount of time, we could have submitted to three, four, even five positions with our master resumes and take our chances.
This kink is supposed to catch the best candidates; however, in reality, it is highly likely the truly qualified would be tossed to the curb simply because of a verb technicality.
A friend of mine has been gainfully and happily employed for years.
Like a lot of professionals these days, he would switch companies every couple of years or so. It was never difficult for him.
No, he is not great at networking. No, he does not have wealthy parents. And no, he does not have a graduate degree. In fact, he recently returned to college to complete his bachelors.
Despite his shortcomings, he has been able to present himself as an authority in his work and in hiring his team.
He has never believed in keywords and ATS.
Because of two reasons.
One, if the resume uses a lot of the same words as the job description, it will make the candidate appear overqualified. As many of you may know, appearing overqualified is not a great position to be. Hiring managers may wrongly perceive the candidate as overpriced and easily bored.
And two, if the candidate has indeed done most of the things stated in the job description, it might show that he or she shuns growth. Now, this may be fine for risk averse companies that need someone to hit the ground running from day one. Unfortunately (or, on second thought, fortunately), this is not the environment we live in today.
Yes, we do need to show that the knowledge and skills we have learned thus far are relevant for the job, but we need to demonstrate that we are lifelong learners who seek growth and want to tackle never-before-seen problems. In this case, it is better to look well position for the role by looking confidently underqualified.
At this point, some of you may be exclaiming, “Surely, until the world do away with ATS completely (which we all know is likely never going to happen), we have to deal with it. The resume and the job description don’t have to be totally matched, do they?”
As Jobscan — and numerous coaches — would have it, it’s 80%!
That’s right. The advice is to only submit your resume to a job when you can match 80% of the keywords.
Now, here’s the thing.
Whenever this topic surfaces during my dinner parties, everyone — male and female — agrees to this gender difference.
When a woman reads a job description and sees ten bullet points under requirements, she would make sure that she at least qualify for eight of them before submitting.
When a man reads the same ten bullets, he would submit if he qualifies for four or five of them and take his chances. That’s 50%!
Come on, ladies! We are losing opportunities!
Advising people to reach 80% matching negatively triggers two of women’s most self-conscious inner traits: anxiety and perfectionism.
And we often forget that the bottom quarter of the requirements list likely entails frivolous points.
The More Elegant Method of Using Jobscan (If You Must)
After using the tool a handful of times during my own job-search journey, I have concluded that JobScan is counterproductive. At least for me.
I would still tailor my resume to a specific job, but instead of laboring over it for nearly four hours each time, I could now do so in half an hour…without JobScan.
How, you might ask?
Ninety percent of the solution lies in letting go and taking my chances.
Like Teddy Roosevelt and Brene Brown would say, you have to be in the arena to compete for that opportunity.
And I am not going to let some 80% benchmark take me out of the competition.
Plus, if I were the recruiter or hiring manager, shouldn’t I be worried if I noticed someone’s resume matches the job description by that much?
What about the last 10% of the solution?
This can be done with or without JobScan:
- Identify 3–5 job descriptions that you want to apply to.
- Highlight the common keywords in most of these descriptions as well as any industry or departmental jargon.
- Pepper the master resume with as many of these words as possible.
By doing this on the master, half the battle is already won on the tailored resume. And no one says all the words have to be used anyway.
I would shoot for 50%. Not 80%.
Because I am not sure I trust a company that hires people strictly by some keyword algorithm.
Use JobScan if you really must, but it’s not the holy grail.
Tailoring your resume according to inflated rules will not guarantee you an interview.
It is more important to tell your story. Show that you are on the path you want to take. Flaunt your hunger to learn and act on every obstacle. Exhibit confidence.
Those actions will go a much longer way than using some misleading website.
And I rather have at least my foot in the arena than rule myself out of it.
So use JobScan strategically.
Because you can definitely write better than a keyword-hungry machine.
Want to know how I tailor my resumes? Learn how at Tailoring: How to Handle Resume Writing’s Annoying Little Sibling.