Computerised applicant screenings are a catch-22 — tell the truth and the system may disqualify you; lie and it will catch up to you in the interview process. So what's the solution? Dylan Alford explains how a little creativity and a lot of perseverance can get you past the computer and into the interview.
Photo by Jerry Bunkers.
I stared at the screen for what seemed like an hour.
"Do you have experience marketing software in a business-to-business environment?" the computer asked me.
I knew if I answered "No" to this question, which was the truth, I would probably be automatically excluded as a candidate for this job. No chance of anyone at this company that I desperately wanted to work for even looking at my resume. Forget about getting an interview. And it was a shame, because I knew I could not only do the job they were advertising, but I could excel at it.
But I wasn't willing to lie. That would be a dealbreaker if I ended up being considered for the position. So, I clicked "Mo" and completed the rest of the online application.
Five minutes later, I opened my email to find an automatically generated rejection message. I was not being considered for the position. And nobody — no human being — had even looked at my application or resume. The software the company used to manage the online application process automatically eliminated me because I answered "No" to that one screening question. Game over.
When Software Replaces Recruiters
I understand why companies use this kind of software to screen out "unqualified" applicants. About 13 million people in the US are officially looking for work. And a lot of people apply for jobs willy-nilly, regardless of their experience or skill set. The HR department simply can't sort through all of the applications.
But software simply can't do the job as well as a human. It can't apply judgement and pass along an application from someone who meets nearly all the requirements. Or maybe the problem is whoever creates the screening requirements for these positions sets the bar unreasonably high, with the hopes of narrowing the pool.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal says hiring managers now pile up so many requirements for jobs that it's almost impossible to find someone who meets them all. The owner of a temporary staffing company quoted in the article calls it "looking for a unicorn." He tells of a business he worked with that received 25,000 applicants for an open engineering position only to hear from HR that none were qualified. None! Nobody, out of 25,000?
Connections Are Key
But here's the thing. If you really want a particular position, getting weeded out by the screening software should never stop you from going after it. I don't advocate lying. I don't advocate spending a lot of time trying to game the system.
What I do advocate is building personal connections inside a limited number of target employers. organisations that are a good fit for you. You need to meet people — either in person, on the phone or online — who work at those companies so if you run into a situation where your application gets weeded out, you know someone who will help you go around the software and reach the hiring manager.
How I Beat the Software
So what do you do if a job you know you would love and be great at and that you're qualified for comes along and you don't have any connections at that employer? That's the situation I was in when I got this automated rejection email for no reason other than answering one question on the application "incorrectly".
This was a company that hadn't been on my radar. I hadn't made any connections there. I was behind in this game. But this was a great job, and I wasn't willing to give up so easily.
Here's what I did:
1. I'd found the job posted on LinkedIn. I looked back at the posting there and saw it had been posted by a recruiter who works in HR at the company. I wasn't connected to the recruiter on LinkedIn, but I saw in her profile that she was a member of a marketing-related LinkedIn group I'm in. That meant I could send her a direct message through LinkedIn. I sent a message explaining the situation, why I felt my skill set was a good match despite my lack of software marketing experience, and provided a link to my profile and attached a copy of my resume.
2. Then, by doing a little digging on the company website, I figured out which of the company's locations she was most likely to work at. I sent her a package in the mail with a unique, direct marketing-style cover letter, my resume, samples of my work and a card that simply said, "Call Me" and included my mobile phone number.
I did all of this on a Wednesday. The following Monday, she called. She agreed I was well-qualified for the position and said she was impressed by my persistency and the mail package I sent her. She asked a few specific questions about how my experience and skills might be transferable to the software industry, and since I'd prepared to answer those questions, I responded with no problem.
Then she said she would recommend that the hiring manager interview me.
A week and a half later I interviewed with the hiring manager. It went great, and I went through two more rounds of interviews with various members of the team. In the end, I didn't get the job. The hiring manager ended up going with an internal candidate (who obviously had software marketing experience and had worked with the hiring manager in the past).
Yet the recruiter emailed about a month later to ask if I was interested in applying for another marketing position they had open. Unfortunately, this other job would have meant relocating my family, so it wasn't a good fit.
But that doesn't mean I didn't win in some way. The point is, I did beat the evil software. I didn't let something stupid and arbitrary stop me from going after a position I knew I wanted.
And you can do the same. You might have to get creative. You might have to be a little pushy. But you can do it. It really depends on how badly you want it.
Dylan Alford is publisher of RecentGradsOnly.com.
Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work — this isn't your parents' career-advice blog. Be Brazen.