The Machine Who Might be Reading Your Resume
If it has been a few years since you have last applied for a job, you could be operating under the assumption that you just have to convince the person who is opening and sorting the mail (or the email replies) that you are the perfect person for a position. In many cases, this is no longer true. Instead of Bob from the mailroom or Sally the HR receptionist reading your file, it actually may be being perused by HAL (computer, star of 2001, a Space Odyssey) or one of his digital brethren. If you do not convince HAL, human eyes may never lay eyes on your application.
If this sounds highly improbable to you, even in the 21st century, consider how many institutions have all or part of their application process online—most retail establishments, many service industries, everywhere that comes through places like Monster or Michigan Jobs. In each of those cases, everything that you submit, from the online application to your resume as a Word attachment, is machine readable. Recently a counselor from Michigan Works recounted a story of 1200 applications being submitted for 10 openings at one firm. How many of you think that the companies that you are applying to have the personnel to read all of those things carefully?
So where does that leave you? It means that you have to pay EVEN CLOSER attention to the language that is in the job description. If you see lots of descriptions for a particular type of position in which the same sets of terms and phrases keep coming up, you should include those words and phrases in your cover letter, in your application descriptions of your qualities and experience and training from your past jobs, and in your resume. An example that I give in classes that I teach is the aubergine. It is the name Britons use for that deep purple vegetable that is often prepared à la Parmigiana and which Americans call eggplant.
However, the computer may not know this. They may have a position called “aubergine chef” and pass the application that says “eggplant cook” right on by. The computer is programmed to look for “aubergine” and “chef” and to pass on applications that have a number of matches. This does not mean that you are to copy every single word verbatim from the description. That may make HAL happy enough to forward it to the hiring person, who will be disgusted at your lack of creativity. Your task is to artfully scatter enough of the relevant terms through your resume, cover letter, and application, while mixing it with your own verbiage, to make the uninformed machine and the clued-in hiring manager both convinced that you are perfect for the job.