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How to land a job by tailoring your résumé and cover letter to appeal to bots

The tradition of real people reading your résumé and assessing you has gone away—at least in the early stages of the many recruitment processes.

How to land a job by tailoring your résumé and cover letter to appeal to bots
[Source images: myrfa/Pixabay; Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels]
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Everyone knows artificial intelligence is moving aggressively into the job search field. The tradition of real people reading your résumé and assessing you in a face-to-face interview may be going away—at least in the early stages of the recruitment process.

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Excluded candidates may wonder if they’ve been done in by an algorithm. Did they leave some keyword out of their résumé?

AI has certainly changed the hiring process. But the good news is that if you work with the new machine-based system you’ll do just as well—perhaps even better—than you would have in the traditional hiring process. Here are five ways you can befriend the bot:

1. Welcome AI’s outreach

First, be prepared to be pursued by a machine. Companies are using the intelligence of machines today to search the world for talent, and they may come after you.

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I recently spoke with a senior vice president at Oracle, Nagaraj Nadendla, who is responsible for Oracle Recruiting Cloud, the platform that assists many companies in the hiring and onboarding process. Nadendla explained that employers are using “the power of AI to search through millions of profiles to find candidates.”

Even if you are not actively looking for a position, AI may pursue you. According to Nadendla, “AI also searches for talent among passive candidates: people who are employed, but may be open to a change.” So if you like being pursued, welcome to the new world. You’ll have greater access to more job opportunities than ever. That has to be good news for anybody interested in career advancement.

2. Use the bot to guide your choices

If a bot reaches out to you as a possible candidate for a job posting on LinkedIn or elsewhere, you’ll need to decide whether you want that job or not, and whether the bot would likely rate you as a top candidate. A tool, such as Oracle’s digital assistant, can answer questions—like “Is this a junior job?”—to help you decide if you should apply.

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If you decide to go for that job but are rated as having only a few of the requirements, you’ll want to rewrite your online profile so that it better reflects the requirements of that posting. “A lot of people apply for jobs when they’re under-qualified or over-qualified,” says Nadendla. “This is the number one thing to avoid.” Align your profile with the jobs you want, and you’ll be far more successful. This will mean focusing your search on a few key areas.

3. Make sure your résumé appeals

Before submitting your résumé, take a pass and ensure all language is as concise and direct as possible. “The robot wants you to be clear and to the point,” Nadendla says. “Education levels and proficiency levels based on the job requirements are usually the first things evaluated by the machine. People often outline all their skills, but the machine wants to know what skills were actually used on the job and what problems applicants have solved. So instead of listing all your skills, incorporate them into your work experience.”

“The machine also picks up details,” Nadendla explains. “It looks for names of companies you’ve worked for, titles you’ve had, and how long you’ve been in each job.” It also looks for hard numbers that show your impact.

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The machine analyzes your résumé for keywords and related concepts that are in the job description. If these terms are relevant, include them. If possible, incorporate the important words into your most recent job experiences. Make these connections and you’ll be viewed as having the required qualities.

“When it comes to formatting,” Nadendla says, “the machine doesn’t care what format you use, because it uses free-form text to understand who you are, regardless of how the content is displayed.”

4. Ensure your cover letter is bot-worthy

It’s important to spend time modifying your résumé, but don’t forget to give your cover letter attention too. This letter might be your first opportunity to appeal to a human being, but in many instances, you’re still dealing with a machine that treats your words as searchable text.

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“If AI is involved at this stage,” Nadendla says, “a machine will take it and say ‘what is it telling me?'” If that’s likely to be the case, Nadendla notes, “Think of the cover letter more as a summary of the résumé.” That means including language that parallels the job description. Machine scans may also test cover letters for optimum length, contact information, measurable results, and hard and soft skills mentioned in the job listing. Keep those criteria in mind.

5. Impress the bot in an interview 

Finally, you may encounter the bot at the interview stage. While many companies provide all candidates with human interviews, some have a machine evaluate you in a one-way taped pre-interview.

The machine looks at words used and what they indicate about the candidate. For instance, the bot can assess: (1) confidence based on active verbs such as “led,” “created,” and “delivered”; (2) enthusiasm conveyed by use of positive words (for instance, “astonishing” or “absolutely”); and (3) the ability to influence, as determined by use of collaborative language.

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Happily, once you get through the bot-driven screening process, you’ll likely deal with human beings in live interviews. Here your interpersonal skills will come into play. But before that happens you’ll have to build a good relationship with the bot.