The Wall Street Journal reports that you’re screwed if you’re looking for a job, in Your Resume vs. Oblivion. A guy at IBM who sells the systems employers use to process incoming resumes says that 90% or more of employers use sophsticated technology (“which can cost from $5,000 to millions of dollars”) to scan resumes.

So the Journal offers lots of insider tips about “How to Beat the ‘Black Hole’.” (Ain’t it funny how derogatory even the insiders are about Resume Hell? The Journal cleans up on its own job board, which wants you to submit all the resumes and applications you possibly can.)

Chief among the tips:

  • Copy the keywords from the job posting right into your resume. That way, the scanners will pick them up and your resume will fly right through the drek into the hands of many excited personnel jockeys who are waiting to call you up!
  • Keep the formatting simple, to make it easier for the scanners to read your credentials!

If you’re going to play this game, I’ll give you the best tip of all:

Copy the entire friggin’ job posting and paste it right onto the last page of your resume. That way you can’t get screwed by the software because it’s all in there!

Of course, there’s another solution entirely, that will thwart both the machines and the “millions” of competitors you’re facing:

Don’t use a resume at all. Here’s how to write a resume that’s designed to be tossed in the trash when you’re done, and still get the job — without ever showing it to an employer.

Like the guy at the end of the article says about a company whose HR director is too busy to read his resume, “What I’m going to do is turn up on their doorstep,” says Mr. Denton. “I really have nothing to lose.”

Sure he will.

The inside joke is, the hiring manager at that company is going to hire someone who was personally referred by a trusted contact. Not someone who sent in a resume.

Meanwhile, millions commit job hunting suicide every day when they swallow this drivel about “how to beat the machines” at the keyword game. They dutifully craft their resumes, pull the trigger, and lean into the mass grave.

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Update: Not all employers operate resume grinders. Mike R., an HR manager at a small manufacturing company, posted this comment on Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters):

“As someone who does review every resume that is submitted (no keyword screens for us), one problem that I often see is that many people do not take your advice and explain how they will do the job profitably. In my job postings and contacts with candidates, I spell out what the person will have to do and achieve in the position to be successful. However, many people simply send me a standard resume, which gives me little clue to whether they can do the job. It’s almost as if their attitude is, I can’t be bothered to customize my resume to demonstrate that I can do the job, so YOU figure out whether I can do the job or not.”

Would you make it past this human screener who actually has a brain and behaves like a savvy businessman?

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  1. The majority of business in this country is small – mid sized. That demographic doesn’t have the budget for such impersonal nonsense. That’s why you still have schleps like me honest to goodness reading resumes.. Do match keywords but don’t copy and paste the job description. I’ll toss you in the trash can for being a wise ass. ~ XO Karla

  2. Nick – you should market your advice as the ‘anti-resume black hole’ :-)

  3. Nick,


    BTW, we had an internal posting for an open position. One of our current employees sent his resume for consideration. He obviously (I think) did not bother to rewrite anything because in his resume he is not giving truthful statements about his current position WITH US!

  4. @Volks: You see — this cuts both ways. It’s not just HR that wastes people’s time. A lot of job hunters behave just as mindlessly.

  5. Mike R wrote:

    ” I spell out what the person will have to do and achieve in the position to be successful.”

    You need to spell out what the pain points are today. “What are the challenges?” Too many postings are only a list of responsibilities and duties.

    Otherwise, I can cite examples of achievements and bottom-line impacts from prior jobs, but that isn’t as powerful.

    Am I missing something?

  6. @Nick,

    Regarding job hunters being mindless – I think job hunters are trained to conform that a resume/key word approach leads to results. That’s what HR, recruiters, head hunters, career coaches, etc. tell them.

    I hared this article with a friend. One interesting discussion came out of it. People lie and game these systems because they actually would like to talk to someone on the inside. Not to say this behavior is right/moral/legal, but they do have a point. Many places use software and it gets discoraging to get nothing more than an automated response because you don’t have all the right “keywords.”

    In my expierience, I have gotten better results (i.e. interviews and job offers) by networking and word of mouth.

    IMHO, companies are going to get better canidates if they properly solicit jobs. For example, several of the computer clubs I belong to would gladly invite managers/recruiters in our clubs to give talks and/or have some sort of sponsorship.

  7. @Dave: Funny, isn’t it, how the experts tell us the purpose of your resume isn’t to win a job. It’s to get an interview.

    So I think what you’re saying is, if that’s how the game is to be played, that’s how people play it. “Whatever gets me in the door. Even if I look stupid doing it.”

    I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. People get fed up and become willing to degrade themselves to get in the door if they think it’s the only way.

    Have you tried making your offer to employers? If I were you, I’d bring in only managers. Avoid recruiters, or it will become a game. Let companies put some skin in the game — send managers.

  8. @Nick

    Yes, I’ve gone directly to managers. Generally outcomes have been better, even if I don’t get the interview/job, when I’ve done this. I’ve either gotten the job or gotten some very valuable feedback (i.e. At least I know my resume isn’t in the black hole and I know what I need to work on)

  9. Great article on job hunting!