Thursday, January 26, 2012

Man, I hope this isn't how they hire chemists in pharma


Credit: Wall Street Journal
You get to peek behind the curtain of job application software in the Wall Street Journal's article "Your Résumé Versus Oblivion" -- it ain't pretty:
Many job seekers have long suspected their online employment applications disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again. Their fears may not be far off the mark, as more companies rely on technology to winnow out less-qualified candidates... Recruiters and hiring managers are overwhelmed by the volume of résumés pouring in, thanks to the weak job market and new tools that let applicants apply for a job with as little as one mouse click. ...Most recruiters report that at least 50% of job hunters don't possess the basic qualifications for the jobs they are pursuing. 
The screening systems are one way companies are seeking to cut the costs of hiring a new employee, which now averages $3,479, according to human-resources consulting firm Bersin & Associates. Big companies, many of which cut their human-resources staffs during the recession, now spend about 7% of their external recruitment budgets on applicant-tracking systems, the firm says.
I'm not especially surprised by their comments about small companies, but it is interesting to hear some unscientific numbers:
Résumé overload isn't just a big-company problem. Job seekers often are surprised when they don't hear back from small businesses. These businesses rarely hire enough people to make an applicant-tracking system cost-effective, but even a one-time posting on a well-trafficked job board like Monster.com can garner hundreds of responses. Only 19% of hiring managers at small companies look at a majority of the résumés they receive, and 47% say they review just a few, according to a recent survey by Information Strategies Inc., publisher of Your HR Digest, an online newsletter.
Having survived feeling my résumé into a large-company database in the recent past and actually receiving a phone call (that ultimately resulted in a offer!), I have to say that (like the first paragraph), it was my assumption that there was some sort of black hole involved. The request that resumes be in "Word document format" was yet more evidence that computers were involved.

I once spoke to a man who was hired by a major government contractor (and employer of physical scientists) in Utah. He told me the best way to deal with the software was to copy the job description and its keywords and paste it into the top portion of my résumé. I see this is in the article's advice:
Forget about being creative. Instead, mimic the keywords in the job description as closely as possible. If you're applying to be a sales manager, make sure your résumé includes the words "sales" and "manage" (assuming you've done both!).
Good heavens. I, for one, quail at our new screening overlords.

11 comments:

  1. Is it possible to spoof these systems by typing the keywords in white text on a white background as the computer should "see" them, but a human wouldn't?

    Bingo, just drop the right words in "virtual invisible ink" and your application should pass the hurdle!

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    1. You can probably do that, but you have to be very careful - you don't want your resume pass the initial scrutiny by the machine only to have your trick discovered by an HR person.

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    2. I have heard this suggestion, as well, although I never attempted it.

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  2. When applying for my new job I certainly rephrased my resume as completely as possible to parrot what they descriptions said. My co-workers (ex-Huge Pharma folks) had seen some of the inner workings at their sites, and steered me in this direction. They had experience with weeding out candidates using the software, and their numbers were even more harsh than the ones above; closer to 200 applications in, winnowed to 5-6 that were handed to them for personal review. I personally enjoyed one small company I applied to back in the day which had yes/no check boxes for each of the required skills and credentials as part of the application process. Less elegant than a software search of the resume, but more open about what it took to get looked at by the company.

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  3. I bet these days even in Hell they get too many applicants and since the processing and pre-screening of candidates is now outsourced many qualifying souls end up stuck in limbo needlessly...

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  4. Of course this is how it happens! Remember that nowadays a large portion of applications are filed not directly on the company sites but through external service. Click on any job posting and see if will take you to brassring or taleo, and I'm certain that there your resume is parsed and screened for keywords.

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  5. I'm not sure which I prefer - automated sifting of CVs, or 'scientific' recruitment agencies calling up with wildly inappropriate jobs because they matched one word from my CV to their brief

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    1. Yeah this. I work in an environmental lab, so constantly get calls about EHS jobs

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    2. Ever notice that a lot of "scientific recruiters" are new graduates in their early 20s, often with liberal arts degrees? Seems like the human version of resume scanning software.

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  6. Was this not common knowledge? I started applying for jobs several years ago and this information was already all over the internet. If you haven't been doing this and you're wondering whether your resume went into resume purgatory, it did.

    If you think it's unjust or ridiculous, just take a look at some of the job postings on LinkedIn. The insane stupidity and inability to comprehend posts there make me wonder how humans manage to not only survive, but continue increasing the population.

    Many of the US job postings say you must be a permanent resident or citizen. No less than half the responses to that post will be people from another country who obviously aren't citizens. That doesn't even address the fact that positions that are advertised for BS/MS microbiology candidates will be flooded with PhD organic chemists asking about it. Even more embarrassing is when a position is posted directly from Taleo or IvyExec that requires you to simply click the link to apply. I've seen many a person (including American PhDs) argue with the link that they should be answering more questions about how to apply for the position and that they're rude for not doing so. More embarrassing still is when someone posts their credentials saying they are looking for a job, and are promptly flooded with people asking about the position.

    As a job seeker those things infuriated me, because I knew I was being thrown into a candidate pool full of morons. Being on the other side of the table, I can now understand why hiring managers might resort to this. If you can't pay attention to the instructions in a job listing and won't spend the time making your resume look relevant, you aren't going to survive this job market. And a simple computer program will filter out most of the people in that camp.

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  7. I know I had heard the advice about using key words 5 years ago when I was looking for a job.

    On the other hand - I have also gotton those calls from recruiters who found two key word matches with my resume - only for me to tell them that I am not a good match for the job opening they have. An example: my resume has the words 'biodegradation' and 'polymers' in it, though in different sections. I had a recruiter contact me about a job focusing on polymer biodegradation. I had to tell her that I don't even meet the minimum requirements for the job - my degree is in polymer chemistry, and the company was looking for someone with a MS in microbiology with 5 years of industrial fermentation experience, for the producion of biodegradable polymers. I guess she forgot to look for the words 'microbiology' or 'industrial fermentation' in my resume.

    Another valid reason why people apply for jobs that they have no chance of getting - in some states you have to keep applying for jobs in order to keep getting your unemployment benefits. I have a friend who was unemployed for six months while she was living in Washington state. She had to apply for at least 3 jobs every week, and so she ended up sending in her resume to lots of openings that were inappropriate. So, it's no wonder that employers have to turn around and use computer too screen out so many resumes.

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