A tip for applying to jobs online

This post is part of a series that takes generic job search advice from experts and attempts to give you actionable steps to implement that advice.

The first post in this new series can be found here.

We’ve all read catchy career advice titles like the ones below:

  • Top ten ways to nail that interview
  • Job search priority number one: networking
  • Five ways to make a great first impression

I ate this stuff up while in school and while focusing on my career search. Based on the titles, the career search seemed so simple because, according to “career experts”, it was all distilled down to ten steps, three techniques, etc., etc. On the surface, this advice spells out exactly what you should be focusing on. A key issue that you’ve probably noticed with 95 percent of career advice, however, is that it’s painfully generic!   

For this edition, we’ll focus on a cool way to implement this generic tip: “When applying to jobs online, beat the Applicant Tracking System by tailoring your resume with the right words.”

First off, great advice (albeit generic)! By tailoring your resume to meet what recruiting software screens, you improve your chances of getting noticed. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how to actually accomplish this.

What the heck is ATS?!

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS for short) are software packages used by recruiters, HR professionals, and executives to weed out candidates based on words, phrases, and titles used in your resume, cover letter, and online application.  If you’ve submitted your resume into the bottomless black boxes that are online job applications, you’ve likely had your application screened by this software.  ATS software uses a mixture of algorithms to sift through hundreds and thousands of resumes at a time. It highlights (according to the algorithms) which candidates are the best fit for the position. Hiring managers can then take this list of “top” candidates and start the interviewing process.  You may be perfect for a position and, because your resume doesn’t meet the sniff test of the software, may never get a call to interview.  Bottom line: the software is designed to weed through the fluff of online applications according to the hiring manager’s rules.

If you want to learn more, here are a few software packages on the market:




Here’s an interesting youtube video from an HR perspective:

Just to recap:

The recruiting industry uses algorithms in their resume screening …why not do the same to focus your resume writing?!

Enter Wordle

Wordle is an online word cloud generator.  You simply paste in a block of text, and the algorithms sift through it to highlight the most prominent, useful, and impactful words and phrases.  While this application isn’t new, it’s still incredibly useful (used in the ’08 presidential campaign by media outlets to analyze themes and messages in candidates’ speeches).

By pasting in a job description, Wordle can be used as a tool in your job search to quickly isolate which keywords and phrases hiring managers place an emphasis on.  Words that are more important in their selection process will likely appear larger and more prominent in the Wordle word cloud.  You can then highlight these words as you write your resume for a specific position.

Here’s a quick exercise that shows how this can be useful.

I found a job description (Director of Real Estate) from a well known real estate job website, pasted it into Wordle, and this graphic was generated:

Wordle generates a graphic composition of the words in that job description. Words with more emphasis and importance are given larger font and more prominence in the graphic.

Given the replication of “real estate” and a few other common words in the job description, they are the most prominent. But the second tier of words starts to hint at what is likely important in this position. When writing a resume for this position, I’d want to explain my experience with all of these words, skills, etc. For example, these words jump out to me as ones to focus on when writing a resume for this position:

Leasing, strategy, development, growth, relationships, negotiations, operations, and design..

By using these words, and others in the word cloud, you may improve your chances of beating an ATS because hiring managers are likely to focus on these words when weeding out online applications, cover letters, and resumes.

I hope that helps you in your career search. Good luck!

4 thoughts on “A tip for applying to jobs online

  1. Excellent insight. Regardless of the preparation and knowledge of a job searcher, knowing how the process works is not fully understood by many. Trying on the shoes of a recruiter will certainly give applicants a leg up.

  2. Fantastic post Kyle – keep up the good work. The Wordle tip to reverse engineer algorithms is clever indeed but also works for manual hiring where wordle may throw up some company/industry specific words that the candidate would do well to talk in terms of…

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