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6 Ways to Get Your Resume Past the Resume Filter

6 Ways to Get Your Resume Past the Resume Filter

Applying for jobs used to mean driving, walking, or taking public transportation all over town dropping off resumes and filling out applications. These days, you can apply for hundreds of jobs a day from your computer, as you have an internet connection. In the process of transitioning online, many businesses have automated the first few steps of the application process, and, just like any other automated process, you can game the system if you’re smart about it.

If you need help getting past the resume filter in the job application process, here’s what you need to do:

1. Read the Job Description

It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people just read the job posting title, scan over the requisition, and go immediately to apply. This is how you end up at a job you don’t like. As much as you need money, you don’t want a job you completely hate. You will inevitably loathe certain aspects of your job, so don’t make it harder on yourself. Read the job description and make sure it’s something that: a) you want to do, and b) you’re able to do, competently. If you’ve only had a paper route and a McJob in high school, you have no business applying to be the Vice President of anything. Read the job description so you understand completely before applying.

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You may also be interested in: Cover Letter Tips to Land an Interview

2. Identify Required Qualifications

When reading the job description, check out the qualifications. Employers will list the minimum requirements that they’re looking for. These qualifications ARE the resume filters, so if you don’t meet these qualifications, you’ll be filtered out.

It literally works like this: if I’m only looking for people with a Bachelor’s degree, my resume filter will only show me applicants who have a Bachelor’s degree listed on their resume. Think of it as a multiple choice scantron – if the answer is C and you filled in A, you got the question wrong. There are no second chances with automation; if anything is listed as “required” or “qualifications,” you won’t get past the filter without it. It is very black and white, with no gray areas.

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3. Identify Desired Skills

Many jobs list desired skills, as well. That’s letting you know that once your resume meets the minimum requirements to move past the resume filter and be shown to a human being, they’re going to show preference to applicants with the desired skills. A Bachelor’s degree may be the barrier to entry, but they’d love to see a Master’s degree. The Master’s degree is only “desired” and not “required” though, so make up for it in other ways. Companies are willing to train the right person.

4. Be Sure Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile Show Qualifications

I know this sounds obvious, but it’s shocking how many people think certain skills are assumed. Just because you have prior sales experience, it doesn’t mean you know Salesforce. If I’m asking for a job related to Salesforce, you need to have Salesforce listed on your resume, and you should probably have your experience level listed, as well. There’s a chance I’ll have a Salesforce test in the interview, so don’t list it unless you are sure you can pass that test, however. Also, don’t just list your work history–make it meaningful.

You’ll do yourself a favor by updating your LinkedIn profile to match your resume. Also, make a quick scan of your social media presence. The time between interviewing and hiring you is normally when an employer does a background check online. Discrepancies will be noted, and you will be questioned on them, so don’t list something on your resume that contradicts your public LinkedIn profile.

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5. Upload a Resume and/or Connect to LinkedIn to Extract Data

It’s time to upload your resume. This sounds easy, but it takes vigilance. In most cases, data from your resume (or LinkedIn profile) will be used to populate a web form. Double-check that each field is filled out correctly. Some optical character recognition (OCR) and data extraction programs have trouble compiling info, so you may have your email address listed as a former employer, or other such oddities. Pay special attention to any fields with an asterisk next to them, as these are required fields, and you won’t make it past the resume filter without these.

6. If You Want It, Then You Better Put a Spin on It

It’s never a good idea to lie on a job resume. Lying about a qualification will get you past the resume filter, but you’ll eventually get caught (most likely in the interview). Telling someone you have $100k in sales looks great, but you’ll eventually have to back that up, and if you’ve never sold so much as a cup of lemonade as a kid, you have no idea what it takes to make $100k in sales. You may know all the terminology, but if you can’t close the sales and meet your numbers, you won’t last at that job, and you’ll be worse off than you were before.

However, don’t be afraid to talk yourself up; you likely have more skills than you realize. If you’re tech-savvy, computer skills beef up your resume and can set you apart from the crowd – just don’t claim any certifications you don’t have unless you’re sure you can obtain them prior to employment (and understand those certifications cost time and money you may not have). I once told a hiring manager I was an expert with MS Access, even though I’d only touched the program twice in my life. Although I didn’t actually know Access at the time, I knew Excel, and picked it up successfully before anyone noticed.

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7. Email the Hiring Manager

Despite all our technological advances, there’s still no replacement for good old human contact. If you can find a name of the person hiring, or you know anyone on the inside, email them. They may be able to pull your resume out the bunch, even though it wouldn’t normally have made it past the resume filter. Nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism are very much alive and well in the world, and you shouldn’t be afraid to use them to your advantage. At the very least, sending the email may make the person like you enough to overlook a few shortcomings that the machines would not have. You have nothing to lose by trying.

As you can see, a little experience and a lot of common sense can go a long way to securing employment. With so many HR processes being automated by machines, you can easily navigate through a large volume of job applications. The more jobs you apply for, the more likely you are to get hired. Incorporating the above steps into your daily job search routine will ensure you spend as little time as possible looking for a job.

If you made it past the application stage and scored an interview, make sure you look your best. Check out: How to Tie a Tie like an Expert

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

How to Write an Impressive Cover Letter (With Examples)

How to Write an Impressive Cover Letter (With Examples)

Think of your cover letter for a job application as an in-person introduction. Your resume outlines the facts—where you worked and for how long, along with your major accomplishments. But your cover letter also shows off your personality.

Your cover letter should outline the case for why you deserve the job without being “salesy.” How do you do that? Follow these 12 important guidelines.

1. There Is No Cookie-Cutter Cover Letter for a Job

Targeting your resume to a particular job may mean changing up your “Objective” section a bit or adding to your “Executive Summary” section. Cover letters, though, really need to focus on the particular person you’re writing to, the particular job, and the particular company. It needs to prove, with an economy of words, that your job experience fits the requirements of the position for which you’re applying.

Your letter should show that you have amassed the skills you need to succeed in that workplace. And, your cover letter should clinch your prospects by making the case that you are very excited about working at that particular company.

2. Always Opt-in to the Optional Cover Letter

Some job postings will give applicants the option of opting out of providing a cover letter for a job[1]. Don’t take the bait! Use the opportunity to further sell yourself in a personalized, well-crafted cover letter that creatively shares who you are and why your skills and personality align with the position and the company. Think of your cover letter for a job as an opportunity to describe your value proposition.

3. A Reference Goes a Long Way

Did someone recommend you for the job? Put that in the subject line of your cover letter if possible. If an online listing dictates what your subject line must be, cite the personal recommendation in the first sentence of your letter:

Dear Ms. Sanders,

Steve Smith recommended me for your Assistant Planner position. I worked with Steve at the XYZ company for four years as his assistant until he moved on, and I feel as though I learned from the best.  His high praise for you is the primary reason I am applying for this position, as I consider him an excellent judge of character. 

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You may want to bolster Steve’s recommendation with a short anecdote about working with Steve. Don’t be shy. Steve’s high opinion of you will likely mean that your resume gets a serious look.

4. Outline the Key Points You Want to Make

Company by company, your cover letter for a job application needs to be specific and bulletproof. Unless you have a great deal of practice in writing cover letters, it’s hard to just bang them out. So don’t even try. Instead, start with a list of points you intend to make. Generally, these would be a “grabby” introduction, a story or two about a particular accomplishment that is relevant to the job to which you are applying, a reason why you are the ideal candidate for the position, and a conclusion with a suggested next step.

  1. Intro – Have been familiar with the company since my father worked there in the 1980s.
  2. College Major – Majored in industrial engineering so I could get a job at CYY Building, Inc.
  3. Captain of Soccer Team – Prepared me to solve problems, promote morale, and coach a team.
  4. Ask for Informational Interview – 15 minutes to meet in person and learn more about opportunities.
  5. Compelling Close – Ask Hiring Manager to call me. Say I will call her in a week if I don’t hear from her first.

5. Moderating the Tone of Your Cover Letter

Some companies are buttoned-up. The workers wear three-piece suits to the office each day plus loafers. Other companies are more casual. The employees wear shorts in the summertime and skateboard through the hallways. In an in-person interview, you would never wear shorts to a company whose employees are sporting three-piece suits.

Similarly, your cover letter needs to strike the right note. The letter you write to a start-up should sound markedly different than the letter you would write to a white-shoe law firm.

For example, even using something as informal as “Greetings” for the salutation may not be appropriate at a more formal firm. And definitely don’t use the default “To Whom It May Concern.” Instead, try to find the name of the hiring manager with an online search. If that’s not possible, you will want to begin with “Dear XYZ Hiring Manager.” The tone of your cover letter for a job starts at the very beginning.

6. Create an Attention-Grabbing Opening Line

Think of going to hear a presentation by a motivational speaker, only to have her open with, “I’m here today to present (fill in with title of the presentation).” What a let down! What if instead, she started with, “I just ran a half marathon. Now doesn’t that sound better than if I told you, ‘I tried to run a marathon but quit half-way through?’” See the difference? You want to hear more.

Craft the first line of your cover letter with the utmost care. It doesn’t need to be clever, but it needs to show your personality and your fit for the position.

Dear Mr. Stevens,

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I am committed to making the customer service experience better for people like my grandmother. At 87 years old, my Gram is lost in the digital world and reliant on customer service representatives she can reach by telephone to answer her questions and solve her problems. She regularly shares stories of frustrating dead-ends she experiences with people wanting her to “go online and make your selection.”  Yet, whenever she reaches someone willing to take the extra time to resolve her issue, she sings the company’s praises to everyone she knows. Based on Gram’s frustrations, I want to be that person who won’t give up or pass the buck with bewildered customers.  

With a strong, anecdotal opening such as this, you show purpose and passion behind your application to be a customer service representative.

7. Recognize the Value of Cover Letter Real Estate

Spare writing is key in the cover letter for a job. It is always best if your letter doesn’t exceed a page. Those reviewing applications appreciate a letter that is terse, yet provides useful information to evaluate an applicant. This means you have five to six paragraphs in which to work.

Repeating anything from your resume is a waste of real estate. Think in terms of describing why you are applying for the position and why you are the best candidate.

To best show your personality, avoid stale phrases such as, “I believe my experience would be a good fit in your organization.” Add punch to your statements that show off your accomplishments and your attitude.

I thrive in start-up environments where I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and to make changes on the fly. In one such instance, I uncovered better results from a pilot project and in under 30 minutes had updated the CEO’s presentation in time for his meeting with a venture capitalist.

8. Getting Creative

On the surface, a requirement is a requirement. Many online ads specify the number of years, and you might think they are ironclad. But if you count the number of years you amassed a particular skill at the job and add any volunteer work where you also used that skill, you might surpass the requirement.

Say that you are applying for a position in fund development. If your career experience in putting on charity fundraisers falls a little short, it’s certainly appropriate to add in time spent organizing fundraising events as a volunteer—as long as you indicate it as such in your cover letter for the job.

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I recently passed my two and a half year mark of employment as a fund development associate with Notable Events. Concurrently, I oversaw all aspects of two annual fundraising galas as a volunteer board member of Reach for the Stars Foundation, offering scholarships to first-generation college-bound students. These involved finding sponsors for more than 70 silent auction items, renting event space, working with caterers, recruiting volunteers and MC-ing both events, which each drew more than 200 attendees and, together, raised more than $250,000. I believe this intensive hands-on experience helps supplement my years of employment.

Showcasing your community ethos through volunteering could make up for the deficit in actual on-the-job experience.

9. Making the Case that You Fit

How will you fit in at the company? With some research, you can easily figure out the corporate culture of an organization. Many companies share their core values in job recruitment ads. But even if you can’t discern a company’s mission or beliefs from its advertising, you can learn it from articles you read about the company.

Is it employer-centric or employee-centric? Is the culture more traditional or more fun? And what are you looking for? When you find a company where your needs align with theirs, that’s an indication that you would fit in well. Take care to make sure that your cover letter reflects how you fit.

If you are a recent military veteran[2], consider which civilian positions lend themselves to the regimented culture of which you’ve become accustomed. For example, your occupational specialty while in the military could dovetail well with a company’s job requirements—and you have the added benefit of discipline, following instructions, and teamwork that you can apply to any future position.

10. Always Ask for What You’re Worth

If the employer asks applicants to share their salary requirements in the cover letter for a job, disregard what you made in your former position and look into the salary ranges[3] of the advertised position. You will want to adjust up or down within the salary range depending on your prior experience in the industry or in a similar role.

The key is to not undercut yourself by asking below the minimum amount, or to overinflate your worth by asking for an amount higher than the maximum pay in the salary range.

11. Show Your Cover Letter to Three People Whose Opinion You Trust

Once your letter is out in the world, it’s too late to tweak it for that particular job. You will dramatically improve your chances of having your cover letter “land” correctly if you’re proactive. Find a few people in the field, and ask them if you can show them your cover letter before you send it out.

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If you are starting out and don’t know anyone in the field, you may want to consider paying for a professional career consultant or coach to review your cover letter and resume. Remember that the care you demonstrate in your cover letter is that employer’s first impression of you.

12. End With Enthusiasm

You want to stay upbeat all the way to the end of the letter. Let the reviewer know that you appreciate the opportunity to apply and that you look forward to hearing from (or having a chance to meet with) them in person.

It would be an honor to be part of your team, and I hope to have an opportunity to discuss this role and how I could contribute to it in person.

This acknowledges that the organization gets to make the next move, but that you anticipate it will be in your favor.

Sign off formally (“Sincerely” or “Best regards”) or informally (“Best” or “Thank you”) depending on the tone of the letter. Also, be sure to include your email address and phone number under your name. This ensures that, should the reviewer wish to contact you, the contact information is easily accessible.

Final Thoughts

The best cover letters for a job are lively, authentic, and provide a memorable result, anecdote or example of your approach to work. By tying your approach to the requirements of the job description and revealing your personality as a fit for the organization, you will give yourself a winning chance for making the cut and landing that coveted job interview.

More Tips on Writing a Great Cover Letter

Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

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