In a world where seas of resumes are initially sorted by screening software, it's still possible to outsmart the machine on your way to the top of the heap. It just means a little more¿well, thinking, on your part.

by Amy Rauch Neilson

It's one thing to learn the employer offered someone else the job you were hot for. It's another to learn you never even made the cut - because a purveyor of "artificial intelligence" screened out your resume.

Computer ScreenIn a world where seas of resumes are initially sorted by screening software, it's still possible to outsmart the machine on your way to the top of the heap. It just means a little more, well, thinking, on your part.

"The secret is to tailor every single resume to every single position that you're responding to," says Cathy Fyock, director of recruiting for consultant Resources Global Professionals, headquartered in Irvine, Calif. "You need to be absolutely on point by using the identical verbiage." On other words, if the position calls for a Web architect, be sure those words appear in your cover letter and resume.


"If you are aware that, within your industry, there's more than one way to identify a skill - such as proficiency with a software program - make sure your cover letter and resume reflect that," adds Sandy Allgeier, a former corporate HR executive and author of The Personal Credibility Factor. "That way, even if the computer skips the screen on one, it will pick you up on the other."

And make yourself stand out. "In our last set of interviews, the candidates that made the cut included letters of reference and/or letters of recommendation," says Brett McQuiston, an infrastructure architect for SPX Service Solutions.

One sure way to outsmart the computer is to avoid it altogether. "If you've taken a really different career path, but your skills would transfer well to a certain position, get to a real person," says Fyock, who is also the author of five books, including The Truth About Hiring the Best. Allgeier agrees, noting, "This is still a human process."

Don't Mimic Too Much

Indeed, you should keep in mind that some organizations still do things the old-fashioned way. "We don't use electronic screening software for resumes. If you want to make the cut, make sure that your resume and cover letter match up with our job description, tweaking them a bit to emphasize how you are a good fit for our needs," says Doug Gerlach, vice president of strategic business development for BetterInvesting, an investment education organization headquartered in Madison Heights, Mich.

"Do not, however, copy and paste text directly from our job description into your cover letter or resume. This will not make a good impression. A colleague of mine had this experience - a job-seeker's resume looked a bit too perfect, and when she compared the resume to the job description, she found that the individual had literally copied sections of the job requirements into the list of accomplishments on the resume."

Network Your Way to a Human

Finally, remember that in the end, the human brain prevails. So get out there and network. "Think about who you know who knows someone at the organization and can make a connection," Fyock says. "If you're sending your resume out to every position on the Internet, but never talking to a real person, you're missing out on the best strategy. Find out who the hiring manager is and make a direct contact. That's how it works. That's how you can be smarter than the computer."

Amy Rauch Neilson is a business writer based in Belleville, Mich.