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Why Companies Use Software To Scan Resumes


And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

We just heard about the jobs numbers, but now a little more about the data point that actually moves those numbers - hiring. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since January 2009, and this time, the size of the workforce didn't shrink, so more people are working and more people are looking for work.

And of those looking, technology may pose a slight obstacle. Most big companies now use screening software to scan through resumes, and so it could make it even harder to catch an employer's eye. Here's reporter Ben Bradford with more.

BEN BRADFORD, BYLINE: It's estimated about 90 percent of large companies use some form of screening software. So I asked Barbara Safani, a Manhattan career consultant, how does my resume stack up against the machine.

BARBARA SAFANI: There are a lot of things I see here that could immediately just kick it out just because the software can't read it.

BRADFORD: Like what?

SAFANI: For example, on your resume, you have your dates of employment going across columns.

BRADFORD: Mm, the eye reads left to right, and it goes left to right. Apparently, this is not as great an idea as I'd hoped. It turns out, my resume has all kinds of problems. It's a PDF. That's harder for machines to digest. My dates are in the wrong place. My work experience goes the wrong direction, and I have this beautiful side column showing off my impressive digital skills, but because it's not offset below my job experience, the software might think it's another job that I worked at some company called Digital Skills. Thankfully, Safani says these things are easy to fix, and that it's not that hard to create a resume the software can read.

SAFANI: I think it can add a layer of complexity to the process. It's not rocket science, though.

BRADFORD: Eric Lochner is an executive at Kenexa, one of the biggest employment software companies. And Kenexa has some big clients: Wal-Mart, General Electric and Starbucks.

ERIC LOCHNER: Our largest client receives over a million candidates a month. Our average client will receive anywhere from 15 and 40,000 candidates a month.

BRADFORD: Lochner says automation means companies can find quality candidates in a day where it used to take weeks. And job hunters benefit too.

LOCHNER: The process is so much more simplified and streamlined. All of these CVs go into one database. And the CV doesn't get put in an outbox or accidentally deleted.

BRADFORD: Once it's in the database, a resume can be filtered, graded or ranked by how well it matches a job so recruiters only spend time looking at the best fits. But even as more and more companies turn to these programs for their searches, many still aren't finding the people they want. Up to half of all employers say they can't find qualified workers. University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Cappelli says the software actually plays a part in this.

PETER CAPPELLI: There may be people who haven't done exactly this job but have done similar jobs, and it's a sort of a judgment call as to whether the combination of those jobs are enough. So the software can't make those judgment calls, so all those people are tossed out.

LOCHNER: I disagree with that.

BRADFORD: Kenexa's Kevin Lochner.

LOCHNER: That's not because of the technology per se. That's because candidates have to take the time to understand that each opportunity, each company is a different scenario for them. They have got to approach it differently. They've got to customize or tailor their approach for every opportunity they want to go after.

BRADFORD: It turns out this is a great tip to improve how you're ranked. The software searches for different keywords or phrases in your resume: things like years of experience in a field, specific skills, salary requirements, a nearby zip code. If you want a good rating, you have to customize your resume so it has the right words. Of course, that's just step one in the process. Once you get past the machine, you still have to deal with a real, live person in the next step in the hiring process. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bradford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Bradford is a city kid, who came to Charlotte from San Francisco by way of New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Prior to his career in journalism, Ben spent time as an actor, stuntman, viral marketer, and press secretary for a Member of Congress. He graduated from UCLA in 2005 with a degree in theater and from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2012. As a reporter, his work has been featured on NPR, WNYC, the BBC, and Public Radio International.