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New Job Search Service Helps Job Seekers Penetrate Applicant Tracking Systems

The biggest hurdle job seekers face today is attracting recruiters' and hiring managers' attention. This challenge has grown more difficult over the last three years, as the recession forced millions of people onto the job market and as employers increasingly turned to applicant tracking systems to manage all of their job openings and the sea of candidates applying for them.

Applicant tracking systems are in widespread use across midsize and large enterprises. "I don't think you'll find a Fortune 1000 company that doesn't use them," says Josh Bersin, CEO and president of Bersin & Associates, an Oakland, Calif.-based research and advisory services firm specializing in enterprise learning and talent management.

One of the primary features of applicant tracking systems is the ability to evaluate which candidates may be best suited to a particular job, based solely on their resumes. Bersin says applicant tracking systems rely primarily on parsing software to make this determination. They identify specific keywords and phrases that are unique to a given job description and try to find those same keywords and phrases in candidates' resumes to evaluate which ones are most relevant.

Recruiters like applicant tracking systems because they offer a fast, easy way to identify the top 10 candidates in a pool that frequently consists of 100 applicants for professional positions, according to Bersin.

But most job seekers despise them because they believe these applicant tracking systems unfairly screen them out. If a job seeker's resume doesn't contain any or enough of the right keywords and phrases, the system won't rank the job seeker as a good match for the job, regardless of how qualified they may be. (A study conducted by Bersin & Associates confirms this.) Thus, applicant tracking systems can immediately quash job seekers' chances of getting called for interviews. That's why job seekers refer to applicant tracking systems as "black holes." Their resumes enter them, but they never come out.

A new service for job seekers, launched last September, aims to prevent your resume from getting sucked into the black hole. Preptel's "ResumeterPro" service claims to increase job seekers' chances of landing job interviews and offers, first by helping job seekers get through applicant tracking systems, then by providing job seekers with job interview advice and intelligence on other candidates competing for the same job. Preptel was founded by a former general manager with SumTotal, a maker of applicant tracking systems.

How Preptel's ResumeterPro Service Works

The first thing you do after signing up for ResumeterPro, which costs $24.95 per month, is upload your resume to Preptel. Then you can search for jobs via Preptel's Website, which pulls job ads from all the major job boards (including Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn). If you find a job opening through someone in your network or through an employer's Website, you can upload the employer's name, the job title and job description to Preptel's Website.

Once you select a job that interests you, ResumeterPro analyzes your resume. In seconds, it shows you whether your resume is missing any information an applicant tracking system may need to process it, such as your address, phone number, work experience or education. ResumeterPro also ranks how well your resume matches the job description. A weak ranking indicates you have a low probability of getting an interview for the job. A strong rating means you're probably in the top 10. A very strong ranking means you're likely among the top three candidates for the job.

Equally important, ResumeterPro shows you which keywords and phrases you should add or adjust to your resume to improve your rating for the job (and thus your chances of being called for an interview). ResumeterPro applies the same approach to identifying relevant keywords as applicant tracking systems: It identifies appropriate keywords based on their uniqueness to a given job description. Essentially, the keywords most important to include in your resume, that will help you rise to the top of an applicant tracking system's relevancy ranking, are the ones that are unique to that specific job description.

"The relevancy ranking is based on how closely you match each keyword phrase and how many of the keyword phrases you have [on your resume]," says Jon Ciampi, founder and CEO of Preptel. "We show the candidate all those keywords when they submit their resume and job ad. This helps ensure candidates' resumes get through and get noticed by the applicant tracking system."

Ciampi adds that in tests Preptel has a 90 percent accuracy rating in identifying the same keywords that applicant tracking systems identify as relevant.

The next screen shows you how your resume appears in an applicant tracking system. You will likely be shocked and appalled by what you see.

"It's totally different from what candidates think they're submitting," says Jon Ciampi, founder and CEO of Preptel.

Seeing how your resume appears in an applicant tracking system makes you realize why so many qualified people get screened out of the process early on. As such, it demonstrates the importance of writing and formatting your resume specifically for an applicant tracking system: If you don't, the applicant tracking system won't properly identify your experience and won't pull it into the appropriate fields in the software.

ResumeterPro gives you the opportunity to edit your resume based on its suggestions.

I edited my resume based on ResumeterPro's suggestions, and I still received a weak ranking. I think this has more to do with the fact that I'm just not the best match for the "Web Editor" job I selected to test the service than it has to do with some deficiency in ResumeterPro. There were some keyword phrases I simply couldn't add to my resume without lying about my work experience, and I suspect not having experience "driving content aggregation and synthesis" on my resume kills my chances of getting past the applicant tracking system and landing an interview for this job (not that I'm looking).

That said, I could have used more guidance from ResumeterPro on how to best incorporate the keywords that were relevant to my work experience and to the specific job into my resume. I could probably get that guidance if I signed up for Preptel's premium service, ResumeterPro Annual Plus Resume Writing, which pairs you with a professional resume writer and costs $499.95 per year.

When Bersin & Associates tested approximately 30 resumes against ResumeterPro last year, the company was impressed with the results. "We looked at the match score before and after we implemented Preptel's recommendations, and the recommendations did in fact improve the resumes' relevancy rankings," says Bersin. "It worked exactly as advertised."

In one case, a resume that originally received a 43 percent relevancy ranking in one applicant tracking system scored a 95 percent relevancy ranking after Bersin & Associates incorporated Preptel's recommendations into the resume.

Preptel's Interview Guide

A potentially compelling component of Preptel's ResumeterPro service is competitive intelligence. ResumeterPro attempts to show job seekers how well they stack up against other candidates in Preptel's system who are applying for the same job across five criteria: their work experience, industry experience, skills, education and proximity to the job.

"In our system, we can infer what that candidate pool looks like," says Ciampi. "We can say, 'You're unique in this way: You're the only candidates with these three skill sets or seven years of industry experience, but you're also weak in these areas."

Ciampi says Preptel is able to make assumptions about the candidate pool by looking at a number of factors: unemployment in the area, which gives Preptel an idea of the volume of job seekers; the professional profiles of people who've held that position or similar positions in the past; the profiles of people who could hold that position and people who are currently applying for the job.

This kind of competitive intelligence could be invaluable to job seekers. However, it's only as good as the number of people using this system. According to Ciampi, that number is currently in the "single digit thousands." Obviously, he wants to increase Preptel's user base.

When I checked out my competitive analysis for the "Web Editor" position I used to test ResumeterPro, it showed that I ranked ahead of my competition, in contrast to the weak ranking my resume received. Compared to other applicants, I was very strong on proximity and experience and strong on education and industry experience. I thought it was odd that ResumeterPro ranked me so strongly on proximity, given that I am in Vermont, and a four hour drive from NYC, where this Web Editor position is based.

Despite some of the idiosyncrasies I encountered with Preptel's ResumeterPro, the service appears to be helping some job seekers make progress. Preptel CEO Ciampi says that in an analysis of 13,000 jobs

Preptel users applied for between September 2011 through December 2011, 50 percent of of those applicants whose resumes had a "very strong" relevancy ranking successfully landed interviews. Preptel doesn't yet have statistics on the number of people who receive job offers. "We're trying to figure out how to track that," says Ciampi.

ResumeterPro's Value

Research shows that the best way to land a new job is through a referral. Recruiters, hiring managers and HR personnel polled by Jobvite last year ranked referrals as the best way to find the most qualified candidates. Searching and applying for jobs online is one of the least effective ways to find a new job. Of course, that's partly because job seekers' online applications go directly into applicant tracking systems that misread their resume and subsequently filter them out.

Nevertheless, plenty of job seekers continue to look for jobs online, and this is where ResumeterPro helps. The beauty of the service is that it gives job seekers a fast, easy way to customize their resumes for specific jobs—a job search best practice. ResumeterPro also gives them insight into how these mysterious applicant tracking systems work and how they can most effectively write and format their resumes so that they can rise to the top of these systems.

If you rely primarily on job boards and you're not having any luck when you submit your resume online, ResumeterPro might be right for you.

Considering the chances your resume might get completely ignored, it's worth it," says Bersin. "The software could probably be improved over time, but it absolutely added value [in our tests]."


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