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Why applying for jobs sucks so bad

Yesterday, I shared an interview I did with Lauren Lee about how to hack your job hunt. One of my students noted that in the interview, I mentioned hacking your resume to get past the bots, but never circled back and talked about it.

Today, I thought I’d write about it. Let’s dig in!

Why applying for jobs sucks so bad

Before the internet, if you wanted to apply for a job you had to browse through job listing in the local paper and physically mail in your resume. It was time-consuming and friction-filled, and as a result, companies received a pretty manageable amount of applicants for jobs.

The web makes it absurdly easy to find and apply for jobs. You can search by keyword for jobs anywhere in the world, and then apply with just a few clicks.

Originally, this was awesome. You could easily find the perfect job, and employers could access a larger pool of applicants more easily.

And then the economy got bad.

Suddenly, businesses were getting flooded with hundreds or thousands of resumes.

People were desperate for work. Many weren’t really qualified for the roles they were applying for. But the process is so frictionless, they sent their resumes in anyway.

There’s no way a recruiter could actually sort through all of those resumes.

So people built software to do it for them.

An Applicant Tracking System (or ATS) is a piece of HR software that collects and tracks resumes.

It’s most powerful feature: automatically filtering resumes. Recruiters can provide keywords for each role, and the ATS scans resumes for those keywords and tries to determine how good of a match for the job the person is.

If the ATS doesn’t think you’re a close enough match, your resume never gets seen by a real person.

Even if you make it through the ATS, a recruiter may only look at your resume for a few seconds.

Depending on the role and the company, hundreds of resumes might still make it through the ATS. The role you’re applying for may be one of dozens that the recruiter is responsible for.

One study found that your resume will only get looked at for six seconds.

Your resume has an absurdly difficult task.

First, it has to make it past the ATS and get seen by a real person. Then it has to convince that person—in just six seconds—to keep reading instead of putting it back in the stack.

Here’s the good news: now that you know how this process works, you can design for it.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to fix it.