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8 tips for optimizing resume-screening software

Automated systems often take the first whack at the pile of resumes that flood in for every job opening, and it helps if job-seekers know how to think like the machine. For tips on getting past the software, we turned to Josh Bersin, chief executive of the human resources consulting firm Bersin & Associates in Oakland, Calif.; Vinda Rao, marketing manager for Bullhorn, an applicant tracking system software company in Boston; and Doug Schade, a recruiter for Winter, Wyman Cos. based in Waltham.

Replicate the language of the job posting. “If the job is for ‘software programmer’ and your resume says ‘engineer,’ it may not match very well,” Bersin said.


Be specific. The software won’t be able to tell if a “Microsoft software engineer” worked for Microsoft Corp. or has knowledge of Microsoft products.

Pepper your resume with buzzwords. Some systems count the number of times a key term comes up — the occurrence of the word “Twitter” on social media-related applications, for instance — and assign a higher rank to those who mention it more often. “Treat your resumes like a blog that you’re trying to optimize through a Google search result,” Rao said.

But don’t get carried away. Some crafty job-seekers embed extra key words in white on a resume to fool the software into ranking them higher, but if you don’t actually possess these skills, the human who interviews you later will be able to tell.

Get ready for a pop psychology quiz. More companies are using online questions like, “Would you rather go to a party or spend a quiet night at home?’’ to find candidates who will fit into their culture.

Don’t be tempted to send out 300 resumes just because you can. Stick to the five you know you’re qualified for and make your application sing. “I’m a firm believer that less is more,” Schade said.


Don’t include salary requirements unless the posting requests it. Recruiters can set up the software to knock out applicants who ask for too much.

Cover letters are a waste of time. Don’t bother.


Katie Johnston can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.