Computer programs make work easier for HR departments - but they create new challenges for applicants
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The times when someone took your application out of the mailbox, admired the elaborately designed cover sheet and then studied your résumé?
Are mostly over.
If you send an application to a larger company today, it is very likely that a computer will receive it first.
According to a survey by the Institute for Competitive Recruiting, more than 70 percent of German companies already use so-called applicant management systems.
The search applications for predefined terms and compare them with the job advertisement.
Do you have the degree required by the ad?
If not, the application may end up in the trash before a human worker has read it.
But not only then.
Often, even minor mistakes are enough - and your application will be rejected.
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Ben Dehn has as an employee
der Agentur The application writer wrote more than 1500 applications, in addition he gives courses on the subject at the Ruhr University Bochum.
So he is familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of applicant management systems.
"These systems actually help both sides," he says.
»HR managers don't have to compare several hundred applications by hand, and applicants get clarity more quickly.
But the programs have their pitfalls and sometimes fail, for example because of the formatting of a résumé.
A source of errors that can be easily rectified - if you know what it is. «
How do you write a good resume in 2021?
Dehn and his colleagues prepare applications for young professionals and managers.
They use a so-called CV parser to test the documents.
The program scans resumes for specified search terms and recruitment criteria and then creates a report on what it (has not) found.
This way you can discover problems before you send the documents in.
To illustrate how exactly this works and where the sources of error lie, we came up with the fictional Gabriel Ricci: After graduating from high school, the Würzburger completed a degree in business administration with a focus on the textile trade.
At the same time, he has gained work experience at several large textile chains and is now doing a traineeship for young executives.
In the test, we discovered seven avoidable problems
Ben Dehn checked Ricci's fictional résumé for errors with his CV parser.
The result: With seven points, the program had problems understanding the information - and what the computer did not understand, it either failed to pass it on or entered it incorrectly.
1. Studies and final grade
Ricci has taken a specialized business administration degree, but the term »BWL« does not appear in his name.
If the company had set business studies as an exclusion criterion, Ricci would have been automatically sorted out.
"I would advise applicants to use the term that is mentioned in the job advertisement", says Dehn.
Also relevant: Ricci completed his bachelor's degree with a grade of 2.0 and his high school diploma with a grade of 1.7 - this would probably be recognized by any human employee in a HR department.
The CV parser had problems with this, however, because the word “graduation” is not in front of the grade and because the grade is listed on the same line as the course.
If Ricci had instead written “Final grade: 2.0” in a line of their own, the program would have been able to read and assign the information.
2. Foreign languages or driving licenses?
Very good English, even better Italian and basics in Polish: Gabriel Ricci made an effort in school and studies. However, some parsers recognize the standardized combination of letters and numbers for language levels as a driver's license - or not at all. In our test, the program made an upper school education in English from Ricci's information and did not even show Italian and Polish in the evaluation. Probably because they're on the same line as English.
"It's better to use terms like› fluent ‹or› negotiable ‹," says Dehn.
In addition, one should make sure to state all the languages required in the announcement - i.e. also to note that one speaks the German language, even if one can assume this with a German Abitur.
The CV parsers usually do not master transfer services: In our evaluation of Ricci's curriculum vitae it was stated that he could not speak German.
3. Artistic elements
Ben Dehn is increasingly encountering CVs with graphic elements, especially in creative industries: bar charts, graphs or star ratings reminiscent of Google should make it clear at a glance what knowledge you have gained.
However, CV parsers usually do not understand these images at all.
A simple list will get you ahead in this case.
4. Date formats
Especially with applications in multinational companies you can get problems because of the dates.
July 4th of this year would be written »7/4/21« in the USA and »July 4th, 2021« in Germany.
In addition, Ricci could no longer understand exactly when he was working there for all of his jobs.
Therefore, in his résumé, he alternates between years, months and dates that are accurate to the day.
In the test, this led to Ricci in the eyes of the parser having been in a student internship at a cabinet maker since 2013.
"Ideally, you should only use the MM.YYYY format when specifying stations in your résumé," advises Dehn.
Ricci comes from the textile trade, where DOB is a common term for »women's outerwear«, AWS stands for »accessories, lingerie, socks«.
Professionals would understand, but the program doesn't - and instead classifies Ricci's work experience as PC knowledge.
So better write out all the terms.
6. Change or promotion within the company
After one and a half years as assistant to the sales manager for women's clothing, Ricci took over the management herself for a few months.
In his résumé he lists both positions under the same point.
In Dehn's experience, however, the CV parser usually only recognizes one of them.
"Information from applicants who have held two or three different positions within a company and deal with this in a résumé station is usually never well understood by the program," he warns.
It is better to indicate the different tasks as individual items.
7. Everything on one page
As a nice service for HR, applicants like to try to keep their résumé concise and to compress it into two columns on one page.
This is one of the biggest problems for the computer.
This is because parsers often scan from the far left to the far right;
Discontinuous information gets mixed up so quickly.
If you say goodbye to the romantic idea that someone reads the application first, you can safely submit multi-page résumés.
The human eye can understand and correct many such errors when comparing them, says application expert Dehn.
But the parsers are currently being used to save time.
Often the original is no longer looked at.
And what about the cover letter - is it still important today if the application is being evaluated by a computer anyway? "Yes! But especially in the second step, ”says Dehn. Because once you have overcome the hurdles of the algorithms, someone will still read the application. And he still wants to be impressed with a good cover letter.