Richard Poulin, resume expert, weighs in on Jobscan

This is a “behind-the-scenes” article. It reveals how Jobscan was created, from the very mouth of its founders: James Hu and Michael Lee.

You see, just like them, I run a small business in the job search space. And when I discovered Jobscan, I thought it was a great tool… that is, if it did work as advertised.

“Copy this, paste that, clickety-click, poof! Here’s a few tips to get interviews.” Yeah, I was skeptical.

James and I eventually got in touch, when I was researching the topic of applicant tracking systems (ATS). And after getting to know him, I started digging a bit. (You can’t just ask straight out if someone’s full of baloney after 5 minutes, right? Not a good first-date move.) And he actually had real answers. My reaction was: “Why isn’t this on your website?!”

I told James that Jobscan needed to let its audience know how it was built, but especially how they tested it, to make sure it worked.

And since I enjoyed the topic, I figured I could interview the two founders and write this article, if they allowed me to plug my business. So, check out Resume Hacking if you need help with resume accomplishments. (How’s that for transparency?)

During that discussion, I learned a lot about the story of James and Michael, and how Jobscan came about. This will have to wait for another article, which should be published right here in a few days.

This article is really about demonstrating how/why Jobscan works.

The idea: dealing with resume keywords

James created the original, nameless tool when he was looking for a job himself, and wanted to automate his own keyword-tailoring process. He felt he was wasting too much time, so he created what would become Jobscan.

At first, it was only for his personal use. However, the tool served him so well that he told his friends, who told theirs, and Jobscan was born.

The idea behind Jobscan was simple: paste your resume, paste the job ad, and Jobscan looks for similarities and differences. And it tells you what you need to change to optimize your application.

Jobscan GIF
This is Jobscan’s process. Simple, right?

And that’s where you might be skeptical, as I was. Is it really that simple? Can a relatively basic keyword analysis tool help you jump over such a major hurdle (the automated resume screening)?

What convinced me was the testing that James and Michael performed on applicant tracking systems (ATS), the software that does the resume screening.

One of their main problems was that they needed to study many ATS (of which there are hundreds!). And ATS are full-fledged, business-grade systems. The type of software that is “implemented,” not simply “installed”. In other words, they weren’t comparing movie editors for a vacation video.

They did look for an ATS for Jobscan (to use for their own Human Resources needs), so that provided them with a first access to some ATS. But they went further.

How do you test many applicant tracking systems?

James and Michael tapped into their network to find HR advisors who’d let them test out their tool. These people were using ATS every day, as part of their jobs. So after five o’clock, they’d bring chocolate and run a couple of tests.

The goal was to analyze how software “understood” a resume. The software, in this case, was a resume parser, an important piece of the applicant tracking system. The resume parser scans your resume, looking for chosen keywords. It can also extract your name and contact info, diplomas, companies you’ve worked for, and so on.

Here’s what they did. They made slight variations of a couple of resumes, which they fed to each ATS, analyzing the results at the other end. Add an “s” here and there. Remove the hyphen. Add Master of Business Administration, and search for “MBA”. Change the format. Stuff like that.

What did the machine understand? And, more importantly, when was it confused?

If you’ve been hanging around here at Jobscan for a while, you already know about all these rules you have to follow, to make sure your resume is easy to digest by the applicant tracking system. Well, for the testing phase, they were systematically breaking these rules, one at a time, monitoring results.

Highlighted issues of ATS
ATS just aren’t that smart

They ran all sorts of tests, which, in a very non-dramatic way, confirmed what most articles were saying: ATS don’t work that well. So you better have good keywords.

And this wasn’t a single test at one company, on some system that hadn’t been updated since Windows XP. These were serious tests that covered a decent amount of the top 10 ATS out there. In other words, they tested systems that are very prominent right now in the job search space, which often screen out resumes for bogus reasons.

James and Michael soon realized the issues were fairly obvious. In other words, flaws weren’t buried deeply; they would surface regularly. You’ve been a “program manager” for 5 years? You’re out of luck if the recruiter is searching for “program management”… unless the recruiter also searches for “program manager.”

There were a few instances where their testing didn’t trigger rejection, contrary to what was expected. For example, using tables (which is great for visual organization) or presenting information in the header/footer was not a problem for most ATS.

But generally speaking, ATS proved to be very temperamental gatekeepers. And Jobscan was adapted to address that issue, in light of the testing performed by its founders.

And it works.

I’ve asked James for a few examples of user feedback.

“In what used to take me hours—to handcraft my standard resume to fit a job description—I can get the ‘meat’ of it to match 80 to 90% in about 10 minutes. Quite a timesaver,” said user Sam who is searching for technical project manager jobs.

Another user testimonial comes from George, a material planner with an MBA, who credits using Jobscan with a bump in interview requests, “In the first two days after adjusting my resume from Jobscan and placing it on LinkedIn, I received emails from three recruiters and had one interview”.

ATS are useful (if you work in HR)

Generally speaking, the recruiters they’ve discussed with were not very fond of ATS. (That’s also been my experience.) But in the world of LinkedIn and smartphones, HR pros need a tool to handle the massive amount of candidates, however imperfect that tool may be. And it’s not just about screening resumes. ATS also help with communication, maintaining the candidate database and so on.

Another useful thing about ATS, from the employer’s perspective, is that the system can help to demonstrate compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) laws. “We’re fair because we use computers to screen out resumes.”

In other words, these systems are helpful, despite their flaws. And they’re not going anywhere. “Ed Struzik, an International Business Machines Corp. expert on the systems, puts the proportion of large companies using them in the “high 90%” range, and says it would “be very rare to find a Fortune 500 company without one.” (Update: New research shows that 99% of Fortune 500 use ATS.)

If you want to see this in a positive light, you could accept that ATS companies aren’t too focused on making resume scanning smarter. And then, use that knowledge to your advantage by giving keywords extra attention.

Humans will look beyond the keywords

ATS will certainly get more sophisticated over the years. But that heavily depends on developments in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, which are currently not smart enough to make the deep analysis required to really understand your resume.

In the future, maybe a resume that talks about “financial reporting” and “audit” will be associated to an accountant. But for now, the word “accountant” better show up!

That being said, humans are still making the final decision. You’ll need accomplishments and measurable results to show how you stand out as a candidate and get the interview. But to get your resume in front of human eyes, you must get through the first selection hoop, where keywords are critical.

And you can tailor keywords on your own, of course, or use Jobscan to accelerate the process.

About Richard:

Richard Poulin is a resume writer and marketing professional with 12 years of experience. He spent most of his career as a proposal manager with PwC, the largest consulting firm in the world. His role there was to help accountants and business consultants stand out in the marketplace. That’s where he learned everything about resumes.
Today, he’s working on a business of his own, Resume Hacking. He writes e-books to offer tailored resume advice, by profession. Richard has a bachelor’s degree in communication, master’s degree in political science.
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