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A Peek Behind the Magic Curtain of Online Applications

By Edited May 21, 2015 1 2

Have you ever wondered exactly what happens to your resume once you send it in? I mean, you put all that effort into putting your entire career down onto paper, then when you finally do send it off it almost seems like it disappeared into a black hole!  What gives?

                Actually, the black hole theory isn’t too far off from the truth!  I had the same problems on the receiving end when I started doing interviews.  It seemed like all of the people who said that they’d already applied would have their resumes vanish, and then re-appear out of nowhere a few weeks later!  That’s why I’d like to talk for a few minutes today about how my company handles unsolicited resumes because it’s probably a pretty similar process with most of the other large companies.  Basically, it works like this:  If someone’s resume comes in by email attachment then the entire file, including the cover letter, the computer automatically pastes the information into a spreadsheet file.  Each candidate has their own spreadsheet, which is saved in a database from which all candidates will be sourced.  Online application forms work the same way, with all of the information going directly into a database.  I’m no computer whiz, so you’d have to check with my IT guys to explain exactly how the whole process works, but what you really need to know is that at this point, NO ONE HAS EVEN LOOKED AT YOUR RESUME!

                So then how do people actually go about getting hired?  Well, remember when I mentioned last week that most vacancies are posted well in advance of the company actually needing people?  Let’s say that day is finally here.  Maybe a big contract has just been awarded, for example.  The recruiter will then need to pull up enough eligible candidates to fill all of the slots, so he’ll have a search program run through all the saved resumes that have been submitted.  The program searches through all of the files looking for keywords that were listed in the job description.  More than likely, the recruiter will have pre-programmed his search function to pull up resumes that contain certain phrases laid out in the “Required Skills” section of the posting.  “Medic” or “combat”, maybe.

Then, once he’s got a large enough pool of candidates for his needs, he’ll finally start looking through the resumes himself.  If an applicant’s skills match the contract requirements, that’s when the initial phone calls or the “Are you still available?” emails will go out.  Any candidates who had the right keywords but not enough experience or skills will get tossed back into the database.  Now the recruiter’s hoping that he’ll be able to get enough quality candidates from these initial calls. I he hasn’t, he’ll go back to search through more resumes, but using looser keywords this time.  Depending on the position, there might be other factors involved as well.  For example, my applicants are usually grouped by those people who applied to a specific vacancy, those people living in a general geographical location for US based full-time positions, and those resumes that have just been tossed into the pool for general consideration.

                If it’s starting to sound like I spend a lot of time at the computer, you’re right.  But all this desk work has helped me to see a couple of major quirks within the hiring system.  A big one is that the recruiter that you’re working with will more than likely be a low-paid civilian with little or no military or security experience.  Even if you get lucky and end up working with one who has been around the block a time or two, keep in mind how quickly conditions can change in a war zone.  There’s usually a big disconnect between what actually happens in country and what the folks back home think is supposed to happen.  To put it bluntly, your chances at landing a job are now in the hands of someone who’s clueless about your future job.  This is where it’ll fall on you to do a couple of key things to tilt the scales in your favor:

                -Build your professional network.  Personal referrals completely bypass the database, which guarantees that your resume will at least get a look by human eyes. (Stay tuned for a future post on both the right and wrong ways to go about landing that referral!)

                -Tailor your resume for each position before you submit it.  Focus mostly on the prior experience section.  Make sure that your past performance closely matches the required skills listed in the job description.  Use similar wording whenever possible to ensure that your resume will get pulled during a keyword search.              

                -Break things down for the dumb kids (this includes me!)  Avoid using acronyms since they vary by service and can easily be misunderstood.  Say “Infantry” instead of “0311”, for example.  Also, if you’ve already done similar duties to the job you’re applying for, don’t be shy about saying so!  Some civilians might think of a Military Policeman as the guy who guards the front gate on base without realizing that these folks are also trained in detainee operations, convoy escorts, crowd control, dignitary protection, etc.               

                -Plan for the long term.  Let’s face it, getting an immediate contact from a recruiter is unlikely unless it’s one of these circumstances:  You’re truly hot stuff (think SEAL or Special Forces); the contract has just been awarded and there’s a huge rush to put butts in seats; or the position is entry-level with a good deal of turnover.  If this is your first contract, get ready to play the waiting game.  I recommend checking your email regularly in the meantime, and responding quickly to any emails or phone calls.  A quick response shows that you’re a motivated candidate who won’t crap out before you even get on a plane. 

                Did this help any?  I hope so.  Look, the hiring process can be a mystery sometimes, but stick with it.  Remember, the company can’t provide their services without employees to get it done.  Hopefully, that’s where you’ll come in…



Apr 10, 2011 1:34pm
hi nice article. It's real nice to know what happens to online applications and get some nice hints on getting noticed. :D
Apr 10, 2011 6:30pm
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