There is a growing awareness amongst job seekers that HR companies and employers use automated key word ratings systems to help with the selection of resumes. In fact, automation in HR has been going on in some form or another since the late 90’s. With the increasing intelligence of computers, this is an inevitable upward trend but what do HR professionals think about it? Is it helpful and does it result in finding the best candidates?

We canvassed opinions on this issue from four HR industry professionals who provided us with insights based on their experience.

Keyword ratings can save time and resources but can miss good people

Geoff Mitchell Burden, Managing Director of Recruitment Partners, told us many HR managers, particularly in larger corporations, rely heavily on keyword software programs to check resumes and short list candidates. This can save considerable time as recruiters are typically filling multiple positions or are inundated with applications. Geoff told us while he doesn’t use these software programs himself, he’s in no doubt as to the efficiencies they’d afford an organisation, particularly those who receive thousands of applications for a single role.

However, Geoff says when he’s recruiting, he prefers to screen applications himself as he says ‘a gem’ may be identified this way whose background offers more, or adds particular value to the employer. They may also ‘best fit’ an alternative position he might be working on.

Another consultant from a large HR firm we spoke to, who preferred to remain anonymous, said her firm absolutely uses keyword systems.

“Big companies do – they can afford it. It’s necessary for jobs that attract a high volume of responses.”

She concurred with Geoff though and stressed that while these systems are useful for getting through sheer volumes of applications, they run the risk of missing good candidates.

She explained, a candidate who has impressive resume and solid experience but is not familiar with the concept of including keywords – or perhaps the keywords have been chosen poorly by the recruiter – may not make the cut.

Conversely, a more ‘keyword savvy’ applicant could make themselves more appealing in an application and could potentially make themselves appear as a good fit for a position when they’re not.

As a consequence, the pool of candidates can be skewed.

Resume presentation is important

Tonya Miller from HR Manager told us she is more interested in how somebody presents their resume and is not a fan of automated searches.

“Even with a large volume of resumes, it’s easy to sift the wheat from the chaff. Tech has a place, but what if one slips through the cracks?”

She went on to explain that selecting people based on keyword searches runs the risk of selection based on a prescribed set of skills ‘in a vacuum’.

“We risk missing out on more diversity and more opportunity for innovation,” she said.

In other words, there can be missed opportunities in terms of the value of an applicant’s learnings from other industries or other experiences that are transferrable to the role at hand.

Tonya echoed Geoff’s sentiments, that while technology has many benefits, it is important not to lose the human element in recruitment, which she believes will be if we are too rigid and too prescriptive.

“Employing people is a qualitative, human exercise and no two humans are alike.”

The trend for keywords in applications can turn good people off

Another view as to the pros and cons of keyword ratings was from Phil Beavan-Davis, HR Director at Downer Group. Phil believes the knowledge amongst job seekers that a resume will be scanned for keywords, can turn a good applicant off as the application process could be seen as too cumbersome.

As Phil says, “Good people get turned off if it takes hours to apply for a job.”.

Many people who are in full time work might feel they don’t have the time to dedicate to preparing a resume in this way.

The takeaway messages

  • The consensus seems to be that while keyword systems can save time and money, and therefore increase efficiency, they can miss the human element of a candidate’s application and their complementary experience in other roles.
  • In addition, applicants who are savvy with keywords can trick the system into seeing them as a good fit for a position, even if they’re not.
  • On the other hand, applicants who would be a good fit can be dismissed by the process.
  • Keyword rankings are very much a part of the HR process but as our experts advise, HR recruiters must be mindful of not losing the human element of the recruitment process as it is the qualitative aspects that will make someone more or less suited to a role.

In summary

Even in their most advanced incarnation, recruitment automation tools are a mixed bad when it comes to their benefits. The fact that they are widely used attests to their usefulness. But there is no replacement for the human element, so they can be limiting.

As Phil Beavan-Davis says,

“The initial cull is always on sills and experiences. The final decision will always be on behaviour.”