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How To Beat The ATS (and get immediately rejected!)

What's old is new again, y'all! 

That tired, old "tiny white font" hack is back on the internet, this time in the form of a TikTok video. Now I don't actually HAVE TikTok, so we'll have to settle for a link to where I was recently subjected to this horror - someone's LinkedIn post

The general idea is that you can trick "the bots" (yeah, the ATS bots that don't exist. I know. Stay with me here) by adding the Job Description to your RESUME in TINY WHITE FONT! White, so it's not visible. Tiny, so you don't have a weird bunch of "empty" space. The goal here is to pack your resume FULL of the necessary keywords so you get past the (imaginary) bot. I mean, how could you NOT be a perfect fit for the job, when you're resume is basically the job description?? 

If you suspend all logic, you have to admit there's a certain kind of magic to this. Sort of like the same kind of wonder little kids have when their parents convince them Santa Claus is real. I mean, there's just enough evidence (the presents, the cookies consumed, the reindeer hoof prints) to PROVE that THIS IS REAL. 

Except the parents who are buying the gifts, eating the cookies, and making hoof impressions know better. 

The big difference here though, is there's no harm in believing in some fat guy in a red suit. Using the aforementioned trickery in your job search though, can actually cost you. Let's dive into a few possible scenarios, AKA things I've personally seen happen as a recruiter

1. A real person looks at your resume. Assuming your resume is not a fit otherwise (minus the white font trickery), we never know you even tried that, and just reject. Because... you don't meet the basic qualifications. This is literally the first and most important rule. Good news, we don't know you tried to scam us. Bad news, you never got past the first screen anyway.

2. A real person looks at your resume. There's some interesting / relevant experience, but the recruiter doesn't see a particular technology that they know the hiring manager is looking for. So a little CTRL-F - word shows up... GASP! In TINY. WHITE. FONT. Reject. Congratulations, you've just convinced the recruiter that you're probably shady and we have other candidates to look at. Next.

3. A real person looks at your resume. You clearly meet the basic qualifications, and get passed on to the hiring manager. If you're lucky, the tiny white font trick goes unnoticed, and you move through the recruiting process. 

4. A real person looks at your resume. Not a fit for the role you applied to, but you stay in the database. Some time later, the same recruiter (or even a different recruiter) runs a search, and guess who's resume shows up? Boolean search shows the relevant terms highlighted in... wait - what's this? TINY WHITE FONT? Ugh. Reject. The recruiter moves on to other candidates.

Bonus Point - the recruiter is so annoyed they put a note in the database that you came up in a search using a tired old "hack". Future recruiters steer clear. I've absolutely seen this happen at a small, privately held company as well as in agency. If you still don't believe me that this is old news, check out this article from 2010. It's as bad an idea now as it was then.

Now many people will argue with me that there's NO WAY a real person looked at their resumes. Sometimes, that's absolutely correct. Knock out questions, roles being closed/internal transfers pending, maybe we already have a large number of prospects... bulk dispositions CAN happen, though I would not say it's "the norm" and not nearly as common as folks may think. Even when it DOES happen, guess what? A PERSON made that decision. And set up the ATS to do it. My coffee maker may turn itself on at 6 am every day, but only because I told it to.

There is a common misconception that if you only have enough keywords packed into your resume, you're going to get past the gatekeepers (robotic or otherwise). Ok... and then what? I'm even willing to play along that all recruiters are just out here playing buzzword bingo and submitting unqualified candidates based on a keyword match. How far does that actually get you? Do you think you'll even get an interview if you truly don't possess the qualifications for the role? 

Visible Confusion | Know Your Meme

Sorry y'all - not how it works. You're going to have to be able to perform the job. If you CAN perform the job, taking time to actually illustrate that in your resume from the start is always going to be the smart play here. Anything else is just sleight of hand, kind of like sneaking presents from Santa under the tree.

Eventually, kids grow up and know better. Let's hope job seekers will follow suit.


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