How To Ensure Hiring Managers See Your Job Applications

A Marine reads through an informational brochure during a Hiring our Heroes career and transition class at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., March 20, 2015.
Photo by Cpl. Grace L. Waladkewics

Editor’s Note: The following article highlights several companies partnered with Hirepurpose, the parent organization of Task & Purpose. Learn more here.

Applying for jobs online is easy, and more convenient than pounding the pavement, resume in hand, but it may also be keeping you from landing a job. That’s because a number of companies use applicant tracking systems to quickly and easily sort candidates, but those systems frequently have a fatal flaw: According to research by job search services provider Preptel, applicant tracking systems prevent about 75% of applicants from ever having their resumes seen by hiring managers, no matter how qualified those candidates may actually be.

“Nobody’s really talking about how the applicant tracking system is serving as a barrier for vets, and vets don’t really understand what they’re up against,” says Will Leineweber, the director of veterans career advocacy for Hirepurpose. “They don’t know what happens to their information when they put it out there; it disappears into a cloud and now they’re just floating around with everybody else and it’s a total crapshoot if they even get looked at.”

Applicant tracking systems work by stripping down resumes and turning them into data sets; they then sort that data so only those candidates who’ve met the system’s requirements make it to the next round in the hiring process. Unfortunately, these automated systems can only extrapolate the necessary data if it is presented in a very specific format. If a resume differs even slightly from what the computer believes is the “correct” setup, a candidate’s qualifications may never be recognized.

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Many applicant tracking systems also have trouble reading images or charts. So while a graphic header might look nice, or a table may help information appear more organized, these style choices can be a candidate’s downfall if their resume is being fed through an automated system.

Text-only resumes have a better chance of getting through, but even keeping the format simple and clean isn’t always a surefire way to get it to the top of the pile. In addition to looking for a specific format, the most popular tracking systems also utilize keyword searches to sort applicants. Some systems, for example, won’t recognize an applicant’s experience if it’s listed under “Professional Experience” --- instead, the system may look for “Work Experience,” and using a different heading will leave the candidate out in the cold. It’s also a good idea to make note of any keywords and phrases mentioned in the job listing, as those are likely the search terms programmed into the database to help identify ideal candidates.

Why do companies use these systems if they’re so troublesome for candidates? With larger companies facing hundreds, or even thousands, of applicants for each available opening, it is impossible for them to sort through all the resumes without the help an applicant tracking system can provide. Leineweber, a former recruiter, says some positions garner so many applications that a hiring manager may only look at every fifth or tenth resume, or only the first 50 that come in.

“Applicant tracking systems are very helpful tools to help us review resumes and manage candidate information in our recruiting and selection process,” says Jack McCarthy, a senior veterans recruiter for CarMax. “For hiring, it helps us to support hiring managers by keeping all of the candidate information organized in one tool. We work with hiring managers to share resumes that are kept in the system to ensure that they have what they need when they’re making a hiring decision.

“With more than 140 stores nationwide, a centralized resource like an applicant tracking system helps to keep everyone up to date on where candidates are for our open positions,” McCarthy continues.

Fortunately for CarMax applicants, the company doesn’t rely solely on their applicant tracking system to find qualified candidates. Understanding that there are candidates — veterans, specifically — whose resumes may not fit the standard mold, CarMax recruiters use the tracking system as only one of the tools in their arsenal when it comes to finding the right person to fill an open requisition.

“Recruiters review the applications that come in to our system to make sure we’re seeing the entire candidate pool and making the best match of talent to the open position and requirements,” McCarthy explains. “The systems allow us to see how many applications we’ve received for each of the positions that are open and keep them organized. We also have the ability to look up military candidates that are in our process, especially those who we’ve interacted with at hiring events.”

Other companies, like TD Bank, have taken a more hands-on approach to tracking where candidates are in the application process. “We have a great metrics team here, and they provide me with a weekly report that shows me what candidates have applied online, where they are in the recruitment process, and through which of our diversity partners they’ve applied,” explains Jocelyn Weyrauch, TD’s diversity talent advisor. “From this report, I compile a list of candidates who are still active in the recruitment process and work with our recruiters to monitor their progress. While all candidates need to go through the same screening process and meet the minimum qualifications of a job to move to the applicant stage, tracking these candidates at an individual level allows me to really see how our candidates from Hirepurpose are doing."

Although this process takes a little more work than using a standard tracking system, for Weyrauch, it’s worth the extra effort: “If I have to spend the extra time having meaningful conversations with recruiters about the skills they are looking for in our veteran talent for the jobs they are applying to, and put those candidates in front of them when I see that they've applied, so be it.”

There are, of course, ways to help your resume escape the black hole even if the company you’ve applied to uses a more typical automated applicant tracking system.

“Any applicants, including veterans, will have greater success finding a job by combining their efforts (e.g., applications, networking, researching the company) and not just solely relying on their applications,” McCarthy says.

In addition to carefully formatting your resume and using keywords that even the most finicky databases will recognize, applying online allows you to send a longer resume, increasing your chances of getting through the system. Because the tracking system strips your experience down to minimal data, you can stretch your resume — which should typically be kept to one page — allowing you to include more detailed information, and thus more possible data for the system to extrapolate.

And applying online shouldn’t be your only attempted route to employment. Having someone advocate for you — whether a recruiter, a career coach like those at Hirepurpose, or a current employee at the company you’re hoping to work for — can help your resumé get into the right hands.

“You need to either know somebody in that company who can advocate for you, or find somebody in that company who can help you,” Leineweber says. “Shoot an email to somebody, or see if they have a military landing page, anything to help you get past the applicant tracking system.”

Adds McCarthy, “Human connection can definitely assist your efforts and is one of the ‘plays’ you should run to find the right job at the right company for you.”

More and more companies are working to find better ways to recruit vets — Home Depot is launching a microsite specifically for veteran applicants, while AT&T; offers live webinars to aid veterans in finding the right opportunities within their company, but the tracking systems aren’t going away quite yet. Instead, veterans will need to make the best use of all possible avenues toward employment, from networking, job fairs, and recruiters, to, yes, online applications.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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