Written by:
Peter Thornton MA

Automated software is increasingly becoming the industry standard tool for employer recruitment, for companies both large and small. It is no surprise that with the rapid development of technology, employers are looking to exploit it wherever possible to benefit their objectives. Importantly, this software has not yet reached its vast potential, and this poses numerous questions for those applicants who merely appear as numerical entries in this software. Of primary concern is the question – is using such software fair for job applicants, for whom the job hunt is a real life-changing struggle? Such automated software comes in many forms, so let’s explore these, and evaluate some of the challenges that automated CV parsing, in particular faces.

What is automated software – what are we talking about?

Automated software is an umbrella term for those software programs used by companies as part of their wider recruitment processes that generate candidate reports, feedback, and even decisions based on an algorithm. This may include résumé parsing software that sifts through CVs and application forms, or Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is able to decipher an applicant’s facial expressions, behavioural competence and make a decision on who fits the role’s requirements.

From the moment you apply for a role, it is possible that your application is being fed into automatic software that can help employers evaluate and filter your application. For example, automatic CV software looks for certain key elements in the information provided and draws these out to paint a picture of you as a potential employee. Some common elements of your application that they identify are the location of the applicant, the employment and education history, the important competencies and skills mentioned, and how you score on any required assessments.

The competencies that companies look for in job applications varies, however these should be made clear to you in the job description. The competencies that will be particularly valuable depend on the company’s values and the position being applied for. However, the keywords most frequently identified by automatic software are ‘hard skills’ rather than ‘soft skills’. Hard skills are those qualities that you have evidence of and training in, such as your degree, maths ability, IT skills, foreign languages and many more.

Another frequently, and more contested form of automatic software is Artificial Intelligence in Video Interview Software. This software is capable of automatically reading many aspects of your performance, including micro expressions, tonality of voice, and the speech at which you’re talking. These data points that are collected help form a verdict on the behavioural competency of the candidate taking the interview.

How many companies use an Automatic Software?

There are many providers of Automatic software solutions, some of the most popular being HireVue for AI Video Interviews, and Daxtra, Indeed, Hiretual, and many more for résumé parsing.

It is estimated that more than 60% of companies use résumé and CV screening software, with it becoming increasingly more common the bigger the company is. Résumé and CV parsing software has become a common aspect of many companies that already use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), with this requirement most commonly appearing near the very beginning of an application process.

Artificial Intelligence in video interviews on the other hand, has become increasingly popular in previous years, particularly so since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world and forced a shift towards distanced working, learning, and hiring. Some examples of companies using this automatic software are Procter & Gamble and CapitalOne, with HireVue alone having had 700 companies use their Artificial Intelligence supported Video Interviews in some capacity.

Why do companies use automated technology?

Simply put, the reason that companies are so keen to use Automatic Software is to save time and money, legal reasons, and to improve the quality of candidates being hired.

  1. Time & Money: Using automated software to sift through the heap of information companies deal with will save time. It would take many extra employees and hours to wade through and successfully identify the right candidates. And, of course, extra employees would mean further money invested in human resources. It is a far more viable (and objective) option for companies to spend less money on CV parsing and artificial intelligence video interviewing platforms, which to these companies saves time, cost and increases legal defensibility due to more objectivity (vs. subjective interpretations by a human CV sifter).
  2. Avoiding Discrimination: An extremely important incentive for the use of an automatic software is that it makes abiding by discrimination laws much easier. These technologies do not base the success of an application by an applicant’s perceived or actual gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion; unlike humans who are likely to hold biases, some of which they may not even be aware of, based on these features, and are vulnerable to making more subjective decisions.
  3. Accuracy: Finally, the idea behind automated software is to accurately hire the right people. They provide, in theory, a standardized rather than arbitrary way of evaluating the performance of a CV, with some claiming they have 95% accuracy. This implies that risk is relatively low. The score provides the employer with an indication of how suitable the applicant is for that role.

What are the shortcomings of using Automated Software?

Despite the increasing popularity of this technology, there are some drawbacks of using Automated Software in applications made by those that will be fed through the companies’ hiring system. These include:

  1. Contrary to the goal of increasing accuracy (as in point 3 above) to hire the right people for the job/company, some strong candidates can be missed and shunted out of the process unfairly. This is because this technology has not been around long enough to be valid, and is therefore not infallible. This problem largely arises because automated technology is unable to account for the vast number of ways that candidates will express themselves in their application. Perhaps synonyms are used in place of the exact keyword, which are not listed as criteria for the company. The result of this is that a candidate may write a perfect-to-read CV, but it does not get to the next stage when processed by the increasingly specific software. The company then misses a potentially valuable candidate, who is removed from the process, wondering where they went wrong; this lends to poor reported candidate experience.
  2. Candidates can unfairly manipulate or bypass the system. One rare but not unheard-of technique for success, considering the widespread use of CV parsing software, is to put small white (non-visible) writing into their CV, only detectable by these systems. Within this small writing, invisible to the human eye, are keywords that the software will be programmed to pull from the text. This means that despite the visible content perhaps being of average quality at best, the hidden content raises the score on the database. However, it is important to stress that this is not common or recommended and will likely raise a red flag for those that look at the output.
  3. The use of unusual formatting and graphics on a CV, despite adding value when a person reads your CV, often go misread or unnoticed by automated software. For example, you may decide to use graphs or colours to differentiate certain parts of your CV, but that is not appreciated by the system. Once again, like the first drawback, this can result in an otherwise suitable candidate being rejected unfairly from the process.

As we can see from these limitations, it is fair to say that automated software is far from perfect. These systems have yet a long way to go and organisations should in fact be using these with caution.

How to overcome Automated CV Parsing Software

Despite these drawbacks and the vast enhancements that are needed for automated software systems to be effective, they are here to stay. In fact, these systems are highly desirable for most companies with the relatively cheap solutions that are on offer and the ease which they bring to the hiring process. This means that irrespective of the fallibility of the software, candidates will have to work with them, at least until they become more sophisticated and refined. Let’s take a look at how you can overcome CV parsing software.

It would be unprofessional and unethical to suggest that candidates add numerous hidden keywords (undetectable to the human eye) to their CVs. Instead, we have some tips that aim to mitigate the drawbacks of automated CV software. These are provided with the hope that candidates can increasingly learn to improve their chances of progressing in the application process. We provide these in a nice easy acronym of the vowels, AEIOU, to help you remember the steps:

  • Assume that the application is going to be read by someone. Imagine that this person is really interested in seeing a succinct relaying of certain qualities/criteria specific to the role you are applying for.
  • Embrace the hard skills that you possess, making sure that these are clearly and plainly presented, especially those that are a requirement for the role you are applying for. These are skills that are quantifiable, such as qualifications, foreign languages, or IT skills. If for example you are a Certified Data Professional, rather than writing ‘CDP’, write ‘Certified Data Professional (CDP)’ making use of parentheses.
  • Identify whether the company is using CV parsing software. This can often be inferred from evidence of an applicant tracking system (ATS) on the portal that stores your application process. If the URL of the application form contains the name of an ATS provider, or if the company you are applying to is relatively large, then there is a high probability that they will be using an ATS; more than 60% of companies now use résumé screening software.
  • Organise yourself before starting the application form by researching the role being applied for. This will help your CV stand out by showing a clearly focus of its content to the role at hand, rather than coming across as a generic CV. Start by using the job description and searching the internet for industry terminology and requirements.
  • Utilise and adapt the content that already exists in your CV to plug keywords that the company are looking for in a candidate. If your CV currently talks about your previous role at a supermarket, make sure to include the keyword from the job description, e.g. SCM Software (Supply Chain Management). This is key, as it has been found that companies reject up to 75% of CVs automatically, with the remainder only making it before human eye.

As you may have noticed throughout this article, there are many aspects of a CV that play a role in determining whether it will make it past an automatic software; these aspects include your job description, minimum requirements for the role and formatting. This highlights an important issue with the system in that candidates are unable to present themselves as creative individuals, as is often an option through traditional CV writing, motivational questions, or Video Interview responses. Rather, you are now in a world of Automated Software Technology, required to jump through hoops. These hoops, or requirements are fixed and are rigid, leaving little or no need to express yourself and stand out. Although please note, that your CV may be reviewed at a later stage such as an Assessment Centre or before a face-to-face interview.

Automated software is now a beast of its own and an area where we can and should expect company recruitment to advance and head in the future. Automation that is able to incorporate the advantages of being cost-effective, anti-discriminatory, and highly accurate, whilst also having the functionality to interpret creative expressions in a CV, allowing people to truly stand out should be the focus of providers moving forwards. Despite this, one thing that is clear, is that traditional methods of CV sifting are quickly becoming a thing of the past for these large organisations; and with the rest of the world and industries embracing automation in all areas of life, we cannot expect recruitment to stay behind.