The job search is bleak for everyone, but perhaps most so for recent graduates. According to a new study by Monster Canada, 9 in 10 Canadians aged 18-30 reported applying to a job online immediately following graduation. And while many are looking online for work, the process is far from enjoyable: 67% of those surveyed considered finding a job posting that appealed to them the most challenging part of the application process, while 65% reported struggling to find a position they were actually qualified for.
Other frustrations included applying for positions but never hearing back (81%), vague job descriptions (75%), and confusing application systems (72%).
“Most new graduates are concerned about getting their application read in a sea of competitors,” says Adrienne Tom, a certified executive resume master for Career Impressions. Tom has been in the business of job applications for a decade, and she’s seen things change significantly in that time. “Certainly there was more opportunity to give someone a hardcover resume in person and know it would be read,” she says. “But the biggest difference I think is that before I could create one general resumé for a client; now, I can write one very good standard resumé, and then I’ll coach them on the different techniques for how to update that resumé for each individual job application.”
What applicants are facing now, and Tom herself is well-versed in, is the rise of Applicant Tracking System software (ATS) by employers. “ATS is used by the majority of large employers to screen applications,” explains Tom. The computer system identifies specific keywords within hundreds of online applications, and sorts them accordingly.
The trick to appealing to ATS lies in simplicity, says Tom. “Use a more simplified version of your resume,” she says. “Keep formatting very simple, no charts, no graphs, no information in the resume header. Make sure to customize that resume for every posting, using the right keywords appropriately.” While it might seem tempting to cram your resume with words you find in the job posting, Tom advises against it: “A lot of people will just go and dump the keywords in, but the systems are smarter than that, and they’re advancing all the time,” she says. “You want to [the keywords] in, keeping in mind that ideally at the end of the day a person will be reading this.”
Not every young job-seeker is savvy to ATS—43% of those surveyed reported using a single standard resumé for every job application. Tom is sympathetic, but says that a single resumé just won’t cut it. “The most common mistake is people just using one general resumé for every job they apply for—they need to understand the importance of keywords and tailoring the resumés to the posting, or it becomes a vicious cycle of applying and not hearing back.”
Still, she does have advice for young Canadians looking to successfully jump through the various application hoops. When presented with a vague job description, she recommends doing your research: “Maybe there are other similar positions with their own job descriptions you could be looking up,” she says. “Think about what type of skill set someone in this job would need or want; is there anyone you can talk to who currently has the position, or even anyone within the company?”
Sheryl Boswell, Director of Marketing with Monster Canada, thinks the onus shouldn’t be solely on the applicants themselves— companies need to consider how they approach recruitment too. “I think the results of this survey should be a wake-up call for Canadian employers,” she says. “What companies have traditionally done is take a job description and just turn that word for word into the job posting. The results are often vague and unappealing.”
And though companies will likely have no shortage of applicants, Boswell says they still need to consider how to attract top talent. “What we’re seeing from these results is that the millennial generation doesn’t respond well to how onerous the process is,” she says. “Companies need to do more to make it easier to navigate, or they risk turning away potential high-quality candidates.”
“We’re hearing from this survey that one of young Canadians biggest pet peeves is that they don’t hear anything back,” says Boswell. “ ATS allows for automated replies, so there’s no excuse really—even an automatic reply is better than none.”
Ultimately, Boswell thinks that while it may be tough out there for recent graduates in a world of online applications, it’s the companies that need to be considering how recruitment is affecting their brand—and their ability to successfully attract candidates. “The days of ‘I want to work at IBM’ or wherever, they’re over,” she says. “Today’s millennials are savvy and they want to know what’s in it for them.” As for the millennials themselves? “You have to be considering how to tailor your resume for specific keywords,” she admits. “One resume just isn’t enough.”
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