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What do you think? Who will read your next job application: People or algorithms? Due to the dynamic technological progress, which greatly accelerates the recruitment process, companies are increasingly relying on algorithms to pre-select suitable candidates. After all, hundreds of applications in response to a single job advertisement are no longer uncommon nowadays.

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated machine learning algorithms, it is possible to scan incoming applications for relevant keywords and to filter out the suitable applicants within seconds. This gives both HR consultants and HR managers more time to personalise their support and to be able to better respond to qualified and experienced professionals.

So how can you ensure that your application documents successfully pass through the algorithm test and that your curriculum vitae is shortlisted in the end?

How do application algorithms work?

Just as algorithms determine content provided to us through hashtags and our user behaviour in social media networks, algorithms are also used in application processes. They scan curricula vitae for specific keywords, namely keywords relevant to the respective job. AI software compares the job advertisement with the curriculum vitae and filters them by matches.

Companies can define the relevant keywords in their applicant management system for any job so that the system identifies the applications received according to the necessary competencies and the required qualifications. This means that even applicants with unsuitable qualifications can also be easily filtered out. Similarly, candidates whose cover letter and career largely correspond to the desired requirements are easily identified and preferred in the subsequent application process for the respective job.

Create a keyword-optimised curriculum vitae

Professional experience, training and degrees, as well as qualifications, skills and hobbies, should appear on your curriculum vitae. In order to ensure that algorithms correctly read your curriculum vitae in the future and recognise you as a qualified candidate for a position, it is essential to include suitable keywords. Focus here on more technically relevant keywords and, if appropriate for the position, those that target your personality. Attributes such as “team player”, “inquisitive” or “social” are welcome.

Make sure that your optimised curriculum vitae has a common format – your experiences are listed chronologically and sorted by categories, making it easy for both people and the algorithm to quickly capture important details. Make sure that your application has a clear structure so that it is shortlisted.

Correct names and terms in applications for algorithms

When creating your keyword-optimised curriculum vitae, be sure to use keywords that are also used in the job advertisement – using the exact wording. It is highly likely that the algorithm will search for the exact keywords – similar to using hashtags.

It is also common practice, for example, to evaluate your own language or computer skills in curricula vitae. Standardised combinations of numbers and letters are often used for this purpose, such as school grades or the language level according to the European Framework of Reference (A1–C2).  However, such encryptions or encodings may not be recognised correctly by some programs. This also applies to diagrams, images or icons. Instead, use terms such as "business fluent" or "fluent" for your optimised curriculum vitae.

AI also struggles to read abbreviations. So when you describe your career, don't use them and make sure that you write out words in full.

Finally, a tip when specifying positions on your curriculum vitae: Always use the format MM.YYYY. This is always interpreted correctly by algorithms.

Optimising your curriculum vitae: Identify your hard skills

First of all, you should include certain keywords on your curriculum vitae and in your online job profiles that are relevant to your desired positions. Take a look at different job descriptions of your dream position to determine the appropriate keywords and to find out where you can best place these keywords. For example, you might include "project management", "leadership", "increased efficiency", "financial reporting" or "budget management" under your responsibilities. Provided you have acquired these skills or experience in these areas.

Consider also soft skills to improve your curriculum vitae

Don't forget to specify your relevant soft skills with keywords (such as "adaptability", "time management" or "professionalism") and also list the systems and tools that you use for these soft skills. Use these keywords to describe your successes on your curriculum vitae and social media networks. For example: "I used my excellent skills with the xy tool to plan a successful annual conference under tight budget conditions and within a very short period of time."

You should always combine keywords with evidence of your good work to date. A simple trick is to link an action verb to a keyword. For example, you shouldn't write "I've always achieved my goals," but try the following sentence: "I exceeded my goals by 20 percent in the first quarter and by 18 percent compared to the previous year."

Create strong social media profiles in business networks

Create compelling profiles with your personal branding in business networks such as LinkedIn and XING. Many people leave fields such as "Summary" or "Info" blank. However, you should take advantage of the full number of characters available to showcase your successes, skills and value. Use suitable keywords here too and accommodate your personal motives. Just as important is the "Knowledge and skills" area on LinkedIn or the "What I offer/What I am looking for" area on XING. Make sure that you use the industry-standard term for your job title – newly fashioned creative terms sound exciting, but they are not meaningful enough for algorithms.

Recruitment will always remain a people business whose core is made up of trusting relationships. This means that the human aspect cannot be overestimated. At the same time, however, technological developments such as intelligent algorithms improve certain parts of the process. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to optimise your application in this respect.

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