ATD Blog

How to Make Sure Your Resume Is Seen by a Real Person

Friday, August 5, 2016

Two issues seem to be looming over jobseekers these days: the black hole of resumes and the hidden job market. While these issues are real, experts seem to enjoy presenting them with a layer of mystery. By calling them the "black hole" and "hidden job market” they make it sound as if you absolutely need professional assistance to handle your job search!

But let me shed some light on these concepts and perhaps you can find your own way out of the job search black hole!

How Resumes Get Lost in the Black Hole

If you've ever applied online, you've likely experienced a lack of feedback. A disheartening silence. You send resume after resume after resume, into what seems to be a black hole from which nothing ever comes out.

The problem here is that you're dealing with automated resume screening or applicant tracking systems (ATS). Most HR departments rely on such tools to manage, track, and rank candidates. But if your resume isn't adapted to this sort of screening, it may never get a passing grade.

ATSs are notoriously bad at handling certain types of formatting. So, the ATS may reject your resume if it has columns, or a few colors or images, or the wrong section titles. And of course, keywords are critical. There's a lot you need to work on to make your resume ATS-friendly.

Usually, only about 25 percent of resumes make it out of the ATS to finally be seen by human recruiters. How do you make sure you’re part of that top 25 percent? Two ways:

  1. Keep your resume format very lean. 
  2. Pepper your resume with keywords from the job posting.

Of course, that's the quick answer. But it's really worth your time to research this, by starting with the link above, for example.


One last word about the black hole. Many career experts seem to be playing with job seekers' fears and confusion. Listening to them, you'd think that applying for jobs online never works. But it’s definitely worth your while to apply to job postings that are a good fit for you. Employers do get many of their interviewees from online postings (57 percent according to a SilkRoad study), but you are up against the flood of applicants applying online the same way.

Start by writing a resume with clear accomplishments. Then, keep your formatting clean. And finally, focus on sending tailored applications (only apply when you meet at least 75 percent of the criteria). Do this with discipline, and you will hear the phone ring!

This brings us to our second enigmatic job search concept, the hidden job market. Because if 57 percent of interviews come from online channels, where does networking fit in?

Is the Hidden Job Market That Big?

Talking about the hidden job market is customary in the field of resumes and career advice. Everyone talks about it. So what's the issue?

Many experts will quote the figure that 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. They are hidden and you have to learn about these opportunities through someone in the know. This means that networking should undisputedly be the best approach to look for work. However, we've already seen that more than half of interviews are given outside that hidden job market. So we already know the 80 percent figure is off. But still, to understand it better, I tried to find its origin. How was it compiled? By whom?


Digging back to the original source was much harder than expected. Actually, I'm not even sure if I found the real source. One thing is clear, however: These kinds of data are hard to find and not very tidy.

But after a lot of digging, I found data on the hidden job market. That definition of the hidden job market (80 percent of job opportunities are not made public) goes back to the 1970s—way before LinkedIn, Google, and Indeed were common tools for recruiters and job seekers!

The world has changed. The data I've found say that 37 percent of positions are filled through networking (initiated by the candidate or even by the employer, through recruiting agencies and sourcing). It's not a precise number for the real size of the hidden job market, but it's the best we have.

So what's the takeaway? Networking can work wonders and it can help get your resume in front of the right people before the job is posted. It can also help to get your resume to the top of the pile if you have an employee referral for the position. Remember that people hire people, so employers and recruiters still prefer to hire someone who is a known quantity or who has been referred to them by someone they know. There's already some level of trust, and referred employees tend to stick around longer.

But don’t limit yourself to jobs where you can be referred (the hidden job market isn't worth 80 percent of your time!). Many interviews come from online applications, so you need to write and tailor your resume for applicant tracking systems (as well as humans, of course).

If you're organized and disciplined while networking and applying online, you're running a winning job search.

About the Author

Richard Poulin has reviewed hundreds of resumes over the last 10 years. He’s the author of Resume Hacking (, an e-book series focused on resume accomplishments, tailored by profession.

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