Can You Game the Recruiting Algorithm With This Résumé Hack?

We asked an expert about that viral advice going around Twitter. Prepare to be very disappointed

Crafting a résumé, or polishing up an old one for a new job search, is about as pleasurable as a hangnail. What’s more, it’s confusing. After you’ve iron-pumped your experience and verb usage, you’ve still got to figure out keywords—optimizing your CV so recruiters can identify your qualifications amid a sea of other candidates.

But then someone tweeted (and deleted) this, a hack that promises to make quick work of keywords so your résumé moves to the front of the line. It reads like a three-step strategy to population Jobsville:

1. Copy the WHOLE job description. Paste it at the end of your résumé.

2. Change the letters to white so they blend w/ the page

3. Save as pdf so they can’t go in and see what you did

Now your name is lighting up on the recruiter’s list cuz your résumé got all the keywords

Oh. It’s that easy? But the hack isn’t exactly new. It showed up last year on Reddit, with the added suggestion to reduce the font size of the job description as small as possible and stick it in a footer, undetected.

Keywords are the bane of résumé writing, not just because it’s hard to know which ones to use, but the advice is all over the place. Use a few keywords, but not too many! Make sure they are the “right” keywords for your skills, not necessarily what’s in the job description. And whatever you do, don’t “stuff” the keywords into the résumé, meaning don’t pile them on like crazy to maximize your chances.

After all that, a hiring manager who does see your résumé will glance at it, at best, for six seconds before folding it into a paper airplane, lighting it on fire and sailing it out the window.

But the hardest part of résumé writing is getting it through that filter. Many résumés are filtered out well before a human eyeballs it. Using software called applicant tracking systems (ATS), recruiters score your résumé by a computer to determine if it’s even worth a non-robot once-over. And part of that, you guessed it, is reading for keywords.

But not just any keywords. You may very well have the experience needed for the gig, but you might lack the right words to demonstrate that. That was the case for a careers reporter at Business Insider who tested her résumé recently in ATS software for her exact same job. Using her own keywords from doing the very job she was applying for, her résumé still only yielded a 35 percent match for the job. (She’d have needed at least an 80 percent match to even be considered.)

So back to this hack: Will pasting all the keywords from the job description and changing the font to white “trick” the system?

At one time, possibly. Now? This “hack” is about as current as your high school job at the movie theater, so think twice.

“This résumé hack has been circulating for many years and is just as effective as using a cellphone speaker made out of a toilet paper roll — it’s not,” career advice expert Amanda Augustine at TopResume tells MEL by email.

“While including the full job description at the end of a résumé may have worked in helping your application rank higher years ago, applicant tracking system (ATS) technology has become more sophisticated and is better at detecting blatant keyword stuffing,” she adds.

Augustine goes on to explain that newer systems, such as those at Monster, are also looking for keyword density, so “if there are too many keywords present relevant to the total amount of content found in the same résumé, the ATS will take notice.”

Other systems, she explained, will also “assign years of experience for a particular skill” based on where the keyword shows up in the system (like next to that actual description of the position you held where the keyword applies).

“So throwing all the keywords at the bottom of your résumé doesn’t serve you well,” she says.

What’s more, the ATS will also convert the résumé to plain text. Then, it will group that text into “fields such as contact information, work experience and education,” she writes. “Therefore, a job description thrown in at the bottom of a résumé is sure to get scrambled during the parsing process.”

And of course, last but certainly not least, recruiters are onto this “trick.”

“If your application did make it into the hands of a recruiter, this résumé hack all but guarantees that your application will get tossed in the trash,” Augustine adds. “Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to be duped into looking at someone’s application. If you possess the skills and experience required to do the job, incorporate that information into the appropriate sections of your résumé, rather than taking the lazy route of stuffing it all at the end of your document and losing your credibility.”

So like with most hacks that amount to spending even more energy to avoid the real work of task completion, you should be very wary of this résumé shortcut. The only real, effective shortcut is doing a résumé well.

But if you still think it might work, give it a shot. I also have a job available you can apply for selling swampland in Florida. If, of course, your keywords match.