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Battling the Bots: Finding a Job in the Digital Era

Kate Clark navigates the world of algorithms and bots as she job hunts in a digital world without humans.

December 6, 2016

This morning, I woke up to another email with another job rejection. It’s a regular occurrence these days, but this one I found particularly defeating. I had only applied to the job 14 hours earlier — at 6:00 p.m. the prior evening.

Did anyone read my application? My cover letter? Did anyone glance at my resume?

Probably not, unless they have staff working nights, sifting through applications. This company, like many others, likely has an electronic filtering system — an algorithm — that sorts the “unqualified” from the rest of the pack, then sends applicants a near-immediate rejection email.

The process of finding and applying for jobs has transformed in the wake of electronic filtering systems. Job-seekers scramble to cater their resumes and cover letters to these systems, carefully selecting keywords and phrases that satisfy the robots. The days of human recruiters spending hours sifting through “resume books” on college campuses to find their top candidates are over.

In today’s digital age, the right keywords beat out creativity every time.

As a young professional actively searching for that elusive full-time job, I am quick to complain that today’s methods are impersonal, more difficult and competitive than they were for past generations. But I’m not alone in my frustration. According to A poll featured in The Atlantic , nearly 80 percent of adults believe it’s currently harder for young people today “to get started in life” than it was for older generations.

My dad, David Clark, is a baby boomer and worked as a professional recruiter for the oil and gas giant Conoco throughout the 1980s. I asked him a few questions about what the recruitment and job-search process was like back then, and role he thinks the Internet, social media and algorithms play in today’s job market.

“I would say you have more tools at your disposal to find jobs,” says Clark. “It was so hard to know who was hiring [in the ‘80s]…. You had to take a shot in the dark, meaning I just sent my resume to different companies and hoped — magically — it would get to the right person.”

The days of job fairs and recruiters are rapidly vanishing.

Non-millennials may empathize with the experience that the character Rachel Green has in an episode of Friends; After mailing hundreds of copies of her resume to various companies, she then realizes she wrote “compuper skills” instead of “computer skills” on all of them. Along with the challenges that this new tech brings, at least today’s job-seekers reap the benefits of more accurate spell-checking software.


For me, another perk of modern job-seeking is that it has required absolutely no physical movement. I can sit on my couch, in a coffee shop or on an airplane and apply for jobs. There are no “shots in the dark.” I apply to openings and only openings.  

But efficiency comes with its own drawbacks. 

“You can find out who is hiring now so much better, easier, faster. But I think the hurdle to get hired is harder because of social media,” Clark says. If I were interviewing, it would all be about social media. It tells us an immense amount about the character of the individual. You can see political posts, you can see what is truly interesting to this person, moments of pride they’ve placed out there, but also embarrassing moments. Social media can kill you way faster.”

The average millennial’s digital footprint is sizeable. Some of us have been more careful about what we share than others. Yet, virtually all of us have likely left some breadcrumbs from our less-mature days. And that can come back to bite you. 

According to CareerBuilder, “51 percent of employers who research job candidates on social media in 2014 said they’ve found content that prevented them from hiring the candidate, an increase from 43 percent last year and 34 percent in 2012.”

If you aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a guide to cleaning up your social media with job-seeking in mind.

Think of cleaning up social media like your closet: You don't want any skeletons.

But, social media can also serve as an invaluable tool for networking. Boasting 467 million registered members, LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet. It has become a mainstream way for recruiters to connect with job-hunters. Statistics vary, but it’s safe to assume most companies are using LinkedIn to track down talent.

Unfortunately, this can mean more competition. To stand out in these virtual spaces, people feel the pressure to develop a “superstar” LinkedIn profile, maintain up-to-date Facebook and Twitter profiles and attempt to up their Google ranking.

Exhausting, right?

Today’s young people have to be scrappy and aggressive, surf numerous job sites, reach out to employers, draft dozens of uniquely-optimized resumes, maintain an appropriate digital presence and more.  These factors, coupled with student debt — the average for a millennial is about $35,000 — might make some of us wish our biggest challenge was Rachel Green’s lack of spell-checking software.

Yet, even as tech evolves the job market at a whirlwind pace, one thing remains the same: relationships are key. Who you know has always been and remains a key factor.



Kate Clark

Kate Clark is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. She recently graduated from the University of Washington where she studied journalism and international studies. After graduating, she traveled to Bangalore, India to work as a journalist. These days, Kate is busy navigating algorithms and bots as she searches for a full-time writing gig.

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