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Where all those resumes go...

From the Wall Street Journal: Google the phrases job hunt and black hole and you'll turn up 55,700 results. The reason for this confluence of terms, as any job hunter will tell you, is that applying for a position increasingly involves two phases. Step one: Use the employer's online application center to submit your carefully crafted rĩsumĩ and cover letter. Step two: Sit and wait until the sun burns out and your bones turn to dust. Behind the awesome silence, of course, is the miracle of automated screening. Getty ImagesRecruiters say the percentage of online applications viewed by an actual human being ranges from 5% to 25%. And while it drives job hunters crazy, there's a good reason companies use so-called applicant-tracking systems to screen and rank candidates. Even in slow periods, your average coffee-stained corporate headhunter is scrambling to fill 20 positions at a time. Given the ease of applying online, recruiters are flooded with more rĩsumĩs than they can possibly review. The largest retailers, for example, might receive more than a million a year, says Adrienne Whitten, of Taleo, a software outfit that powers the online career centers of nearly half the Fortune 100. And with rising unemployment, that avalanche of rĩsumĩs is expected to double between 2007 and 2009. What overworked recruiter could resist the lure of software that promises to "quickly eliminate the hundreds of rĩsumĩs from your mailbox"? Until recently, it was easy for job hunters to game the system: The computer ranks you higher in the turnip pile if you tweak your rĩsumĩ to include the same phrases found in the employer's job description. But lately, spoilsport employers are ruining the fun, with sophisticated software that uses artificial intelligence. This newer technology can analyze the rĩsumĩ of a top performer -- say, Dennis in accounting who saved the company millions by eliminating doughnut Fridays -- and find applicants whose rĩsumĩs fit his "ideal candidate" profile. Some outfits even survey their entire workforce to determine what experiences and hobbies are shared by their best players -- along with what their worst workers have in common. After that, it's "Let me hire someone more like Greg and less like Ted," says Greg Thompson, director of strategy for software maker SuccessFactors. Even if you've got a job, your boss could use the software to replace you with a clone who's willing to work for less. In another new twist, some companies are screening people with instant personality tests. In the past this hurdle usually came after the job interview. But folks like Robert Ruff, president of Sovren, a software outfit whose clients include, Halliburton and recruiter Spencer Stuart, are persuading employers to adopt a universal screening system that has job applicants paying $40 for the privilege of answering questions like "What's more important: being (a) creative, (b) correct or (c) the best?" By coding the results directly into your rĩsumĩ, an employer can screen you out much earlier in the process -- or suggest that someone with your personality would be better off working in, say, the cafeteria. Of course, given employers' mad rush to send every possible job overseas, it's probably no surprise that some companies have offshored even the hiring process. These days your rĩsumĩ might be screened by a worker in the Philippines who can spend the night winnowing a huge applicant pool down to a dozen candidates for a U.S. recruiter to call the next morning. Bob Etheridge, director of business development for OS2i, a recruiting outsourcer with 160 workers in India, says the folks there do great work. On the other hand, if he were applying for a job, he wouldn't leave his fate to the whims of the screening system. "I'd try everything to get closer to the actual decision maker," he says. "But that's me."

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