how can you get around automated screening questions when you’re actually qualified for the job?

A reader writes:

I just applied (at 9 pm) online for a nonprofit job I would be great at. I didn’t meet all of the requirements, but I wrote a passionate cover letter covering my skills in related areas that are the same as what they specified in the description — just for a different audience.

In the required application fields (drop-down menus) where it asked, “Do you have two years of experience at [type of work]?” I honestly answered “No” for the one area in which I did not 100% meet the criteria. For all the others, I said yes (because I do!).

I just checked my email 15 minutes after submitting my application and was crushed to find that what I thought was a confirmation that my application had been received was actually already an automatic rejection saying, “Based on your application materials we will not be pursuing your candidacy.”

I can’t imagine that at 9 pm someone read my application and determined that I wasn’t qualified. I think it must be that selecting “no” for the question about two years of experience in that specific work area was the issue.

Is there anything I can do now? I am so heartbroken that my resume and cover letter weren’t even glanced at. I am really committed to this organization’s mission and I have so much respect for the director.

I honestly don’t even know for sure that I *don’t* meet that requirement. Maybe I was being too literal in my interpretation of what they were asking for. In the future, should I just select “yes” as long as I can make a case for myself?

People are always encouraging me to apply to positions even if I don’t meet 100% of the requirements, but I feel like I just wasted several hours of my life. Was I wrong to apply to this position? Or, is it just that the norm is that you say “yes” to all the requirements as long as you think you are qualified overall?

*If it makes any difference, the skill they were asking for was two years of experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment. I have two years of experience working in higher education and over five years of experience giving professional development presentations … but technically I do not have experience giving professional development presentations to individuals in higher ed.

Ugh, yes, this is frustrating.

Its theoretically possible that someone did indeed read your application at 9 pm and decide to reject you then (for example, different time zones mean it could have been 6 pm where they were, plus some people work late, etc.), but typically people aren’t sending rejections 15 minutes after an application comes in. So it’s pretty likely that this was indeed an automated rejection based on your answers to the screening questions.

Automated screening questions don’t always get at what the employer is really looking for. Sometimes that’s because they’re set up by HR rather than the hiring manager and the HR person doesn’t have the nuanced feel for the requirements that the hiring manager does. Sometimes it’s because you’re an outlier scenario that they didn’t envision. Sometimes it’s just because automated screening can be a really blunt tool when a more nuanced one is needed to screen candidates well.

Or it’s possible that this screen worked precisely as it was intended to. But it’s understandable that you’re wondering.

In general, when you’re filling out screening questions like these, it’s okay to answer the questions in the spirit in which you can reasonably assume they’re intended. In other words, if they ask if you have qualification X and you have a really similar one that you think a human hiring manager would see as equivalent, answer yes.

Of course, you shouldn’t use this as a way to get past the automated screening and answer yes to questions when the honest answer is clearly no. If you did that, you’d likely to be rejected once you a human looks at you anyway, as well as annoying them in the process. But if you’re answering in the spirit the questions seem intended in, you should be fine. And if you get asked about it later on, you can explain you tried to represent your experience as accurately as you could in a system that didn’t allow for details.

As for what to do now … you could see if the system will let you apply again. If it does, do that and change your answers to the questions accordingly. If it doesn’t, this is a case where you could email your materials to the hiring manager directly with a note that says something like, “I’m really excited about this job and hope I might be a strong fit because ____. I think your online application system rejected me because I answered a screening question about giving professional development presentations in an overly literal way. While I haven’t given professional development presentations in a higher education environment, I have over five years of experience giving professional development presentations and two years of experience in higher education. If that doesn’t disqualify me, I’d love to be considered.”

I’m not generally a fan of going around application systems and trying to contact the hiring manager directly (there are many, many reasons why this is often annoying and a bad idea), but this is a situation where (because of the reasonable chance that the system may have erred) you can get away with it.

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. Longtime Lurker*

    I get that a lot on Indeed. What I do is fill out the required areas in the way that will get me past the automated gatekeepers, and then explain it in the cover letter or message. For example, I have a lot of experience in various computer-related things, however much of it is self-taught used on my own projects, and not easy to quantify on applications that want you to declare “I have X number of years experience in Y.” I know they mean “paid experience” but there are some software programs I’ve literally been using for 10+ years, even if I’ve only used them in a job for 5 years… so I tell them what they want to hear, and then explain in an area where I can write.

    1. Shamy*

      I am so glad to see someone taking this approach and for this question. I literally just ran into this last night. It was asking if I had the state license form of a major credential needed for the job. Sort of like a lawyer who then needs to be recognized to practice law in specific states. I have the major credential that is universally recognized, but not the state version since my current job doesn’t require it. It is truly no big deal to get. I said I had it since I was afraid the system would kick me out and then explained I could easily obtain it if offered the position.

      1. Rust1783*

        I approach all of these types of things as, frankly, irritating obstacles that need to be gamed. The goal is not to participate honestly in the computer screening, the goal is to get your materials in front of the hiring manager. At that point, you are safely in the world of human conversations rather than automated screening. As long as I’m not telling out-and-out lies, I see no problem with approaching these things strategically, stretching the truth a little bit, and being extremely broad and generous in my interpretations of the questions. If the employer doesn’t want people to do that, they should consider a different way to screen applicants.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      The example you give is an interesting one! I never thought those questions expected experience to all be in paid work; I’ve always answered them with my experience in and out of work and never thought that was getting around what they were looking for.

      I know that unpaid, hobby-level experience isn’t always what employers want, but in so many cases it’s plenty. I have found it can even be helpful as that means you may have used an application in a way that could have exposed you to more than just a few specific tasks you may have used it for in a job. I also generally have a deeper understanding of software I’ve used on my own as I had to learn it myself and so retained far more about troubleshooting because of that.

    3. JustaTech*

      Ugh, I had a whole bunch of jobs I had to give up on because the automated system asked if I had X credit-hours of [Very Specific Math Class] and while I’ve taken a lot, I don’t have that many hours in formal classrooms. I would fudge, but it’s a government job, so there are more serious consequences to not being 100% accurate.

      (And nobody cares about all those credit hours of calculus, or all the Very Specific Math I do at work.)

      Honestly, sometimes I think those very specific requirements are a way to screen out applicants to only people who graduated form a specific program, or something.

  2. Roscoe*

    I hate these too. Another thing I’ve seen is when you they make you name compensation in the automated system. I had to do that once, and it was for a job that is base + bonus/commission. So I said the amount I hope to make in total, but of course they may have been looking for what you want your base to be. I was rejected extremely fast, and based on the other qualifications, I think that is what knocked me out.

    1. AnnaBananna*

      I loathe it too. I noticed recently though that my employer has dismantled that particular module in our online application. I was like SWEEEEET. I hope everyone gets on board with this, but it’ll be a long time coming, I’m sure.

  3. Leela*

    So frustrating and I’m so sorry!

    I used to work in recruiting and we had systems like these for applications sometimes. They really didn’t allow you to put what you’d need to get the right info about a candidate and didn’t allow for nuance. Hiring managers can also be *extremely* idealistic when they give recruiters job descriptions/qualifications and not realize that we’re going to miss out on a ton of great candidates that they would have accepted. They won’t tell us that they’d prefer 5 years of X but someone with 3 would do, just that they want 5 years of X so that’s what we search for because if we decide on our own to bring in someone else, it’s me on the line for wasting their time/cancelling the interview last minute because they meant a hardline 5 years.

    It’s a very frustrating system and while digital applications have opened up a lot of opportunities (for people who might live outside of the area they’re applying for for example), it really hasn’t caught up with the need for subleties and interpretations when it comes to assessing candidates. It’s very, very frustrating, for job seekers, for recruiters, and for hiring managers who have to spend longer looking for candidates because of the weaknesses of these systems.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      My company only uses the pre-screen application process for lower level positions, but we require hiring managers to give ranges. Our system allows recruiting to select that they want to see people in the range the hiring manager gave, but also one range below. Because like you said they may have 3 yrs of experience in X but 7 yrs in Y, and 5 in Z, making them perfectly qualified to do the job. I don’t know a lot about recruiting software to know if that is a possibility with most of them or not.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      If the recruiting team knew this is how the interface works, why not ask the hiring manager explicitly for both minimum and preferred number of years of experience? The hiring manager may not know to provide this to you without being asked.

      1. Leela*

        We of course asked the hiring manager explicitly for this information. They can be impossible to track down, very oblique with answers, very noncommittal, very frustrated that they’re being asked about the job description again when they’ve given you, and they can tell you flat out that they’ve already given you what they need and you’re not getting more.

      2. LaDeeDa*

        Of course they are asked to do this, but they are not the experts in recruiting and talent, we are. It is recruiting job to help guide them in understanding. And as Leela said they can be unresponsive, wishy washy, etc.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          Leela, LaDeeDa, I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer- the fact that HR/recruiters are the most knowledgeable about the process is exactly my point. As someone who has hired for a position and only found out about certain steps after they should have been completed, I feel some guidance in understanding, e.g. templates and a brief list of steps, provided from the start of the process would have been so very helpful to me and saved time and effort for everyone involved. A fairly simple template for the job description that is required to be filled out for the position to be posted, that has separate spaces to specify required and preferred experience (and a note that experience would be considered required by the ATS if not specified as preferred or vice versa), could reduce the need to chase people down and also up the chance that qualified applicants get their applications reviewed by a human.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Trust me, as someone who has worked in recruiting before, you can make all the nice forms and templates you want, and hiring managers are still going to be elusive/indecisive/unrealistic about what they actually need/want in their candidates.

            1. Pocket Mouse*

              I follow clear, concise, reasonable directions when they’re provided, and I know I’m not the only one. If you are a recruiter/HR person, of course it’s your call whether there are enough people like me in your workplace that making such tools available would make life easier on you and improve the pool of candidates to review. If it has been your experience that fully no one follows clear, concise, reasonable directions where you’ve worked, I’m sorry that’s the case and hope your experience with colleagues is better in the future!

          2. LaDeeDa*

            Yeah, lots of companies do that. Our hiring manager has a form to fill out, if it is a new position they have to work with HR and comp to write a full job description and get a pay range approved. Our hiring managers, hiring committees, and recruiters all go through unconscious bias training as well as behavioral interviewing techniques training. We do a good job of trying to prepare not only the manager, recruiters, and hiring teams to make sure that they understand the process, and they know how to interview and pick the best candidate.

            If you having these kinds of issues talk to your HR and your recruiter and actively ask them how to get the best results, I am sure they would love to help out- because normally they get thrown a vague job description and are told to fill it, and questions are met with no response.

            You seem to be painting this like all managers have the same issues you are describing, and really this is an issue with your HR or lack of communication between both of you.

    3. Emily S*

      At my organization the HR screen is the first filter that applicants pass through, like a lot of companies. And like a lot of companies, it just doesn’t work as well in practice as somebody must have thought it would in theory. We even have standard templates for job ads that distinguish between “required skills/experience” and “preferred skills/experience” with managers instructed to make “required” the bare, bare minimum and “preferred” their ideal candidate. But often without experience in the specific field, HR don’t realize that two different-sounding things are functionally equivalent, or that two similar-sounding things are actually different, and it’s something of a “unknown unknowns” problem that makes it hard for managers to anticipate all the synonyms and related concepts they should make sure HR is aware of for a given position.

      Luckily the way my org handles applications, the hiring manager can see all of the applications regardless of whether HR advances or rejects a candidate, and we can pull candidates out of the rejection list or decide against interviewing a candidate who was passed forward if we can tell they’re actually not quite what we’re looking for. HR is sort of there to save time for the managers who don’t have the interest or time to do the first screen themselves, but we aren’t forced to rely only on their decisions if we don’t want to.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Yep, I was coming here to say that it’s a language issue, more than a boolean (yes/no) issue. I remember in college they started implementing these screens and learning that in order to get past the screen you needed to change your resume/cover letter/responses to each job listing and thinking it was suuuuch a drag. And lookie – we’re still having to do it. Im curious when narrow AI will start to get involved because at least AI will allow more nuance.

        1. Hamburke*

          Didn’t one of the big companies try that and it was biased? I think it was Amazon.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            I don’t remember which company but I know the incident you’re talking about. IIRC, they fed the AI resumes of their current workforce and the AI took the fact that the majority were men to basically trash all women’s applications. There’s more to it, but that was the overall jist.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              As someone who has worked with MS programs since the 90’s, it’s going to be a long, long time before computers are able to think well enough to do things. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime.
              I would never trust a machine that doesn’t have an override or way to disconnect it. And I wouldn’t trust an HR program to select candidates, no matter how well they say they’re programmed. I don’t work in HR though.

              1. selena81*

                i’m far more optimistic: at least when an algorithm fails you can ask it straight-up what variables it used to make decisions, whereas a human will not even be aware that they subconsciously scored all women a little lower.
                The biggest problem is people not doing that check because they think the computer is ‘not programmed to be racist’

      2. selena81*

        …HR don’t realize that two different-sounding things are functionally equivalent, or that two similar-sounding things are actually different, and it’s something of a “unknown unknowns” problem that makes it hard for managers to anticipate all the synonyms and related concepts they should make sure HR is aware of for a given position…

        HUGE frustration for anyone working in an industry that is beyond most recuiters grasp (as in: it is neither highschool-kids level that pretty much anyone would understand, nor in the social sciences corner where most hr-people hail from)

        Companies seem to gradually become more aware of this and give the actual managers of those ‘difficult departments’ more input in the screening procedure: not just sending through a list of ‘approved candidates’ for her to interview but getting her involved right at the letter-screening phase.

      3. yasmara*

        Yes, my husband hires and he *always* reviews the rejected candidates as well. Not once has he moved one into “interested enough to interview.”

    4. Bulbasaur*

      Yes, I have run into that before – kind of a Mr. Potato Head approach to recruiting. They’ll pass on the one that can reconfigure itself to order and achieve self-powered flight using only toothpicks and rubber bands, because the front slot isn’t quite the right shape for the glasses attachment they want to use. Then they end up with the one that fits all the attachments but has a wobbly leg and an arm that springs off and disappears under the couch if you twist it the wrong way.

    5. My Dog's Person*

      I was working for a company in an HR-related role when another position opened in my department. Since we were a gov’t contractor, the HR director required all job applications go through the automated system to document that regulations on hiring were met. When I applied for the job in the system, I came to a question asking if I had a degree in HR or a related field; I majored in history so I said “no”. A day or so later, the person doing the recruiting told me that my application was rejected solely on the basis of that question and asked why I had answered no. I said it was the truth and anyway thought that the question discriminated against older applicants because there were no HR degree programs when I went to college. I was told to go back and revise my answer because they would consider my history degree plus 20 years of experience and industry training as “related”. The also didn’t want an age discrimination suit. I got the job.

      1. selena81*

        I suppose it would already help a lot if those forms would clearly state ‘…or equivalent qualification’

        Yes, you will get morons who think they are qualified for everything. But i think the uptick in outside candidates would more than make up for that.

  4. Amber Rose*

    I’ve come across automatic screening that won’t even let me hit submit if I enter a no. Just automatically pops an error message, “you answered no, so we’re not sending this in.”

    Which has always annoyed me, but I feel like maybe it’s better than submitting and having to wait on an email. Ugh, just… come on! Like job hunting isn’t hard enough. :(

    1. boop the first*

      … Also, the questionnaire itself shouldn’t be 45 minutes long before that auto-no.

    2. selena81*

      If any ‘no’ would get you an automatic rejection anyway i think it’s vastly preferable that they won’t let you send it in: at least you won’t have to wonder whether it was auto-reject or a human found you lacking.
      And with that set-up you can decide beforehand if you want to answer questions only in the spirit and not to the letter.

  5. Annisele*

    I’ve just come across something very similar to this, from the other side.
    My employer is currently expanding, and recruiting some more people to do my job. I saw the external advert, then in a later conversation with an HR colleague I told her that if I didn’t already have the job, I couldn’t apply – I didn’t remotely meet the minimum criteria. She was Horrified with a capital H. Apparently there haven’t been all that many qualified applicants, and (whilst she disagreed with my interpretation of the mininum criteria as stated in the ad) she thinks my interpretation might give some context to the lack of applicants.
    At this point, my employer would absolutely be receptive to the script like the one Alison gave. If we’d been drowning in candiates, maybe not – but there’s no way to know that from the outside.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I wish more companies would really rethink things when they don’t get a lot of applicants. My employer, for example, tends to shrug its shoulders when we get crap results rather than examine if the pay is competitive.

      Two of the worst examples of automated systems going wrong:

      1) one application required five years of experience on software that was two years old.

      2) although over 500 people applied for a job, not a single candidate made it to the next level. It took a consultant to point out that the application required X years in a project group. Well the project group was specifically unique to the company and only two people, who were the hiring managers, had that experience on the entire planet.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I worked at an org that employed a lot of teenagers for summer jobs. They used the same form in the applicant tracking system for all jobs, regardless of level. We lost a ton of prospective lifeguards and camp counselors, and ended up short-staffed, because when you ask a 15 or 16 year old for their full professional resume including graduate level of education and target salary, they assume they’re not qualified for the job and abandon the application partway through.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            They eventually added “I am a student and this is my first job” to the application, which would send you directly to the end of the application. They added it only after a meeting in which the VP of HR was ripped apart by a room full of livid program managers who were working 7-day, 60+ hour weeks to cover the staffing shortage the software created.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          When I applied at Macy’s for temp holiday help, the application asked me for the title of my graduate thesis.

          Why would *any* retail job ask that question? Are they expecting cashiers to hold debates on John Stuart Mill over scanning coupons?

            1. Avatre*

              “Correlation between irrelevant queries on employment applications and application completion rate: a literature review.”

          1. BurnOutCandidate*

            I was a manager for GameStop a number of years ago, and corporate implemented a payscale calculator for part-time employees that, as a manager, I have to fill out for each hire. The scale had eleven questions, and for a part-timer to max out on their hourly pay — which was $6.05 an hour — they had to speak two languages fluently and have a Ph.D. (Masters, and you were at $5.95. Yeah, that Ph.D earned you a whole 10 cents an hour.) Prior to this, I had been able to pay part-timers what I thought made sense for their skills and the market. That made going into the Christmas hiring season fun, as I’d already decided to start my hires out at $7.50 an hour, and suddenly I couldn’t.

            1. LJay*

              Having worked a lot of retail jobs that boggles my mind, too, because, in a lot of cases being a Ph.D would absolutely not make you more qualified for the job than someone with no degree who had worked in retail for several years.

              (And speaking two languages wouldn’t necessarily be helpful if they weren’t languages generally spoken in the area already. Like, if you live in Texas and speak Spanish, that’s a plus. If you live in rural New Jersey and speak Swahili, your language proficiency isn’t going to come up often enough to be useful).

              So it’s a terribly cheap payscale calculator and not even rewarding things that would necessarily be relevant for business like previous retail experience, availability for scheduling, knowledge of subject matter and sales skills.

      2. Dragoning*

        Honestly, if I ever got asked for my experience with a software demanding more years experience than the software existed–I would just say yes, I have that experience.

      3. Blue Bunny*

        These two scenarios are classic H-1B set-ups: claim no one is qualified so you can search overseas. This is rampant in tech.

        1. Camellia*

          Wow, I’m in IT and I never saw it that way! But unfortunately I think you are correct. I know I’ve sometimes looked around my shop and thought “Seriously? You couldn’t find any Java developers??!?!? Really??”

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Do they want overseas techs because they can pay them less? Or for some other reason?

          1. alphabet soup*

            It ensures that the employees stay with the company for the duration of the visa, so the employees can’t leave as soon as they get a better offer.

          2. selena81*

            Combination of lower pay and foreigners being more desperate/malleable.

            I know everyone is saying that IT are the jobs of the future, but be cautious about that: there are quit some managers who claim huge ‘labor shortages’ when they actually mean ‘shortage of people with 20 years of relevant experience and multiple degrees who will work for minimum wage’

        3. Tisiphone*

          That explains why I had to leave the IT field. All that practical troubleshooting experience but not having ten years of Java experience when Java was fairly new was one of the reasons my resumes fell into black holes. Most companies didn’t even have an auto-reject. They just never bothered to contact you.

        4. Hershele Ostropoler*

          I forget who the employer was and the exact wording, but I definitely recall filling out an application for a job in New York — where I have lived my entire life — that there was no way for a U.S. citizen to fill out in a way that didn’t throw a “you must complete all fields” error (and I think I couldn’t fudge because it asked for some specific datum, like issuance date or something)

      4. Rose*

        I see this so often in tech applications. A lot of places asking for more years experience than that software has existed for, or a preliminary recruiter/HR call where the person conducting it isn’t actually familiar with the technical requirements.

      5. Clisby*

        My husband once saw an ad requiring 10 years experience in C++. At the time, the only people who could possibly have met this requirement would have been working with Bjarne Stroustrup while he developed C++.

        1. nonegiven*

          I’ve heard of ‘rate your experience with X on a scale of 1-10,’
          9 = I published a book on x,
          10 = I invented x.

    2. AKchic*

      I had a similar problem when I finally convinced a boss to hire a second program assistant (to help me with everything he wanted me to do).
      He wanted the person to have at least one degree, 5+ years of experience, and a whole bunch of credentials, but still take very little money (like $14/hr, and in my state, that’s really not a lot, minimum wage at the time was like $9/hr).
      He promoted me from the receptionist position. Without ever looking at my resume or my employee file. He never even realized I was a high school drop-out with a GED. All we needed was someone who could file, make copies, take notes, and draft decent emails. The rest was easily trainable. He wanted someone he could push all of his work onto and then pretend he was overworked while really doing none of his own work and taking credit for what us PAs were doing for him (and he did, for years until he was terminated).

  6. Boba Feta*

    This question is directly relevant to my life today as I painstakingly craft more cover letters in my quest to flee part-time academia. It’s especially aggravating to those of us looking to make a career transition who absolutely have the transferable skills to do the job, but don’t have the literal resume line items to back it up, and is my worst nightmare right now.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      Yes! I loathe form applications as a candidate, but this is a really good illustration of how they can end up hurting the employer, too. It’s basically saying that transferable skills don’t count, which is silly and will cut out a lot of potentially great candidates.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      Can you give an example of what a requirement is and a skill you have that is transferable? The OP said
      “If it makes any difference, the skill they were asking for was two years of experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment. I have two years of experience working in higher education and over five years of experience giving professional development presentations … but technically I do not have experience giving professional development presentations to individuals in higher ed.”

      I think they could have truthfully answered the question as yes. They have 2 yrs in higher ed, and 5 years in professional development presentations, they meet that requirement, even though higher ed and presentations haven’t overlapped.
      You may find something in your field.

      1. Boba Feta*

        Two examples that jump to mind are positions in academic advising (requiring X years in Student Affairs division or working as an actual advisor) and museums. I “advise” students all the time as a professor, but have never worked in a Student Affairs office, so the cover letter is the perfect place to explain how all the skills I’ve developed dealing one-on-one with students can transfer into the advising office. But if there’s an automatic screener question that asks me point blank if I have “three years experience in student affairs or retention” I have to say no. I can also research the bazinga out of anything in a museum or archive, and do have some museum experience from way back in the Paleolithic of my other life, but no where near the minimum requirements often asked about and not within the last ~15 years.

        I identify super-hard with the LW here, because I would have done exactly the same thing – read the question literally and answered it honestly because my first instinct is to be totally upfront about things. The advice to “answer the spirit rather than the letter” of the question makes a lot of sense after the fact, but in the moment I’m pretty sure I’d go with the first (auto-rejectable) option.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          “I’m pretty sure I’d go with the first (auto-rejectable) option”

          Well, stop it ;) LOL! Seriously, I think you are able to make those connections for the stupid system, and then use your cover letter to say what you just said above. The prescreen online system is only that, it only gets you past an automatic system. The recruiter and hiring manager are going to look at your resume and then they have the opportunity to reject it. Usually, recruiters and hiring managers do not even look at your answers in the prescreen online system.

          1. Boba Feta*

            Gah, yea. I can be honest to a fault, so that sounds like something the LW and I could both work on.

            I replied to another comment of yours below about a different kind of screening device: those forms that ask you to insert all your raw resume data even when they also want an uploaded resume. Assuming the system will allow you to advance without entering it (I’ve never tried because, again, if I’m asked a question I answer it), what’s the effect of just leaving all that blank as a way to force them to look only at the letter and submitted resume that were tailored for the role? I would guess they’d be none-too-happy about an applicant just skipping all those form fields if they were part of the “required” application process, and thereby also reject you?

            1. LaDeeDa*

              It will likely just sit as incomplete and you will get annoying emails telling you to finish it, and it just won’t go any further. Down below I explained why that information is captured.

            2. Zephy*

              I’ve accidentally left fields blank on those kinds of applications and IME it won’t let you advance without putting something in. If you wanted to be petty, you could answer all the questions with “see resume,” but that may or may not get you past the initial screen.

            3. Avatre*

              Those drive me up the wall! I usually just copy and paste from my resume (but it’s still a pain).

              1. Boba Feta*

                I’ve done that, too, just to get it done with. The best thing I ever did was create a “Master” CV file with literally every tiny ridiculous detail, like my boss’s phone number from 20 years ago, just for those rare occasions when the form makes that info required to continue. This so I have one place from which to make the copypasta.

                Side benefit- – In that rare occasion when I end up writing an even-more pithy and effective summary of my accomplishments in an online form because hey, my brain just happened to like me in that minute, I go and paste it back into my Master-file for use later on. Win!

        2. VelociraptorAttack*

          I would argue that depending upon how the university looks at it, as a professor you may have x years of retention outright. I know at my previous university (I was in advising) we 100% considered all of our instructors as a huge aspect of retention . So even if your particular institution does not, you may apply to one that does and not even realize that you’re selling yourself short!

          (That said, these kind of questions are stupid…)

          1. Boba Feta*

            Yes, my letter for that one emphasized all the ways my professorial experience can be translated directly to the role of advising, and I should admit that this application did *not* have the kind of explicit pre-screen questions that the LW describes. However, I still fear that my honest responses to the pages and pages of “please insert your entire work history and personal details since forever” data forms won’t contain something “rejectable,” like being “overqualified” with a Ph.D. when only a Bachelor’s is required (though a Master’s is preferred).

            The advice to respond to the “spirit” of the question has really given me a totally new perspective with which to approach ALL of my job-searching moving forward, so I’m really really grateful for this question today.

            1. Wordnerd*

              Hi Boba Feta,
              I’m sorry you’re struggling. I escaped adjuncting to be the Writing Center coordinator in a retention focused department, and we hire for retention specialists and academic advisors a lot. I would say go ahead and say you have “retention” experience, especially if you’ve done *any* work outside of the classroom: governance, club advising, informal “coaching” during office hours. For us, not having a bachelor’s is the only thing that will get a candidate rejected out of hand. We recently tried to bring a candidate with a PhD and teaching experience to the next rounds of interviews, so at least in some situations, your experience is what we’re looking for. If you can highlight any assessment or data experience, that might also make you more competitive for those gigs.
              I hope it works out for you!

              1. Boba Feta*

                Thank you so much, Wordnerd! I have been focusing on two main trajectories: writing centers, advising, coaching and success programs etc., but also raw data management, cataloguing, database work and the like.

                I struggle when asked if I have experience with field-specific programs like in advising or study abroad, and so my letter always tries to emphasize that if given a day to have my way with the program, I can get it to confess many of its deepest, darkest secrets. But, you know, worded a tad more professionally than that. :)

      2. Pommette!*

        I don’t think that they could truthfully/technically answer that question as a yes, since they don’t have experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment.

        The questionnaire is poorly designed, and I think that it’s entirely fair for the OP to lie/to answer in what we can assume must be the spirit of the question, while ignoring the actual wording. S/he has more than enough experience to do well in the role, and since his/her résumé and cover letter are honest, it’s not as if s/he is ultimately going to mislead the hiring team. But I can see how answering “yes” to that question would feel like lying.

        In my area, there are only a few big employers. All use automated application systems with disqualifying questions, and all have a policy of permanently blocking applicants who have been found to lie in their applications. I hope that they only block the people who are found to have falsified their résumés or to have lied in substantive ways, but I don’t and can’t know. Maybe they do block the people who say they have 5 years of
        experience doing X work, when they don’t but have what is in fact an excellent equivalent. It makes answering automatically disqualifying questions really stressful and difficult (especially so for a literal-minded applicant trying to make a career change!).

    3. Pommette!*

      Similar boat, similar frustrations. Academia involves a lot of specialization, but also a lot of being a jack of all trades doing things that are necessary, and take up a lot of time and skill, but that aren’t “officially” your job at all, or are officially only a small part of your job.

      Applying for work is dispiriting. Employers look for people with X years of working as a Y in a Z setting, and I’ll have over X years of doing work that includes a lot of Y activities but isn’t officially Y work, and not in a Z setting.

      Good luck on making your escape!

      1. Boba Feta*

        Spot on, Pommette! And thank you! The best we can do is keep trying and make tweaks here and there as we go, but damn.

  7. Antilles*

    If it makes any difference, the skill they were asking for was two years of experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment. I have two years of experience working in higher education and over five years of experience giving professional development presentations … but technically I do not have experience giving professional development presentations to individuals in higher ed.
    For what it’s worth, I think you absolutely met this qualification. You’ve spent a total of seven years either (a) working in higher education or (b) giving professional development presentations. The fact those two streams haven’t quite crossed entirely doesn’t really seem relevant to me.
    Even though “no” is technically correct (the best kind of correct!), the *real intent* of the qualification is making sure you’ve got a bit of industry-relevant experience and job-relevant experience and the reality is that you have tons of it.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      I was coming here to say the same. Based on OP’s experience and what the requirement is, OP could have truthfully answered yes.

    2. Holly*

      To be honest, I was reading the letter thinking “well, they only want two years experience, you don’t have it, so unfortunately that’s the way it goes no matter how good your cover letter is.” And then I read that she had all that experience! I agree with you.

    3. Scion*

      While I totally agree with Alison about answering in the spirit of the question, it’s pretty straightforward that the OP doesn’t meet the qualification as written.

      They asked for two years of skill X in field Y, not two years of skill X and two years of skill Y. It’s always a bit of a guess when you try answering in the spirit of things – who knows, maybe they really did mean what they said.

  8. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I *just* had this happen to me. It was a job I was referred to, and they were interested in interviewing me. A few weeks later, I hear back: We’re setting up interviews, why didn’t you apply?

    I did. Applicant tracking rejected my resume. They couldn’t find it and HR couldn’t give it to them.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        No, the posting had closed, and HR would not let them re-open it.

    1. Tigger*

      This happened to a friend of mine. I have told this story before but the short version is that her manager from her old job got a new job and wanted her on their team but she had to go thru the company’s system to keep things kosher. The system auto-rejected the resume because of some reason ( I think her current salary was too high? Idk it was a really silly reason) and when HR investigated they found a ton of really great resumes they had no idea about that would have been interviewed if HR saw them.
      I hate systems like this. Sometimes they reject you for the most asinine reasons

    2. Yikes*

      Also had something similar happen to me. I had two partners at the local office of a national law firm who purported to be very interested in hiring me, but for whatever reason I could NOT make it past their firm-wide screening software, and even when they called HR in Ohio to try to get me manually pushed through, the home office was basically like, “If she can’t get past the screening algorithms, she’s not eligible for hire.” I continue to not understand how this benefits the firm or company hiring in any way.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        That is absurd. Truly absurd. Rejecting good candidates because their ATS sucks?

    3. Another Manic Monday*

      I had a similar experience last year. My agency was restructuring and my old position got new classification and it meant that I had to reapply for my own job. Their automated screening system rejected my application and I was never considered for hiring under the new classification. According to my work evaluations I am bonafide rockstar and I got a nice annual cash award, but according to the automated screening system: I am utterly unqualified for my own job.

  9. animaniactoo*

    At a minimum, some of those automated systems should be designed to distinguish between a “hard no, no matter what” (i.e. You do not have a necessary degree or certification that would be required for doing the job and are not within X time frame of acquiring one), and “a yes on this wish list item would move this candidate to the top of the pile”.

    It would also behoove the people who design the questions to break down what they’re really looking for. So, for example, the application the OP responded to might have been designed to say:
    “How many years of experience do you have giving professional development presentations?”
    “How many years of experience do you have working in or with a higher education environment?”

    Because that might net them somebody with 10 years of experience in higher education and only 1 in giving professional presentations, but is a really strong overall candidate and potentially stronger than someone who has 2.5 years of experience giving said presentations in exactly said environment.

    Another good question would be “Do you have experience that you believe is relevant and can be transferred? Please explain”. Set it up to flag those responses for easy access to quickly read through and make a better determination on whether the candidate really is a hard no.

    1. Former Help Desk Peon*

      I think if I were designing such a system, I’d go statement type questions with gradated responses like:
      I have 5 or more years giving professional development presentations, or equivalent, experience: “No”, “I have some experience”, “I have at least 5 years of experience”, “I have more than 10 years of experience” and ask applicants to select the one that represented them best.

      And then, use all responses to build a score. If I had to auto reject candidates at all, it would be those who scored low on everything. Humans could take a look at the rest and compare that to the total number of applicants to sort out where they want to put the “good enough match to read the resume” bar since that can be different for every posting.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, I was thinking it would be a drop-down menu for the “how many years of experience” questions. With the “Do you have relevant experience” box becoming active only if it was less than the requested baseline.

      2. Mimi*

        I used a system that worked like that when I was a recruiter for a local government agency. It basically would give the applicant a score based on responses and once they reached a certain score their application got moved forward. I still double checked the auto No group, but it was a quicker review.

    2. Nanani*

      But then you might have to involve humans in the process *gasp*
      How are corporations supposed to cut staffing costs if they need human intelligence that can’t be replicated by mass computerization!?!

      (sarcasm intended)

    3. Hershele Ostropoler*

      I feel like the trouble with these systems is that, without auditing the rejections, Theobromine Teapottery can’t tell whether the system is rejecting perfectly good candidates (e.g., because the instructions it was given are being interpreted more strictly than expected, or because two things are being taken as `and` when `or` was meant, or whatever); this comes with a secondary problem that if the applicant doesn’t fudge (no pun intended), the system might not know the difference between lack of experience that means “has never heard of a teapot” and lack of experience that means “has never done chocolate, but has been making aspic and frangipane spouts for half a century”

      And if it even occurs to someone to audit the rejections, it’s difficult at first blush to argue with “if we wanted to do that, we wouldn’t have installed the thing in the first place”

      Unfortunately I can’t think of a way to do it that will reject people who are actually unqualified without rejecting qualified people who can’t demonstrate this to the computer. I’m not railing against automated evaluations, particularly at larger companies that are pretty much constantly hiring and that by their prominence are going to get all sorts of nonsense flung over the transom; the problem is the attitude that the computer is both smarter than, and at least as human as, the people

  10. Not Today Satan*

    Man, even disregarding that your experience aligns so closely with what they want, requiring “two years of experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment” is everything I hate about the job market. Not only do you need experience with a particular project/task, but it also have to be within the same industry that they’re in. Give me a break! Do they really think a person with experience giving professional development presentations in say, the nonprofit industry couldn’t do it? Or that someone with years of experience giving compliance trainings in higher ed couldn’t do it? Good grief.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      I think we should post about this in the open thread on Friday, because if they are asking for something that I have a transferable skill to, I am going to answer yes, and then when they look at my resume they will be able to make the final decision.

      The thing is with the online screening is that the recruiter doesn’t really look at that, usually. They look at the attached resume. So when they see the resume they can usually make the connection between transferable skills.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      My industry is so picky you basically can only get jobs in jobs you’ve already done. Transferable or “I could figure it out” means nothing because “I don’t want to train you.”

      1. Not Today Satan*

        The worst. When the required experience is particularly specific, I assume that the job was designed for a current employee but that HR makes them post it. So they get around by making a “requirements” list that’s essentially the desired candidate’s resume.

        1. Queen of the File*

          I figured this out once when I was rejected for not having x amount of experience in a software that was an acronym I couldn’t even Google. Turns out it was accessible to current staff only. *eyeroll*

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Sometimes it’s not that, but the “we don’t want to train you” is true, not for nefarious reasons necessarily. Sometimes the requirements are overly restrictive on purpose because they don’t have the time/resources to train someone other than on the employer’s specific protocols and they need someone who can hit the ground running with very little training on the role’s tasks in general. It’s not great to end up in that position, but if that’s the situation it’d be a disservice to candidates who could learn as they go, even if given the time they might end up great, if you don’t actually have the time to let them do that. There doesn’t have to be a known internal candidate for it to be a “we can only hire someone who already knows how to do 95% of what this job entails” situation.

      2. Powercycle*

        I’ve seen that a lot with IT jobs.”Must have experience with specific software X”. After 20 years of supporting a couple hundred different applications/systems, learning a new version of something isn’t a huge burden to me, but some employers just think they’ll save time and money on training.

        1. JM in England*

          My field is scientific and I’ve seen job ads asking for X years experience in a specific new technology; X is often bigger than how long said technology has been around!!! :-)

      3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        THIS. I was rejected for a position because I lack experience in a product whose training is behind a paywall, even though I used their competitors in the past. If you drop people of consideration because you don’t want to pay, that position will never be filled.

        1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          Oh, I hate this so much. I see so many ads for positions I’m otherwise qualified for that require experience with a certain piece of software. I too don’t have experience with that software, but I have used similar products. If I had access to it and a couple of hours, I could probably figure it out really easily. Said software is quite expensive (in fact, at my previous company, many of us in our department asked for it, as it would have made our jobs much easier, but the company wouldn’t buy it because of the expense) and it’s just cost-prohibitive for me to shell out hundreds of dollars for it just to practice.

    3. anonforthis*

      I’m experiencing this a lot with my current job search. I am currently a Teapot Analyst in the corporate sector who would LOVE to do teapot research for nonprofits in a context that advances marginalized communities’ access to teapots. It’s literally same set of skills with a differ mission. I’ve screened out of multiple nonprofit jobs due to doubts about my corporate background. In the last job I interviewed for, the job duties were a combination of research, event planning, and talking to policy makers. I have research and event planning experience, but was rejected for lack of experience in the latter area. Like seriously? This isn’t something I can learn on the job? Okay..

      1. 1234*

        I wonder what kind of unicorn this non-profit is looking for, who has all 3 of those skills and is willing to accept a non-profit salary.

        1. BrexitSucks*

          Anon IS the unicorn!

          They want a two headed cyborg vampire unicorn that can breathe fire.

  11. Lobsterman*

    It’s morally laudable to mislead computers, and wrong to mislead humans. :)

    1. jamlady*

      I just posted that I struggle with this kind of thing – this is my new mantra!

  12. jamlady*

    This is so common in government – it’s a running joke that you have to say you’re an expert in everything or you’ll get rejected by the system. I’ve always had a hard time with this, as my brain is wired to be an honest rule follower, but I also know that you have to work the system a bit in order to get properly noticed. We almost missed out on the perfect candidate once because of his level of honesty, but that kind of honesty was exactly what we needed as our field is full of ethical problems and over inflated egos. He knew us so he gave us a call and we were able to fix it, but others like him were just flat missed. Sorry OP – this is so annoying!

    1. LaDeeDa*

      The recruiter and hiring manager aren’t even looking at the data you put into the online system, it is, usually, strictly a prescreen, and when you get past the prescreen they are going to look at your resume. If you have a transferable skill or close the minimum requirement, just put it in. Once your resume actually gets in front of a person, they will usually be able to make the connections.

      1. Boba Feta*

        See, this is something that confuses me. There are university application systems that require you enter an ungodly amount of itemized information into their freakishly awkward online forms about, basically, every job you’ve ever had. But then they ask for a resume and cover letter, so that’s where the relevant information would go anyway, so it makes me wonder what the purpose of all that data is.

        I’m grateful I have not yet encountered a system that asked screening questions so bluntly and pointedly as what the LW describes, but I do wonder if that’s how this other data gets used. I’ve been submitting applications into two institutions for the past year that seem to get sucked into a black hole of nothingness, only to keep trying in the hopes that maybe I just haven’t found the right fit yet. But the lizard in my brain is beginning to worry that the reason I never hear anything back is because some random bit of info in my data dump has somehow disqualified me and I’ll never know what it was or that I need to fix/ remove it.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          These systems suck. I was just having this conversation with a woman I have been coaching and rewrote her resume content. She didn’t want to pay me to redesign the format of her resume, because “all of it goes in the system and no one looks at resumes.” So not true! No one is looking at the system. That data is asked for a few reasons; they have to report things like the number of minorities/disabled/veterans who applied/interviewed/hired. If they are going to make an offer and/or do a background check, they will pull from that data, but they aren’t looking at it really. The background information gets pulled and sent to their check vendor, and they pull out your references. And finally, if you do get hired that data is then used to go into their onboarding or HR system.

          No one is looking at it, so go forth and manipulate the software :)

        2. Brett*

          “so it makes me wonder what the purpose of all that data is.”

          Quite often that is for a mandatory background check more than candidate screening.
          Some schools/agencies will not even look at that information until you get a conditional offer. At least in local government, some organizations have turned to not collecting that until a conditional offer is extended (it greatly reduces the risk of them being the vector for identity theft).

          1. Boba Feta*

            This makes a lot of sense, actually- thank you! I wish most places waited until a candidate was being seriously considered before asking for so much info.

      2. Pilcrow*

        Sooooo… you’re saying the application system is nothing more than a collection point and doesn’t screen anything except for maybe the candidates’ ability to read and game the system.

        I’m with Boba Feta, what’s the point of these kinds of systems?

        1. LaDeeDa*

          It is to pre-screen, to disqualify all those without the minimum, and they are to gather and report information. I pull from our recruiting system every month to see the numbers of veterans, women, disabled people, and minorities who applied were interviewed, and ultimately hired. They directly impact our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, so I know that if we aren’t getting enough women applying I need to partner with recruiting to get them to attend some Women in STEM events, etc. If I am seeing that a number of veterans are getting to the interview process but not being hired, I need to figure out why– is there a bias there? Are they not well prepared, is that information I can give back to the VA…

          There are also government reporting that has to happen, especially when you work in tech and are getting H1-B1 visas for people– I don’t know as much about that, as immigration/visas don’t fall under my department.

          1. LaDeeDa*

            OH and here is some good that came of that kind of reporting. When I started with a D&I initiative I pulled the number of women who were applying, and compared that to the number being hired, and realized women were not being interviewed as often as they should. So I worked with the head of recruiting and we started a blind resume process, that increased the number of women making it to the interview process by 37%!!! And we increased the number of women being hired by 22% in 3 months.
            So obviously there was some bias at play there… which lead to mandatory bias training for all managers and recruiters :)

            1. Boba Feta*

              But much of what you are describing is not quite what I think is at issue here, which is the apparent mismatch between *skill* or *experience* qualification requirements that cause an auto-rejection rather than demographic details that are useful for identifying trends or biases.

              When an HR data-input system asks me whether or not I’m a veteran, I happily and honestly say ‘No’ with some comfort that this response will not automatically boot my application into the void. But when a data system requires that I input my highest degree earned, and then I never hear back about a role requiring only a Bachelor’s or Master’s, but for which I have transferable skills and am eager to discuss in an interview because I’m honestly looking for a more stable, 9-5 kind of job that I don’t have to take home with me (things I would explain in the cover letter), OR for which I have 1.5 years experience instead of 3, I am left to wonder how that info is used to “screen” in the manner the LW describes.

              1. LaDeeDa*

                You asked me why that information was being captured, and I answered that– for pre-screen and for reporting and data purposes. And that is what I answered.

                I tried to explain how the system works, what is being screened is different in every company. You have to read the job posting and look at requirements and try to determine what are the minimum they are looking for. The only other thing I can suggest is to get a leadership coach who can help you with looking at the job posting and helping you to tailor your resume and application to that. I do this with my clients all the time. And if I am applying for a job, I will straight up rephrase things in my resume to use the exact same words that are used in their job posting.

                1. Boba Feta*

                  Yes, the reporting and data usage aspect makes sense, as does the “pre-screen” bit, to a degree. When the data is used to filter those with the most relevant experience to the “top” of the pile I can see how that would greatly benefit everyone involved. But when all that personal data is (potentially) used to filter OUT people with “too much” experience or for being “overeducated” and are thus filtered OUT, because the forms ask you for EVERYTHING even when your resume/ letter would have been tailored to that particular job, replete with custom-repurposed phrasing from the ad itself, that is what I’m getting at.

                  Fundamentally I agree with your points about using the form data for good (flush out the implicit biases!, etc.), I just have my suspicions that those are the *only* purposes to which it is being used, and am wary to insert all my lifetime of data when only *some* of those details are directly relevant to the job at hand.

                  Maybe I just need to shore up my bravery and start putting “see resume” in all them boxes instead…

    2. Kirsten*

      Yes! I worked as a “long term sub” (can’t remember their technical term) in a government position for a year right out of school. My boss loved me and asked me to apply when an identical permanent position was posted later. But the USAJobs application asked if I had at least two years of experience at a GS9 level, and I had to answer no since I didn’t. So of course the system rejected me and told me I wasn’t qualified for a position that I had literally been doing (and doing well) for a year.

      1. nonymous*

        But if you were detailed to the GS-9 position for a year, isn’t that the experience? I was under the impression that a detail assignment was a way for people who didn’t have experience at-level gain the experience to make the cert. At my org we just had a situation where two staff members from an adjacent department were detailed after a series of retirements and after six months they opened the position for the staff member who liked it enough to stay. The new position was a GS-8, so normally the cert gets swamped out by the vet’s pref points if we can’t ask for specialized experience that has no commensurate educational qualification, and the people who were detailed had institutional knowledge that was very helpful (think teapot makers detailed to reviewing cGMP docs for new teapot lines).

        1. Kirsten*

          It was experience, yes, but only one year’s worth, and the application specifically asked for two. Since I was only a year out of school, I didn’t feel like I could answer yes, so I got thrown out of the system before my boss could ever get to my application. In theory it was a way into the system (at least that’s what I figured when I took the initial job), but it didn’t work out that way and my boss ultimately couldn’t do anything about it (she really tried).

      2. Another Manic Monday*

        My agency is restructuring and we had to reapply for our own jobs under a new classification. USAjobs rejected to my application telling me that I was unqualified for the job I have been doing for two years. Now the leadership is wondering why morale is low and everyone is leaving in droves.

      3. Pommette!*

        Sorry that that happened to you.

        I find the emphasis on years of work particularly absurd.

        An applicant with one year of experience doing job X is genuinely a lot more qualified than an applicant with no experience. But an applicant with two years of experience is not necessarily going to be twice as qualified as an applicant with only one. Someone with one year of experience doing the more demanding aspects of job X, or who’s a particularly fast learner in that field, or who has prior experience in a different but relevant field, might well be a better candidate than someone with two years of experience doing the bare minimum to qualify as “doing job X”. But automated application systems means that the hiring manager won’t even get to consider those applicants.

    3. dramallama*

      I was looking for this– I used to spend so much time weighing my answers to be as accurate as possible, then I learned to ’round up’, then I had a job with somebody who was hired to a GS level above me but was grossly inexperienced because she had just lied all through the automatic screening and then charmed the hiring manager. Now I go at those things with the attitude of “if she was an expert, then I sure as hell am too”.

  13. A Person*

    If you are really close and/or can make a convincing argument in a cover letter or interview that you do have the experience please click yes!

    My worst hiring committee experience was when my boss had applications screened by our hiring software for a minimum three years of a certain type of analyst experience. Virtually everyone who answered “yes” to the three year experience question was barely out of high school and worked in fast food or retail. I spent hours throwing their applications across the room in frustration.

    One of our best candidates got screened out because he was just a couple months short of the specific requirement even though he had years of closely related experience that we could have counted. But because he answered “no” to the question, he had been screened out by the system, thanks to our rigid hiring rules, we couldn’t even consider him as a candidate.

    1. Boba Feta*

      OMG it’s like a job-hunting Dunning-Kruger experiment! All the conscientious people who would excel at the role click “no” and get screened, whereas all the gumption-filled pretenders clicked “yes” and have to get screened anyway.

      I’d laugh if I weren’t so sure that I fall into category A and that’s why my search has been going no where.

      1. Pommette!*

        Automated systems – especially poorly designed and overly rigid ones – really screen out the conscientious and literal-minded. I’ll be the first to say that those aren’t always great personality traits to have, and that no employer would want all of their employees to be that way… but there are roles for which you actually want a conscientious and literal-minded person! (And hey, we’re nice people who need work too!)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Welcome to my personal hell!

      This happens with every single listing we make. The screening questions are always just breezed past by the resume spammers. You’ll always get them, there’s no way to stop them, as you’ve now seen!

      I have going on two decades of experience that still isn’t enough for some jobs that will not budget on their “associates at least or GTFO” requirement as well. *shrug* I don’t want any of those apples anyways.

    3. Psyche*

      Ick. I feel like every screening question should have “or equivalent” added on.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is “or equivalent” doesn’t always hack it depending on the requirements an organization has for hiring. There’s no always wiggle room, which is what the comment mentions.

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    These kind of questions and requirements are so rigid at times! I’ve learned the hard way that most places that use them do really require you to have whatever skill/experience/education level required, despite having things that would usually offset the prerequisite for other hiring folks.

    Sometimes it’s due to internal rules and a checklist they have created, there sometimes isn’t wiggle room.

    However don’t let this discourage you from trying. It may feel like a waste of time but that’s the name of the game, is throwing your hat in the ring each time you decide to. You’re taking a risk at it being a waste of time and being swallowed by the universe instead.

    I have also been on the hiring manager side where someone thinks they’re an exceptional candidate and tries to get around features that are set up on the application website. Given the candidate pool and the specifics for our company, they really aren’t a fit at all and the screening was exactly right.

    It’s always worth a shot instead of just giving up as long as it’s a one time try if you do reach out directly and try. However that’s another time-sink you’ll have to accept if it still comes up without a fish on the end of your line.

    1. Anon Anon Anon*

      Yes, and there is a solid rationale for companies to be that rigid. It’s actually to make the process less biased, so hiring managers can’t just hire so-and-so’s kid, or their buddy, or the most charming candidate, so they have to be objective, so people can’t as easily fudge their qualifications. Sometimes companies adopt these kinds of requirements to address those kinds of issues.

      But I think that’s also a good reason to reach out after the auto-rejection. If they see that you actually are very close to what they’re looking for, they might be happy to hear from you.

      1. LQ*

        I kind of disagree. A good way to make the hiring process less biased is to strip names from it. Not make it so that groups who frequently self-exclude continue to self-exclude because they are actually honest and not full of bluster and lies.

        Names are a key biaser and yet you never hear about these tools spitting out information bereft of names. Just making it so liars and people who are full of self confidence are selected for. You’re creating a hiring process that selects for people who are willing to fudge the truth.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Just about any regulation/SOP has someone’s solid rationale behind it and the spirit is usually to even the playing field. It still leaves a lot to be desired and whereas sure, you keep the nepotism out of the company in some ways [you still get plenty of people who find a way around that hoop though because if you’re determined you find a loophole] but it also hurts you in the long run by weeding out potential hires that could make the company better.

        These rules are also so strict that they have no wiggle room. So reaching out to the hiring manager is yet another “nope sorry” and also frowned upon because they’re not allowed to have any bias, remember? There’s a process and you cannot step out of line or use your judgement to say “oh you’re 2 months shy of the experience required, that’s just fine” or “you have the work equivalent to the education we ask for, that’s fine because you can demonstrate your knowledge without having gone to school.”

        All that loss just so that someone doesn’t hire their buddies is pretty bleak.

        1. LabTechNoMore*

          To that last line, it’s not just about not hiring your buddies, but also to curtail disproportionately ignoring applications from PoC and women.

          For example if the “two months short” or other similar wiggle room, in practice, gets applied to white, male applicants, then we’re back where we started.

          1. LabTechNoMore*

            That should read: “…if it *only* gets applied to white male applicants.”

  15. Unknown*

    The only time I out-and-out lie when answering these questions is if I’ve already invested a bunch of time into applying (a custom cover letter, manually entering my entire job history and each company’s info into a zillion individual fields, answering a couple pages of questions, etc).

    Any question that can lead to an automatic rejection should be at the beginning of an application, not the end. I figure that if I’m going to invest a bunch of time in an application before they reveal their deal breakers, then someone should be made to invest some time into at least glancing at it before rejecting it.

    1. whistle*

      I co-sign this comment 100%!

      But of course these types of questions are ALWAYS at the end :(

    2. PretzelGirl*

      Yes, I’ve done this numerous times! Also if I am applying to several positions in the company and the company makes you do the application over again. Yeah sorry I am might say I have 3 years of experience with X, when I only have 2.5!

      1. Librarianne*

        When I was job hunting, I always fudged it a little–I was applying to jobs while I was in grad school, but I knew I’d have the degree in hand by the time I actually started the job so I checked “yes” for those sections. In the job interviews I had, no one ever made a comment about the discrepancy.

    3. Hello, I’m the OP!*

      Yes, this is what had upset me the most. If I had been rejected before I had crafted my cover letter and everything, I would have been disappointed, but not heartbroken.

  16. The New Wanderer*

    My situation was a little different, in that despite having 12 years of experience doing exactly the same Job Title/Job Description work, I could not claim to have an undergrad degree in engineering when I didn’t (my degrees are common in my field but not universally acknowledged by HR). The application system auto-rejected me because of that.

    It is the one and only time I tracked down a company recruiter via LinkedIn, and the senior recruiter immediately responded with, “Yes you seem qualified, let me pass you on to the specific recruiter.” Specific recruiter said “Sorry, not without an engineering degree.”

    It’s worth pursuing if you can’t get around the automated system and you can make a strong case for being qualified. But some companies will be hard over on the letter of the requirements, regardless of how otherwise qualified you are. And that will always be their loss.

    1. Lynne879*

      I can’t believe that specific recruiter gave you a pass simply because you didn’t have the exact degree they were looking for, even though you had the experience.

    2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      I had a similar experience a few years ago. A recruiter contacted me about a job that sounded like a good fit. The meeting with the recruiter went well, she passed my resume on to the hiring manager…and the hiring manager refused to interview me because he only wanted to interview people with degrees in business and/or marketing. My journalism degree did not qualify. For the record, this was not an entry level position, I had been out of college for several years, and all my experience was relevant to the job requirements.Yet the major I chose when I was 18 years old was much more important. (The recruiter was boggled by this too.)

  17. Me*

    From at least one government stand point…if you don’t meet the specific requirement exactly you will be rejected here. Sometimes it’s a just way of reducing the number of applicants to interview. When you get hundreds, you have to cut them some how. It does mean we probably lose out on good candidates but I cannot interview 200 people.

    I mention this only so that if anyone answers the question in the spirit and still gets cut, this might be why. It’s not personal and doesn’t mean you aren’t a great candidate and couldn’t do the job.

    1. skarlatha*

      This. My wife works in higher education, and because of the state’s overly strict hiring rules, she’s had to reject applications based on some truly ridiculous things, like not mentioning on your resume that you have a valid driver’s license. This was for a job that didn’t require regular travel, and the screening system didn’t directly ask about it so a LOT of people just didn’t mention it in their materials. But because it was listed as a “minimum qualification” in the job ad, she had to reject highly qualified people who clearly had a driver’s license but didn’t specifically say so. She was furious about this, but that’s how some government/government-funded searches can be.

      1. Boba Feta*

        wait wait wait, what now? Do I interpret this comment correctly if I understand that (for a state institution), *any* items listed in the ad’s “minimum qualification” list of bullet points, which can extend to 20 or more items, must be included explicitly somewhere on the resume for the application to be considered complete and “acceptable” and not rejected outright?

        And here I was trying to trim my “resume” down to one page rather than the pages-long CV typical for professor positions…… all for naught, mayhaps.

        1. Me*

          Yeah. For gvnt for sure and a lot of academia,so I hear, if its on the job description it must be in the resume/application.

          I don’t even see all the applicants. They get scored into best qualified, qualified, and not qualified. If i want to actually review all of them i can but justifying to hr why someone is really qualified is damn near impossible.

          The reverse is if an applicant gets the auto reject and calls hr to find out why and argues (i don’t mean angry like just justifies) hr generally backs down super fast.

          Fun fact…I got rejected for the job i currently do initially because i didn’t meet the education requirement. It was x education or y education with 4+experience. I met the latter but HR missed that part of the job description.

          1. Boba Feta*

            I’ve also heard this a few times from folks I know, in addition to those reporting similar above. According to the paperwork, they aren’t qualified to do the work they are quite literally actually doing everyday, and damn well, thankyouverymuch. Madness!

      2. skarlatha*

        Yes, you read that right. The institution my wife works at is kind of notorious for taking the absolute strictest view of any rules they have, so they may be an outlier, but yes. This is a real story from a real job search done by a real university. My wife was a hiring manager and pushed back on that to HR, especially since there were SO many people who hadn’t listed it, but they wouldn’t budge. Their rationale was that if it was a requirement of the job and they didn’t have documentation that the candidate met the requirement, it wasn’t “fair” to pass them on to the interview stage along with people who did provide that documentation. Even worse, applications had to stand as submitted, so she couldn’t even send a message to the qualified candidates that she needed them to verify they had a DL. They just got rejected with a “didn’t meet the requirements” form letter.

        1. Boba Feta*

          Thank you for explaining. No thank you to the resulting heart palpitations. o.O

          I’m going to go back through this R1-uni ad with a the finest of proverbially-toothy combs now. Multi-page resume, here ye come again.

      3. Cymru*

        So basically the university has a strict rule against hiring people with epilepsy, low vision, skeletal dysplasia that makes the person under 4-feet, and other disabilities/conditions which make the applicant unable to hold a valid driver’s license.
        That’s just an accessibility lawsuit waiting to happen.

  18. Anon Anon Anon*

    If you’re really excited about that particular job, try to connect directly with someone you’d be working with there. Be professional about it, of course. How to go about it will really vary based on the field and the organization. But I would seek out a sort of informational interview – ask about the org/company, and then mention that you’re really interested but you got an automated rejection based on a technicality. They’ll either explain that they are that particular about the technicality or they’ll be sympathetic and might suggest a way for you to apply again. I think it’s a fair thing to do. You’re not necessarily the only one losing out; they’re also losing out on you as a candidate, depending on what they’re actually looking for. So I would try to get in touch. Or call or email HR and ask them about it. It’s worth a shot. The worst they can do is say, “No, but thanks for your time.”

  19. Tris Prior*

    I’ve lost track of how many jobs my partner has gotten auto-rejections from because he truthfully answered “no” to “do you have a bachelor’s degree.” It’s demoralizing and he’s pretty much stopped job-hunting because of it. He’s over 50 and has a ton of experience and it sucks that all that experience apparently counts for nothing.

    He doesn’t feel right lying, though (he has two associate’s degrees but no bachelors so it’s not a case of stretching the truth like the “5 years of experience doing this specific thing in this field” would be.

  20. Joie De Vivre*

    Just as frustrating are the “personality” tests that some companies make you take as part of the application process.
    It is really frustrating when I realize that the company still has to fire employees for stealing, insubordination, attendance issues, etc.

    And yet, people like me with a history of high performance ratings don’t get past the “personality” test.

    1. Zephy*

      I hate the BS “personality” tests. There is no test that will give you any useful information without already knowing the candidate – you need that context. And, while the companies that provide these tests are careful to say that all results should be interpreted by someone specifically trained to do so, I have real trouble believing that a human of any level of training has ever seen my test results on any of those things. If you don’t get above a certain cutoff score, your app goes straight in the trash and no human person at the company will ever know you even applied.

    2. scribblingTiresias*

      The worst is the tests that are set up with only two possible responses: “I enjoy thinking up new ways to scam my company and sell drugs to my co-workers” or “I am Guacamole Bob”.

  21. PretzelGirl*

    Those and those stupid aptitude tests companies make you take are the worst. I’ve applied at a number of jobs I would be over qualified for, but get auto rejected based on my answers to the test. I am pretty sure I’ve lost out, on a number of job opportunities that way. Its so frustrating.

    1. Zephy*

      I was applying for a local government job – basic admin stuff with the county clerk. They had an MS Word and Excel skills test as part of the application. OK, fine, I’m sure a job like that will require someone to use those programs pretty regularly.

      The test set up a virtual instance of the program in question and asked you to do something (highlight this cell in red, bold this text, etc). Easy peasy. Except you had to do it flawlessly in one go – no clicking through menus to find the function, if you didn’t immediately remember where it was. I Googled every answer after finding that out the hard way. Because maybe I can’t explain how to create a .csv file, but my boss isn’t going to care about that.

      1. Brett*

        I had to take a typing test to be a software developer for a police department. They classified software developers as police IT, and 95%+ of police IT is dispatchers. Dispatchers have to type at a reasonable speed, so somehow typing speed was added to the IT-wide minimum requirements and was impossible to remove. The standing committee that could remove requirements was blocked by the council from meeting because they were also the committee who could approve out of cycle raises (and the council had frozen raises indefinitely).

        All of that added up to me having a make-or-break typing test to get my job. Fortunately, the requirement was only 35 WPM and I passed easily. If I had been a database admin instead of a software developer, I would have been classed as a “computer operator” which required a passing rate of 55 WPM!

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And a lot of these things are timed as well, so you can Google all the answers but then you run out of time if you’re not a wizard. I am lightning fast in typing and shooting around different screens at any given but and still tapped out on time for the Excel one that I had to do years ago. Argh.

      3. pretzelgirl*

        I hate those! I am pretty handy with excel and word, but I do have to click around to get the right answer. I failed several of those tests because I “clicked” around too many times.

      4. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        Oh, those are annoying. And they are looking for you to do the thing in one specific way, even when there are multiple ways to do it. (Not that this is specified in the question.) There are some functions I’m so used to doing with keyboard shortcuts that I don’t always remember where to find them in the menus – so I get dinged for that on the test.

  22. DKMA*

    This letter and comments explains something that has confused me about my company. We have to right job descriptions with both required and preferred qualifications. Required qualifications tend to be absurdly low (e.g. 2 years work experience for roles where we are looking for ~10 year professionals with MBAs) and the preferred qualifications tend to be a broad list with a lot of “OR” phrases to give a sense of what related fields might make sense.

    I’m now assuming our system auto-rejects anyone who doesn’t meet required qualifications, I had always assumed it was some sort of internal compliance reason.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      This is the way it should be applied. Some orgs use these systems and (whether inadvertently or intentionally) put in what are probably their “preferreds”as all required and then autoreject a lot of people, which might be intentionally restrictive to avoid a giant pool, but also might be shooting themselves in the foot where it seems totally illogical to the applicants who they might’ve actually be fine with.
      The one place I worked that used an autoreject system set the requirements to the bare bare bare minimum. So the scenario in the letter where explaining they’re close or possibly equivalent, in theory, shouldn’t apply for that company because they’re setting that autoreject bar lower than what they actually want, so even if someone close enough might be considered by a human, they’d still probably be much less appealing than candidates who weren’t borderline to begin with. I think that’s the best way to use this type of system: to set a true minimum threshold.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, we are hiring right now and someone on our team said we had to list like 2-3 years of experience when we really are looking for a lot more than that because of HR and I bet that’s why.

  23. Nikara*

    I just recently accepted a job offer for a job that I was technically screened out-of at the start of the application process. Why? I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in the field. I DID have a graduate degree in the field, but that wasn’t a valid option. Plus, the email screening me out said that there were no appeals. Luckily I knew a few people inside the agency who guided me through the process of contacting HR, and I was able to get them to accept my grad degree in lieu of an undergrad degree. The fact that I’ve now been offered the job is yet another example that those early screening questions can cause major unintentional issues (especially in relationship to degrees).

    1. Melzabub*

      I just posted about this happening to me. In my case there were also no appeals, but I didn’t know anyone to get in touch with about it. So… that was that.

  24. PersephoneUnderground*

    I’ve totally followed Alison’s advice on this myself, glad to see my approach likely won’t come across as shady!

    I’m switching fields and applying to various jobs, and I think one of these drop-downs asked if I had a Bachelor’s in Computer Science or a related field. I have a BA in Political Science, so unrelated, but just completed an accredited bootcamp course at a university in Web Development, so have a Certificate in the related field. I also matched everything else in the job description well, and have more overall job experience than new grads would (entry level position). So I decided that “yes”, while not exactly true, was the best answer because it would allow a human to make the call after looking at my resume. The yes/no question just meant they hadn’t anticipated an applicant profile like mine – I had no way of knowing whether they’d care about the degree enough to reject me or not.

    Since I felt uncomfortable about it I definitely explained in the very first text box that made sense what the situation was so that the entirety of the app was truthful. That situation was a lot more grey than the OP’s, but I didn’t want to prematurely disqualify myself. I’d run into those auto-reject situations before so knew that could be one of them. Switching fields in particular can bring up a lot of this.

    Weirdest one recently: “work experience” with a drop-down showing number of years, no other detail. Um- 6 years if you mean any office work, 1 or 2 if you mean using HTML, none if you mean as a Web Developer. I went with 1 I think based on context. But seriously people, specify these things!

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Though the one requirement for something that I won’t ever get over (because a human backed it up and there was no recourse, and it was so stupid) was that UVA wouldn’t *allow me to apply* as a transfer student because I had completed too many credits at another school. Not “only x will transfer”, or “you still have to complete x credits here”, straight up “sorry, you got too much education from someone else, too late, there’s no way around it besides time travel”. So. Stupid. I will never understand the logic, wish I’d fought it harder up the chain or something looking back, but after a long argument on the phone with admissions I gave up. *Sigh*

      Slightly OT I guess, but relevant to the topic of rigid rules and how they’re applied/how to get around them.

  25. Burned Out Supervisor*

    This has happened to me so many times at two particular companies (one of which I’m technically an internal candidate) that I’ve stopped applying to anything that might interest me. I’ve literally never even gotten a phone screen and I have 19 years of experience in the industry. I’ve found that at these companies their job descriptions are so strangely worded and filled with qualifications only an internal candidate would have, that I don’t even know how to game the application in my favor. It’s incredibly frustrating.

  26. nora*

    Two stories I want to share.

    First, I recently applied for a position with a well-regarded local non-profit. The application required me to account for every day of my life dating back 10 years, including references who could back me up. Ten years ago I was unemployed and suicidal (I assure you I am fine now). I had no supervisor and no friends. I can barely recall anyone I knew back then, let alone their phone numbers. I couldn’t move past this section of the application, and there was no option to simply decline to provide a reference. So I gave up on the application. The good news is, I have an amazing job now at an agency considerably less up in my business.

    Story two: my husband is a librarian. A few years back he applied for an open internal position in a different department of his library. He’d already been working part-time in that role for about three years (basically 30 hours in his Unicorn Specialist position and 10 hours in as a Teapot Wrangler). He wanted to be a full-time Teapot Wrangler. Perfect fit, right? Well his own library’s HR automatically rejected him because he doesn’t have experience with Chocolate Painting. He never got an interview. For an internal position he’d already been doing. He eventually got a different Teapot Wrangler job (without the Chocolate Painting requirement) but my mind still boggles at the stupidity of the whole thing.

  27. ProbablyEating*

    Taking AAM’s advice a step further, I think in these cases, people are justified in reaching out to the hiring manager before they apply. Or at least in the case where there’s no room to take a generous interpretation of your qualifications (like they ask for a Masters, and you don’t have one but do have comparable experience).

    Otherwise, you’ll never know if you were screened out or not. OP was sort of lucky here in that they had enough information to guess they were auto-screened out, but many people don’t.

  28. Ada*

    I hate trying to figure out what to put for my degree in these things. My college only gave out Liberal Arts degrees, and the concentration was treated as the major, with the requirements for your chosen concentration being identical to the requirements for that major at the main university (plus a thesis, despite being undergrad). So do I put down Liberal Arts, which is technically what my degree says but might kick me out of the system, or Math, which is sort of a lie, but better matches my actual education and keeps me in running?

    1. Hello, I’m the OP!*

      I think you are supposed to put the title of the degree (was its 4-year program? If you have a 4-year liberal arts degree it is likely a Bachelor of Arts) and then for the major you would list your concentration in math.

      1. Ada*

        Typically in these cases it’s a drop down menu for just the major. In my case, my major is technically Liberal Arts with a Concentration in Mathematics. Degree just says Liberal Arts, though.

        1. LabTechNoMore*

          My alma mater did the same with my math degree (though not my other degree, oddly enough). I just list it as a math degree. There’s no comparable “Liberal Arts Major” and I satisfied the requirements for a bachelor’s of science in math. Also, my transcript explicitly does spell out the math degree.

          Don’t let academia weirdness keep you from listing your degree!

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      BA in Math is what it would be called at a school with a more standard system, right? So I’d just say that, and then in a separate explanation (nearest text field or “comments” section, or a separate email/in your cover letter) mention that your University was weird and explain the formal degree name. The real info they want is “what did you study for 4+ years?”.

  29. pc112*

    Not a happy ending but commiseration :

    I just want to let you know, I had the exact same experience with a position I applied for several months ago. I know how you are feeling and all the frustration and sadness. In my case, telling myself that I wasn’t going to let a robot tell me no, I emailed HR, using the same general language / sentiment allison has advised you with. I got the same response ( you don’t meet the minimum requirements, were not even going to look at your application) from a human being the next day. So that was that.

    I hope your story ends up differently, and I will say that I have no regrets about going around the automated system. No matter what happened, I felt like I was believing in myself enough to do everything I could, and in the end, that was worth something.

  30. Retail*

    One state’s application system won’t let you apply unless your profile matches the position exactly.

    So it’ll say 0-2 years experience with X or even 0 years and your profile has to say the same thing! Even if the posting information doesn’t require it (like if it’s on an industry board).

    But then! Then! You get notifications for jobs that want 2 years of experience. Another state keeps emailing me jobs about literal environmental resources when my field is adjacent but my profile has to include natural resources!

  31. Hello, I’m the OP!*

    Thanks so much to Alison for posting my question.

    A mini-update:

    After lying awake most of the night after sending my email to Alison, I got up in the morning and decided to make a new account with a different email address and re-apply with all the same materials—changing only my answer to that screening question.

    This time I was sent an automatic confirmation of my application receipt and advised that they would let me know if I was selected for an interview. I haven’t heard anything else, but at least now I feel reassured that if nothing comes of my application, it wasn’t because of that question.

    Also, I haven’t read all the comments so I don’t know if it has been brought up here already, but my husband commented that these kind of screening questions can inadvertently reduce the diversity of the applicant pool. Apparently there is a phenomenon in which people who are more competent (particularly if they are non-white and/or female) tend to underestimate their qualifications and people who are less competent (particularly if they are white and/or male) tend to overestimate their qualifications. So by automatically rejecting anyone who errs on the side of underestimating their qualifications, they are perhaps reducing the diversity of their applicant pool.

    1. Matt*

      In my hiring system, it sorts names alphabetically in the job requisition and in this case it would list you as “candidate knock out” and then immediately below it would have your name again as “ready for screening”. I would find it extremely odd to have two applications with almost identical answers and my first thought would probably be you were attempting to game the system. I would look at your resume – but probably be skeptical.

      Good luck.

      1. ceiswyn*

        Yeah, I was going to say – I totally understand why the OP did it the quick-and-easy way rather than the talking-to-people-and-asking-for-special-consideration way, but the optics aren’t good.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      Probably also decreases diversity because less privileged groups are more likely to have non-traditional career paths (like, “do you have a high school diploma” yes/no =no GEDs, cuts out people who grew up disadvantaged b/c more likely to drop out but tells you nothing about their actual qualifications).

  32. Bowserkitty*

    Ooooof, these are so annoying!!! I remember being with one of my old bosses in her office going through candidate stuff with HR on the phone and she was like “where is John’s resume in this portal? he said he’d be applying.” and HR mumbled about the automatic screening process probably auto-outing him. She was really miffed.

    HR didn’t care unfortunately. But my boss did manage to get his resume in the end IIRC.

  33. Miley18*

    To avoid being exluded automatically, how about regular mailing your cover letter and resume to the company so it has to be touched by a human and if so, do you put it on heavier weighted paper or is normal copy paper acceptable?

    1. Joie De Vivre*

      If they have an on line application system, you end up looking like you can’t follow instructions, or that you can’t use a computer.

      So, don’t send paper, it will be “file thirteened”.

  34. I Speak for the Trees*

    As someone who’s worked in the non-profit sector for many years, I agree with Alison, especially her second suggestion. I would totally send our resume and cover letter (with explanation) directly to the organization. Tailor it as much as possible, too. Most non-profits welcome passion and love of mission as much more more than experience. Go for it!

  35. a fish*

    Ran into this problem myself recently, with a twist. I’m an amateur naturalist with a *reputation* and a *cult following* including several state parks and wildlife employees. There’s a state parks program with two staff, one of whom recently retired (and is one of my followers). A different state parks employee told me that I absolutely had to apply for her position when it opened up, and he would forward me the opening the DAY it became available. The job duties essentially include doing a less-involved version of what I already do, for fun. In fact, there is nobody in the state more qualified to do what this job entails (this is quantifiable, the primary job function is using/training on a highly visible online tool).

    After months of waiting (government job…), the job finally posted. And… it requires a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. It doesn’t matter that I applied based on a referral from a current state parks employee based on his experience doing field work with me. It doesn’t matter that I could get several recommendations from other state parks employees, including the lady who retired from this position, AND people developing the online tool (I know them too!). It doesn’t even matter that I am actively involved in academic-level research *in wildlife biology*. My referee asked me to please apply anyways, so I did. The very first question in that survey: do you have a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. Nope, I don’t. I have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in something else, and I’m working on an original research paper in entomology with an expert collaborator, but that’s not a question in their survey.

    I didn’t even get a rejection email. (Government job…)

  36. Carlie*

    My kids are applying for jobs now and my biggest pet peeve is how many require social security numbers in the application. Sorry, identity protection? They only need that for filling out payroll or background checks after hire. No need to spread it around to everyone just in case.

  37. AJ*

    This post and the responses tell me that we have been reduced to an algorithm. We employees have ceased to be people, and don’t need to be regarded as such. :(

    1. Inspire Aspire Expire*

      Well, if you enjoy being dramatic, reading far too much into a simple screening process, habitually catastrophise, and like playing the victim, I guess you could look at it like that.

      Sounds like a miserable way to live to me, but you do you, boo.

  38. Stefanie*

    I work in an office where these questions reflect the minimum requirements. If you answer that you meet the requirement of five years experience and you only have one, your cover letter won’t change what I’m looking for. Sometimes these questions reflect the needs of the job, and it’s better to know what they are before you apply.

  39. Matt*

    There are times when it’s ok to stretch and select yes when your first instinct is no.

    However, I sometimes hire for jobs and screen out people who are not willing or able to work weekends. Nothing is more frustrating than interviewing and discovering that no, they can’t or won’t work saturdays, or sundays, or can only work certain weekends. Some even think that something like church is a protected reason and I have to hire them because I can’t discriminate. Sorry, that’s not how it works.

    On specific questions like that, you should never lie. That’s an easy way to piss off a hiring manager and end up never being considered in the future.

    1. Laura H.*

      I work retail, weekends are required. Sundays are always shorter operation hours for the jobs I’ve worked. I make it to a mass every weekend and still fulfill my obligations to my job.

      Sometimes compromises have to be made. I don’t always get to go to the late evening mass that’s my preferred service- and that’s ok, so long as I go!

      Can’t work all evenings but I am available for some… I know my basic schedules and such- it’s helpful to hiring managers!

      Although now I know that I’ll have to be more specific on that when the evening obligations break for holidays or such that I can work then. Unfortunately confused my hiring manager when I put that info in the application (thought I needed those times off, not that I was available during those times)

  40. BookTape*

    I’ve mostly stopped applying for jobs that require me to name a number or record my past salary. If they don’t post the salary band in the ad, then I’m not sticking my neck out like that. I work in libraries and see jobs that might pay minimum wage for a position in one town and 60k in another, regardless of the cost of living in the area. It’s just impossible to guess what an institution might offer. I’m so fed up with these automated systems.

  41. Conselium Compliance Search*


    Thanks for sharing this article, i reading your blogs regularly that give me good ideas to searching for new jobs.

  42. Looking looking*

    I’m on the same situation.
    I applied for a job last year, the position was for a more senior one but they encouraged me to apply for the junior one that will be available soon.
    Recently there was a job similar to it posted so I applied. Then came the posting for exact one that the interviewers were talking about. I gave the same cover letter for both. (they were on different locations, so different bosses)
    I got invited for interview on the first position, but wasn’t successful.
    Then got the email for the 2nd one stating they will not pursue me and it was reposted again. I was really disappointed coz this was the one I really was looking forward to apply but didn’t get to submit a stronger letter and CV that could at least get me a second look.

    I really want to apply again, this time using a more tailored cover letter & CV but the system won’t let me.
    Should I create a new profile? or reach out to one of my interviewers?
    Can anybody here extend some advise too? Thanks

  43. Molly*

    I had this exact same issue. When applying for a job at a university, the online application asked me if I had a Master’s Degree in X. I had a Masters in Y. So I answered the question honestly and clicked “No.” But, not wanting to be automatically filtered out, I then sent a very polite, brief email to the school’s HR and explained my concern about being disqualified by the application system and why I thought my experience was actually perfect for the job.

    They never responded. But I did get the job! So maybe it helped. I found out later that technically, all applicants for that level of job were required to have a Masters-level education, but it didn’t have to be any specific Masters degree.

  44. Anonymous13*

    Regarding the question about the employee who was spotted with her abusive husband: Speaking from personal experience, leaving an abusive relationship is much harder and more complicated than it seems. On the outside it seems obvious to everyone else that she should just LEAVE, and it can be mind boggling why she’d still want to talk to him….it’s something that is impossible to understand until you’ve been through it. Many, many women go back multiple times. Abusers are manipulative and they are good at controlling their partners, that’s what lead to this situation in the first place. They create a sense of isolation from everyone else in your life, and can make you feel like they are the only one who understands you. It took me 7 years and many tries to finally get out, I also went back after a restraining order. My friends and family didn’t understand which lead to intense shame and further feelings of isolation, both of which just made me feel I needed my partner even more. It’s hard to explain but it’s an extremely common pattern and a very very painful place for a person to be in their life.

    I’d like to encourage that manager to have compassion for his employee and understand that his outside perspective is not adequate to assess what’s going on. These things take time and a lot of courage, usually multiple attempts. The best thing you can do is be patient, and offer nonjudgmental support if appropriate.

  45. Melzabub*

    This happened to me once several years ago, when I was naive about systems auto-screening answers. I applied for a job that required a BFA in my field. I have an MFA in my field, not a BFA, so I checked no (in retrospect, I realize this was a stupid move on my part, but I had addressed it in my cover letter. Like I said, naive). I met all the other qualifications, so I know that was what kicked my application out — it happened within seconds.

Comments are closed.