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Harvard study: Employers are eliminating qualified candidates

job hunting job search advice resume Feb 09, 2022
sad job seeker frustrated with the HR ATS screening computer

On September 4, 2021, the Harvard Business School released a study on “Managing the Future of Work.” It brings to light what many job seekers suspected: the computerized screening systems (aka the ATS) are killing their applications.

Worse, the employers know it.

In fact, nine out of ten of executives know that the application process eliminates qualified candidates. Here are some more grim realities revealed in the study:

  • 90% of executives know that their ATS screens out qualified candidates
  • More than 10 million workers are excluded based on ATS screening practices, which includes the interviews and background checks
  • ATS are used by 99% of Fortune 500 companies and 75% of the 760 US employers Harvard surveyed as part of its study.
  • 49% of companies choose to eliminate candidates for roles that traditionally require less than a bachelor’s degree because of an employment gap of six months or longer.

In some cases, the job descriptions included items that weren’t relevant for the position, such as “customer service” for in-the-field repair technicians for a power company. In one case, a nursing job asked for “computer programming,” when all they really required was knowledge of EPIC or Meditec to chart patient data.


For companies using lengthy or complicated job descriptions, an even greater percentage of candidates would become screened out. In fact, the Harvard study clearly shows that each additional requirement eliminates potentially qualified candidates.

Smart and Stupid Keywords

At the Personal Touch Career Services, we have been aware of these employer screening tactics since our inception. As we like to put it, you need a 50-70% match of the keywords to get through the screening computers and to the point where a human will actually read your resume.

Unfortunately, the screening criteria often include stupid keywords such as “excellent communication skills, team player, detail-oriented,” and other vague terms. One of the most troublesome keywords revolves around degrees. If your resume says “BS,” but the job description says “Bachelor’s degree,” the computer may say that you don’t have a degree at all – just because the words are different.

BS, indeed.

How to survive

In addition to having a relevant resume, you need to circumvent the system by getting your resume into the hands of the hiring managers and final decision-makers. Considering the grim facts revealed by the study, this is more critical than ever.

How do you stack up

Wondering how well your resume stands up to the ATS? Feel free to book a complimentary 30-minute consultation with one of our career coaches:


Fuller, Joseph B; Raman, Manfari; Sage-Gavin, Eva; Hines, Kristen. “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent.” Harvard Business School. September 4, 2021.

Wondering how effective your job search is? Schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with one of our career coaches, Donna Shannon or Dia Kline

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