The concept is simple: Copy a list of relevant keywords or the job description itself, paste it in a résumé and change the font color to white. The hope is that AI bots or digital filters in applicant tracking systems read the white text and surface the résumé for human review. Because keywords are in white, the résumé will look normal to human reviewers.
The practice’s revival comes at a time when many job seekers are finding it difficult to get hired. The U.S. labor market has tightened, the volume of job applications has exploded with new easy-to-apply processes and employers are increasingly turning to technology, including artificial intelligence, for help. But employment experts say the shortcut is risky.
“The question is what sits behind” choosing to white font, said Andreea Macoveschi, senior director of the recruitment process outsourcing practice for global consulting firm Korn Ferry. “Is it lack of integrity or being savvy with tech?”
A large majority of recruiters use applicant tracking systems, or software platforms that help manage job openings and candidates, according to market research firm Gartner. And up to half of employers are using AI in some part of the hiring process, Gartner estimates. The result? Technology is speeding up the hiring process but also making it harder for candidates to break through.
“There’s a significant amount of people looking for work, a lot more résumés are coming in and there’s fewer [hiring] resources because most companies have made cuts,” said Jason Walker, co-founder of Thrive HR Consulting. “So the ability for a candidate to get seen is pretty low.”
Some people started using white font decades ago to help their résumés surface in recruiter searches on online job boards. But the practice is gaining traction again as job screenings become more automated.
“I don’t think it’s ever gone away,” said Sachit Kamat, chief product officer at hiring and talent platform Eightfold AI. “It’s probably popular [again] because competition for jobs is high.”
How applicant tracking systems work
Applicant tracking systems are the job platforms employers use to collaborate on one service. Often, these systems allow for hiring managers and recruiters to find and prioritize candidates based on fit. Some have AI that contextualizes and rates a résumé based on experience and skillsets. Others provide digital filters or searches to help find specific keywords like skills, job titles or certifications. Some systems might automatically prioritize referrals or internal candidates.
Whether white font can bypass filters and bots entirely depends on the system an employer is using and how.
“Does it work? Yeah,” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief innovation officer at staffing firm ManpowerGroup, said about some systems recruiters use. “But it might contribute 10 percent or 15 percent of the variability between a résumé that is ultimately accepted versus one that is rejected.”
But candidates need to know that their white text may not be hidden. Sometimes applicant tracking systems will input sections of a résumé into the application. If it does that, the text will no longer be white, meaning the recruiter may see whatever you pasted into your résumé if you don’t edit it.
“The system doesn’t care what color font you write it in,” said Allyn Bailey, executive director of hiring success services at hiring software company SmartRecruiters. “If it matches a field, it puts it in.”
In the case of SmartRecruiters, the AI ranks résumés beyond just keywords, Bailey said. So if an employer wants a senior-level candidate, it can determine which job titles should be included.
New York-based Greenhouse, which supplies hiring software, doesn’t automatically prioritize candidates, as it says this may lead to bias. But it does let recruiters search for keywords. But keyword searches aren’t as common as people may think, said Jon Stross, the company’s president and co-founder.
“Generally, they’re looking in chronological order,” he said of recruiters. “They’re just looking at résumés until they get to 10 that look good enough.”
Santa-Clara, Calif.-based Eightfold AI’s system would likely read white-colored keywords as extraneous text, Kamat said. That’s because AI is basing its decisions on the entirety of someone’s résumé. So if a keyword is missing, the AI might determine that candidate likely has that skill based on the listed jobs.
“In the world of AI, the fundamental approach is different,” he said about AI hiring software. “You’re using big data.”
Can a system automatically reject my job application?
Systems can automatically reject candidates, but someone has to set the parameters first.
Some applicant tracking systems have options that let employers automatically reject a candidate who may not be old enough for a specific job or lacks the years of experience.
In cases where a system ranks candidates, it only pushes some ahead of others vs. rejecting anyone, software providers said. SmartRecruiter allows employers to set specific parameters to narrow down candidates. So if someone has a qualification, the system might additionally look for a particular skill.
“It does not knock anybody out,” Bailey said. “It screens people in.”
Not all recruiters use their software’s features. Two recruiters said they review every application, even if it’s only for a minute, to ensure they don’t miss a qualified candidate. Regardless of how recruiters work, a person ultimately decides who gets hired, software providers said. And not all employers have the time or process to send rejections.
“People assume that an evil black box is making judgments about them,” Stross said. “What’s really happening is the company is getting a lot of applications, and they’re not getting back to everyone.”
Will white fonting help me get a job?
White fonting may help your résumé reach human eyes, but it’s not necessarily going to present you as a good candidate. It might actually hurt your chances.
“If your résumé doesn’t stand up well, it will quickly be discarded,” said Reynaldo Ramirez, co-founder of Thrive HR. “That could be viewed as very dishonest.”
There’s a good chance recruiters may check for white font by highlighting the entire résumé, said Walker of Thrive. And it could prevent recruiters from forwarding your résumé to others, which happens often.
“You might pass the filter,” Chamorro-Premuzic of Manpower said. “But once the recruiter looks at it, they’re going to say … ‘Why should I waste time with them if they’re not even interested?’”
Some recruiters say they won’t automatically disqualify a candidate for white fonting if the person is a good fit. But they will ensure you have the actual skills and experience.
“If you’re qualified, you’re qualified,” said Tejal Wagadia, who is a senior technical recruiter for a big tech company and is not permitted to disclose her employer. “But if someone told me they [used the technique], I’d have a serious conversation with them about why.”
Instead of white fonting, spend five minutes tweaking your résumé to include the experiences, skills and results applicable to the job, says Wagadia. Use the job description as a guide for your résumé. The company will likely list the most important qualifications and experiences first.
Focus your efforts on a handful of jobs vs. mass applying, go the extra mile to network and stay away from tricks — as not everyone will view them the same way, experts say.
“You want to be trustworthy from the beginning,” said Marisol Maloney, a tech recruiter at defense contractor Firebird AST. “The truth always comes out.”