Beating The Applicant Tracking System
Let's talk about the dreaded applicant tracking system, otherwise known as the ATS.
As an experienced HR professional, I have been on both sides of the screen of the ATS.
Imagine going through the trouble of spending countless hours on career sites to find the perfect opportunities only to be knocked down with the following email:
"After careful consideration, we have decided to pursue other candidates that closely match the skills and background we are looking for."
Those emails suck, and they make you want to throw up your hands and give up.
Is your resume ready to beat the ATS and pass the six-second eye test?
The reality for many of us is that our resume enters the dark ATS tunnel only to not come out on the other end. I have worked with many clients who are angry, frustrated, and confused.
Many job seekers don't know that as many as 75% of job applications are rejected before they actually reach a human.
The bottom line is your resume needs to be created in a way that will beat the ATS and start getting in the hands of real humans.
Come with me, and let's take a closer look.
What the heck is an applicant tracking system?
Whenever you apply for a job online, you are submitting your application via an applicant tracking system. This software is used by recruiters to screen applications and resumes. Resumes are ranked based on keywords that align with the position(s) that you applied for.
Back in the day, the ATS was brought into existence for larger Fortune 500 companies that dealt with large volumes of applicants for job openings.
98 to 99% of Fortune 500 companies depend on applicant tracking systems to aid in a more efficient recruitment process. That said, many small to medium-sized employers have joined the party and started using applicant tracking systems.
Wondering how the applicant tracking system works?
You have applied for the job, and now your resume has been carried away into a virtual black hole.
Have you ever walked into an office building for an appointment, and the receptionist asked you a ton of questions (who are you here to see, what time is your appointment, what is your name)? A receptionist is known as a gatekeeper, and so is the applicant tracking system.
After your resume has been received, you usually receive a system-generated email informing you that your application has been received. Your resume's content is separated into categories and is then scanned for specific keywords before being forwarded to the recruiter.
In a nutshell, the system's job is to weed out candidates who don't meet the criteria. The goal is to ensure the recruiter can focus more on the candidates who meet the job qualifications.
The nitty-gritty: How to write an ATS-friendly resume
Let's look at some of the most common mistakes made by job seekers on their resumes. These are errors that can be costly in your job search.
On average, a corporate job posting receives 250 applicants. Of those 250 applicants, 4-6 will be contacted for an interview. Ultimately, one will be selected for the job.
The right file type is important
PDF files are not the most compatible with applicant tracking systems. PDFs are excellent for ensuring the design and format of your resume hold firm. However, they are not friendly with applicant tracking systems.
Some applicant tracking system software will give you an option to upload the file type you want. Feel free to upload a PDF version, but the safe bet is either a Word document or Plain Text file because they are ATS friendly.
Word documents give you more freedom to have a creative resume as opposed to a plain-text file. You still want your resume to have a visual appeal, so I recommend sticking with the Word document.
Please stop with headers and footers!
Many applicant tracking systems are unable to retrieve information from Headers and Footers. For example, if you put your contact information in the header, your contact information will not display after being scanned through the ATS.
Play it safe and leave the headers and footers off of your resume.
Key Word Optimization is your best friend
Try to stay away from generic "buzzwords" such as "team player" or "reliable." Use keywords that align with the job description and the work the person will be expected to perform. For example, if you are applying for a Project Manager job, then use keywords and phrases associated with that job that includes:
Always think about the frequency and placement of words throughout your document. Also, do not keyword stuff your resume because that is dishonest and if/when your resume reaches a recruiter, then your resume will be thrown in the virtual trash and might make you ineligible for future opportunities.
Some systems will assess your skills' strength based on the number of times a phrase shows up in your resume. In contrast, other systems assign an estimated amount of experience for a particular skill based on its placement within the resume. To make a compatible resume with any ATS, you will need to optimize your resume with both systems in mind.
Stay away from images and other graphics
I say play it safe with the images and graphics. These images can come out on the other end, distorted and hard to read. They can also cause your resume to be rejected altogether. I recommend having two resumes that you can submit via the ATS and another you can email to a contact if needed containing any relevant graphics.
Stay away from fancy bullet points
Bullet points are an excellent feature for highlighting important information in your document. Do not use any elaborate bullet point symbols because they become scrambled on the other end. Continue to use your traditional circle or square bullet points.
How Long Should Your Resume Be?
When crafting your resume, some of us run into an issue of it being too long or too short. If it is too short, you find yourself leaving out valuable information. If it is too long, then you the risk of adding unnecessary information. So, what is the perfect resume length?
Should My Resume Be One Page?
I am sure you have heard throughout your career that your resume should only be one page. There is not a “one-size fits all” resume. The length of your resume will depend on your career level, accomplishments, and skills.
The truth is, when trying to cram all your skills and accomplishments in one page, you are limiting yourself and your experience to potential employers. This is hurting you in the long run. If you are not going to ‘brag’ about yourself, who else will? Who else will let employers know who you are better than you?
For most recent college graduates, a one-page resume will suffice due to the lack of professional experience. There will be cases where an entry-level professional will have longer than a one-page resume. For example, if they have had multiple internships and taken part in various community service projects, then a two-page could be feasible. However, make sure the information is relevant. As you gain experience, your resume will grow.
Mid-Career and Senior-Level Professionals
At this point in your career, you are expected to have a resume longer than one page. A two to three-page resume will allow these individuals to display those accomplishments and emphasize their qualifications to the reader without removing essential information. You do not want to sell yourself short by cramming everything into a one-page resume and taking the risk of leaving off critical information relevant to the positions you are applying to.
Something else to include in this conversation is how far back your work history should go. The general rule of thumb is to give the reader about 10-15 years of your job history. However, you want to make sure that experience is relevant to the role you are applying to and paints a clear picture of the direction you want your career to go.
There is no debate that resume writing has changed a lot over the years. With all of the different recommendations on the internet, it can make creating your resume more difficult. If your resume is collecting dust or you are still adding to your resume from college, then I urge you to keep reading. You will thank me afterward.
Using an objective statement
Every time I see an objective statement on a resume, I cringe. Most of you reading this are probably old enough to remember saving your resume to a floppy disk. Well, the objective statement went away with the floppy disk. Resume objectives state the obvious. You wouldn’t have applied for the job if you didn’t want it, right?
Listing every job responsibility
Some of us create our resumes with the mindset “more is better.” Make sure to review each job description before applying and customize your resume for each job. Your objective is to include information relevant to that position. For example, if you are applying for marketing positions, then focus on marketing-related functions.
Using bright colors and fancy fonts
Many large organizations use advanced applicant tracking systems to screen resumes. If you submit a resume with a fancy font or bright colors, then there is a significant chance your resume becomes distorted on the other end. You only have a matter of seconds to impress a recruiter, and you don’t want to distract them with bright colors and fancy fonts. Stay away from using Times New Roman. It has been widely used for so many years it has become outdated and predictable. I recommend using Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri.
Listing “References Available Upon Request”
If this is on your resume, please remove it ASAP. You usually are asked to provide references during the application process. Before starting a job search, you should compile 4-5 professional references and list them on a separate document. When the time comes to provide those references on an application or to a hiring manager, you can send them right away. Remember to get permission from these individuals before listing them as a reference