POSTED ON

12 Mar 2018

Have you ever come across a recruiter that required you to upload your resume/curriculum vitae, take an online assessment, or answer a questionnaire? You were likely interacting with an applicant tracking system (ATS). Many big-name companies and corporations rely on this technology to pre-process applicants. Such large organizations have a massive workforce, and they often need to fill out a lot of positions simultaneously, and thus they need to rely on ATS to comb over the sheer volume of resumes submitted to find the best candidates.

ATS such as Jobvite, JobScore and OpenHire save recruiters and HR managers the trouble of having to interview weak, ill-prepared, and irrelevant applicants. Good for them, but bad for you, especially if you have all the qualifications they’re looking for, but didn’t format your resume in a way that appeals to the system’s trackers. If only you knew how ATS worked.

So How Does ATS Work, Exactly?

There are a wide variety of ATS products in the market, but they generally work the same way—they scan submitted resumes for the right keywords, as determined by the people that manage them. Say you’re applying for a job as a sales marketer, the ATS will check your papers for keywords like “sales enablement,” “ad agency,” “telemarketer,” and other such relevant terms. The ATS also tracks keywords that the company wants to avoid. For instance, if the company is looking for a sales manager, then the ATS will be on the lookout for words that signify inexperience, such as “subordinate” or “assistant.”

As you can imagine, even if you’re qualified for the job, you can still have a reduced chance of getting hired, simply for not knowing the right keywords to use in your submitted documents. With this in mind, you need to know how to write your resume in ways that an ATS will approve. Here are five anti-ATS strategies that you need to employ to beat the system.

1. Assess Yourself

Before you submit your resume, read the job descriptions carefully. Do you really have the qualifications they’re asking for? You need to meet at least 50 percent of the requirements before applying, or you will be wasting both you and the company’s time. Very often, HR managers will throw everything they want an applicant to have in the job descriptions, but as long as they believe that you are trainable, they would be willing to compromise and accept 50 percent as long as they can teach you the rest of the qualifications that are necessary for you to have.

2. Hit the Right Keywords

Each and every job comes with its own set of lingo that involves skills, responsibilities, tools, training as they relate to the position, and the ATS will hone in on them. That’s what they’re designed to do, after all. To raise your chances of getting ATS approval, be sure to:

  • Use key phrases used by the company in their job search ad, as these are likely what their ATS is programmed to pick up on. So if the ad says they’re looking for someone with experience using “Adobe Photoshop” or who underwent “sales training,” keep them on your resume. Of course, you need to actually possess the skills, talents, and training required before you can list them.
  • Use services like Google Keyword Planner or KeywordTool to help you identify which keywords to focus on.
  • Integrate the keywords into your resume text naturally and organically that’s free of grammatical errors. Don’t just tack the keywords onto your resume nonsensically.
  • When dealing with acronyms, use the short and spelled-out form (e.g. registered nurse – RN), as an ATS may be programmed to read one, the other, or both.

Important note: Avoid keyword stuffing, where you attempt to exploit the system by overusing keywords. This was effective in the past when ATS was still in its infancy. However, the technology has developed enough today that it can now quickly detect this kind of underhanded technique. Even if ATS lets you through, you’ll likely earn the ire of HR manager with your overboard resume.

3. Use the Correct Format

Resumes come in three different formats: chronological, functional, and a combination of the two. While the chronological format is the most commonly used, it might not be what the job calls for. Your resume’s format determines how the ATS will ‘read’ it, and it’s worth noting that many qualified resumes find their way in the trash because their format was not ATS-optimized. The rule of thumb for using the right resume format is as follows:

Chronological format – when much of your work history is relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Functional format – when the job is available to applicants of different work and educational backgrounds. A functional resume allows you to highlight your skills and show that they apply to the position in question.

Combination – for those whose skills and work experiences both relate to the job.

In addition, you need to keep your text basic and formal. Use standard, easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman. When highlighting words, stick to boldface, italics, and underline. Don’t use overly casual embellishments such as images, logos, symbols, and shadings. Format your resume correctly, and you’ll increase your chances of getting past ATS.

4. Make Your Resume Error-Free and Engaging

Your resume not only needs to be free of any errors in grammar and spelling, but it also has to be engaging. Even when your resume has been optimized for ATS, you still have to impress employers and recruiters, so triple check your resume information and pay attention to the writing style. Make it as winning as you can.

5. Bypass the ATS Altogether

An ATS isn’t the only way you can gain an audience with a recruiter. As long as you feel you are legitimately qualified, reach out to a recruiter using other channels, such as LinkedIn or even personal acquaintances. Use your social network both online and real-life to arrange to meet or even talk with them briefly, then hand your resume in person. If they can see that you are genuinely excited about the job, they will be more inclined to take your application into serious consideration.

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