Resume Tips

How to Win the Battle with Applicant Tracking Systems

application tracking system

With online job applications comes a new series of challenges for potential candidates.  No longer do you need to impress the secretary or personal assistant of the person hiring.  Instead you need to impress something far more complicated yet completely rule driven – the applicant tracking system or ATS.  This is the barrier to your new job but the good news is that it can be conquered with the right knowledge.

What is ATS?

Back when online job searches and websites were first invented, things were pretty straightforward.  You added a few key phrases or keywords into your resume and a few points to attract attention and you were relatively certain that you would get yourself noticed.  But as with everything, people went over the top, stuffing in keywords to make for unreadable, ludicrous and very messy looking resumes that when they reached a real person, made no sense whatsoever even though they had passed the standards set by the online world.

Therefore, a new system was created that would work more like a human being and would filter out all those keyword stuffed, unreadable resumes.  It forced people to create resumes that were sensible, used key terms that were relevant to the job but also read like a book or a report, rather than a keyword stuffed nightmare.

This system eventually came to be called the Applicant Tracking System and is much like a robot overlord who studies the resumes submitted and deems them worthy of passing or being relegated to the ‘delete’ pile.  This saved a huge amount of work for HR departments and recruiting companies around the world, who could focus their attention on the ones that actually passed the ATS test.

resume writingDealing with ATS

Currently as many as 90% of companies make use of ATS in some form as a part of their screening process for a vacancy.  Fortune 500 companies almost exclusively use it and even small and medium businesses are now using it to help with the workload when looking for new staff members.  This means that you have little chance of avoiding it completely, so instead you must learn how to deal with it, and handle it well.

The biggest reason that even the best candidate for a job can get ignored by ATS is due to the way they write their resume.  Some view the system as flawed because it relies heavily on certain elements – but no system is perfect and a better replacement has yet to be invented.  So even the most highly qualified, skilled candidate can sometimes vanish from the potentials pile all because they didn’t use the right phrases in their resume or the right format.

Beating the system

While there is no sneaky way of beating the system as such, there are ways to understand it better and therefore ensure your resume will catch it’s critical ‘eye’.  In fact, there are a number of relatively simple principles to use that can stand you well with ATS.

    • Firstly, watch those pretty fonts and complex formats as the system can’t always understand them – and there you go off to the deleted pile simply because you chose a fancy font.  Keep the format simple and readable by using easy to read fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial.  Don’t add any headers or footers either as these can confuse the system.
  • Next, format your resume with four clear categories – Education, Contact Information, Skills and Work Experience.  They don’t need to be exactly in this order but these need to be clear and defined for it to be picked up by the system.
  • When you are discussing your skills, look at those desired by the employer in the job description and include any that you have that match with their search.  These keywords or phrases are one of the things that ATS looks for.  Add them as much as possible but never to the point that you stuff the document and loose the readability.  Ask someone you know and trust to read it over who knows nothing about your industry and make sure it reads sensibly to them.
  • Make sure you include some of the industry lingo you are familiar with and if there is a commonly used acronym, then include it and the fully written phrase where possible.  This means if the system is calibrated to find one or the other, you have covered yourself.
  • When you describe the job you have done, list your description in bullet form rather than in big paragraphs.  This highlights the skills or experience you have and stops them becoming lost in a mass of other words.  Don’t use creative phrases and keep everything on topic.
  • Experience should be clearly detailed, chronological and cover all time periods.  The system often looks for years’ experience alongside those keywords to better rate your resume.
  • Finally, rather than a career objective section, consider a bullet point qualifications summary.  This shows a clear list of what you can do in a way that both ATS and a real person can scan over and appreciate.
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