How to beat those pesky Applicant Tracking Systems

Being in Human Resources and Recruiting for many years, I know firsthand how vital Applicant Tracking Systems are. Back in the “olden days,” candidates would type up a resume, mail it to the company, who would post open positions in the Sunday newspaper, and wait for their phone to ring. Candidates did not have to worry about technology. They only needed to impress a person; now, candidates need to impress a robot and a human.

Applicant Tracking Systems are a huge part of the hiring process. Your resume passes through many levels (including an ATS) before an interview is offered. And, like it or not, Applicant Tracking Systems are here to stay.

Applicant Tracking Systems were designed to create simplicity for Human Resource professionals and Recruiters, which they have done, but they have also created questions, misconceptions, and crazy stories from candidates. Many candidates scratch their heads trying to figure out how to crack the ATS coding language. Well, guess what, it is not as difficult as most would think. I am here to clarify some assumptions and relay tips and tricks to help you get your resume past these tricky software’s.

First, what is an Applicant Tracking System?

An Applicant Tracking System, also known as ATS, reads, scans, and filters through resumes. That’s it. Pretty simple.

Human Resource professionals and Recruiters are the gatekeepers of resumes, and an ATS is a software that stores all the data. They deliver a highly organized way for HR and Recruiters to review resumes. It’s a lot like a CRM companies use to keep track of customer information. Same thing, but for candidates. ATS are designed to automate the recruitment process. HR and Recruiters can communicate with each other, coordinate interviews, keep a record of the overall candidate flow, and send those lovely automated “Dear John” emails.

So, why does an employer use an Applicant Tracking System?

When an employer posts for an open position, they will, on average, get a couple of hundred candidates to apply per job. Imagine reading hundreds of resumes; it is a lot. If the employer uses an Applicant Tracking System, it will save them time sorting through all those resumes because the ATS algorithm reads and filters through them.

How does Applicant Tracking Systems work?

An Applicant Tracking System integrates with career application sites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Career Builder, Glassdoor, etc. What do I mean when I say they integrate with? In simplest terms, it means an ATS and career application sites “talk” to each other. Keep in mind each ATS works differently, but in general, they all have similar features. First, the Human Resource professional and the Recruiter will enter a job description, title, etc., into the ATS, then that information is fed into various integrated career application sites. And vice-versa, once a candidate applies for a position on a career application site, the resume will be forwarded to an ATS. The Applicant Tracking System algorithm then “reads” the resumes. Yes, “reads,” it will filter through resumes, determine what candidates are a good match, and rank the resumes based on skills, education, and experience.

Human Resource professionals and Recruiters can also search the database for specific words and pull resumes with those words in them. For example, say an employer needs to fill a position with a candidate who has experience using the computer coding language of JSON or Spanish speaking; with an ATS, the Human Resource professionals and/or Recruiters can search the hundreds of resumes for candidates with JSON or Spanish speaking skills mentioned in their resume.

How does someone get their resume past these tricky Applicant Tracking Systems?

Content is key.

Think of an Applicant Tracking System like a numbers game. The more keywords in a resume, the more likely it will pass through an ATS.

Look at the job posting and add words to your resume from the job description. The words used in a job description are those used from resumes to find the “best fit” candidate.

An easy place to add keywords is your resume’s skills/competencies section. But keep in mind that after your resume gets past the ATS, it lands in the hands of a human, so do not be the candidate who lists 50 skills on a resume. Keep it between nine to fifteen skills.

It is essential to change the keywords throughout your resume. For example, if you apply for a sales role, instead of always using the word “sale,” try adding similar words, like “business development.”; This will increase your chances that your resume will be searched and fed through various Applicant Tracking Systems.

The same goes for acronyms. For example, say you use the abbreviation MBA on your resume, but on the job postings, they use the words “master’s degree.” You may not be viewed as a strong match because the ATS does not recognize the acronym “MBA” but is looking for resumes with the words “master’s degree.” I suggest using both; list the abbreviation next to your name and write out the complete degree in the education section. It increases the odds of your resume getting past an ATS.

Titles are important. Applicant Tracking Systems will be looking for titles that match the title of the position that is being recruited for. For example, if you are applying for an Administrative Assistant position, the ATS will look for resumes with the words “Administrative Assistant” in them. If you have a unique title, your resume’s odds of becoming a “good match” are slim. For example, say you are a manager, but your company gave you a fun and funky title as a “Happiness Coach,” you’ll be better off listing your title as Manager. Of course, you still want to be honest.

Formatting is important.

Graphics. Do not get crazy with the pictures and images. There are creative and trendy resume templates for sale on sites like Etsy but be careful. Some graphics and images have a hard time passing through Applicant Tracking Systems.

Or say it passes through, but it might convert your resume into a weird format.

Format. Speaking of format. Formats like .docx or .pdf versions are the best formats to keep your resume in tack. If you do not have Microsoft Word or another program that can convert your resume to .docx or .pdf, you can use Google Docs to create your resume, then download it in either format for free.

Fonts and bullets. Fonts and bullets should be simple. I know it sounds boring and basic but trust me, those fancy fonts are hard for Applicant Tracking Systems to read. The best fonts are Times New Roman, Arial, and Cambria.

Date formatting. Date formatting is not as critical, but it is worth mentioning. Because most Applicant Tracking Systems are programmed to read month and year (not year only), and most big ATS players like dates in MM/YYYY formula.

Spacing. Another simple and easy mistake is spacing. While it might seem ridiculous to think that accidentally adding an extra space between words could be the difference between being a great match and a medium match, it is true. Here is why. Say the ATS is looking for resumes with the words “Business Analyst” in them. Suppose you accidentally have two spaces between Business and Analyst (Business Analyst). The ATS will not recognize it as a keyword because it looks for “Business Analyst” (Business Analyst) with one space. Some Applicant Tracking Systems are pickier than others. Still better be safe than sorry and proofread your resume for this extra spacing.

Columns and tables. Remember, an ATS uses algorithms to “read” resumes; they do not view a resume the same way a human would. They are programmed to “read” left to right, and some will read columns straight across rather than reading column one top to bottom and then starting column two at the top. If you have fancy column designs on your resume, the ATS might translate the words into funky sentences that make no sense to the person reading them. The same goes for tables. It’s best to avoid them.

Header and Footer. Do not put critical information like your phone number or email address in a header or footer. The ATS may not find it. And you want to make it as easy as possible for HR/Recruiters to contact you.

Tip: The easiest way to avoid an Applicant Tracking System is by applying for positions at small to mid-sized companies. Why? Because ATS tends to be very expensive and not affordable for smaller companies. Also, smaller companies typically do not have as many open positions as larger ones; therefore, they may not need an ATS. Larger organizations will almost always use an Applicant Tracking System.

Tip: What if you do not have your bachelor’s degree and the position is asking for a bachelor’s degree? How do you get your resume past the Applicant Tracking System then? I hear this a lot -“I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, and I can’t get my resume past Applicant Tracking Systems.” Here is a tip to cheat the system; enroll in a local Community College or University class and start working towards your bachelor’s degree. Then on your resume, write, “working towards a bachelor’s degree.” That way, the ATS will pick up the word “bachelor” and pass your resume along or rate it as a greater match. The ATS algorithm does not know if you have completed your degree or working towards your degree. It just knows to look for the word “bachelor.”

Guess what, like it or not, Applicant Tracking Systems are here to stay. I hope this helped. With a couple of tweaks and upgrades to your resume, it will pass through those dreaded tracking systems and land in the hands of a human.

Contact NimoHR for more information.

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