With online job applications, you might have found yourself wondering where your resume went and if anyone even saw it. In today’s age, an HR manager probably saw it at some point (if you’ve received contact), but more likely a machine did first.
Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are the softwares that allow an employer to electronically handle job candidate information. They’re used by companies like IBM, Sony, and GNC.
[Related: Tips From a Recruiter: Optimize Your Resume]
Susan Vitale, Chief Marketing Officer at iCIMS, one of the many ATS software companies in America, states that an ATS’s primary purpose is to sort potential employees based on what the hiring manager requires. “Each employer will create specific screening questions and will decide which keywords to search for depending on the position,” Vitale says. “The ATS is usually a configurable software that is simply used as a tool, but the employer and their recruiters are driving the hiring process.”
Even though each ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is different and there’s no foolproof guide, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of getting your application processed.
1. Call it what it is.
[Related: 6 Ways to Revamp Your Resume]
2. Stay true to your expertise.
Although you should utilize your industry’s typical language in your resume, resist the urge to insert a slew of popular keywords throughout in an attempt to please an ATS. According to Vitale, overdoing it with keywords is a blunder many job-seekers make; not only will it come across as dishonest to potential employers, butloading up on keywords makes your resume look like one big copy-and-paste job. Use key phrases from the job posting judiciously and authentically instead. After all, eventually a real person will be reading your resume–so make sure everything sounds convincing and natural.
In addition, Vitale suggests that applicants take care regarding both the number and types of positions they apply to. “Applicants should keep in mind that their entire profile within the ATS will be seen by the employer, so applying for several positions with different expertise and experience levels at the same organization is a red flag,” she adds.
3. Don’t feel like you need to be fancy.
Some applicant tracking systems (ATS) use resume parsing, which means that it transforms the data from your resume into a standardized format to present to the hiring manager. Even though this technology is gradually getting more sophisticated, it’s still optimal to write your resume with language that a computer can easily understand. In some cases, after an ATS presents your resume, all the hiring manager will see is unformatted text without any embellishments.
Rui Miguel Forte, data scientist at Workable, provides a list of tips for what to avoid on resumes including: borders, headers and footers, color, having more than one font and font size, graphics, tables and columns. He also suggests submitting your resume in a “.doc” or “.docx” format rather than a PDF; however if you do use a PDF be sure to export it from word processor first.
4. Consider having two different versions of your resume.
If you work in a creative field, this will probably be to your benefit. For example, if somebody is looking to hire a graphic designer, they will most likely want to see examples of their skill set on the resume. So have one version for online applications and another more aesthetically pleasing version for sending directly to hiring managers or taking with you to networking events.
5. Work around an ATS as much as possible.
Nowadays, 60 percent of jobs are found through networking. Therefore, having a strong professional network can help you get noticed without feeling at the mercy of an ATS (automated tracking system). Edwards is the founder of Resource Maximizer and a career coach based in Seattle who encourages her clients to take a proactive approach toward getting their foot in the door–make phone calls, ask well-connected professionals you admire to go out for coffee, and stay in touch with people who might be able to hire you for a new job someday. Creating a professional online presence with Levo, LinkedIn, or a personal website could connect you with working professionals in your field who might be able to help land an interview.
“It’s less about getting the resume seen and more about communicating on another, more personal level,” Edwards says. If you’re only relying on your resume, an application tracking system might see it but regular people likely won’t.