The days of emailing your resume directly to a person at a company you are interested in working for are long gone. As with many business functions, technology has been inserted into the resume intake and review process in an attempt to streamline the hiring process.
Numerous companies have optimized their recruiting process through the use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). An ATS is essentially a technology that attempts to simplify the hiring process by allowing hiring managers to find and review resumes more quickly and efficiently. An ATS helps take in, parse, organize and sort resumes; it is the first set of “eyes” that review the resume and determine whether it is a possible fit to any open positions at the company. It does this by looking for keywords and phrases and matching them to words and phrases that describe the job and it’s requirements.
So how does an ATS affect a job seeker?
Well, put simply, if you don’t have the right keywords in your resume, or the ATS has trouble reading it, it will be difficult to get your resume seen by a recruiter or hiring manager. The system will sort you out. It’s frustrating enough to not be considered for a job that you may not have the full qualifications for but even more so if you are missing out on opportunities you should qualify for because the system can’t recognize your skills and realize that you should be sent to the recruiter.
The main key for job seekers to remember is to keep your resume formatting as simple as possible. The job search service provider Preptel even found that an ATS will oftentimes screen out over 75% of resumes it receives based solely on poor formatting practices.1 You want to avoid anything out of the ordinary, and stick to common resume headings like Summary, Work Experience, Education, and Skills. Avoid using elements like images, columns, tables, text boxes and graphics. The ATS is scanning the words in your resume; adding these elements can make it difficult for ATS to accurately interpret and parse its content.
Using special characters and creative or fancy bullet points and fonts can also confuse even the best ATS software. Only use black and avoid underlining headings and words. The best fonts to use are the common ones such as Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman. It also goes without saying that it is important to avoid spelling and grammar errors. But this is especially true when an ATS is in place. Most recruiters will quickly jettison a resume with spelling errors, but the ATS is 100% unforgiving. If you’ve misspelled a keyword, it simply can’t match it. So when recruiters are using keywords to search for resumes, yours may be left out if there are spelling errors. It can’t know you have Java experience if it reads Jav.
When it comes to the skills section, include certifications and mention terminology that is specific to your experience within that company’s industry. Always spell out abbreviated acronyms at least once since the system may not always recognize abbreviations. Avoid overusing similar words, and consider including achievements and skills using bullet points for readability. You also want to edit your resume to include the keywords and phrases the company is using to describe the position. Slight differences in phrasing can make a big difference in system recognition. The goal of the resume is to get the attention of the recruiter. Once you get an interview you can fill in details or explain the nuances of your skills and experience but you have to get past the system first.
Does this sound like maybe it’s not the best way to review resumes? Are companies missing out on great candidates because of technology and the drive for efficiency? Well, yes, they are, but that doesn’t mean ATSs are going away. Most companies are willing to sacrifice this for efficiency, and some get so many resumes they really have no choice. No process is going to be perfect.
At ATR, we use a database to store and search resumes but a human reviews them first and tags them for the things we look for. It decreases the chance of a machine overlooking someone, but the truth is, Applicant Tracking Systems have become the norm and are here to stay, so you need to create your resume with that in mind. The content and format of your resume needs to reflect this. Formatting should be simple and straightforward while the content should be arranged in a way that is clear and concise. By following these guidelines, you will greatly increase your chances of being chosen for an interview and hopefully hired.
Looking for a new job? Read: How to Optimize Your Job Search, A Comprehensive Guide for Every Job Seeker
- (Levinson, Meredith. “5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems. www.CIO.com, 2012.”)