Every single one of us has submitted our resume for an amazing job that seemed like a great fit, only to never hear back again. It can be soul crushing, but after a few such instances, we typically come to accept that our resumes are disappearing into a black hole somewhere.
Well I say, NO MORE! I’ve done some undercover sleuthing to determine exactly where my resume goes and what the difference is between getting called for an interview and disappearing into the abbiss. I have found the gatekeeper. He is a robot. His name is ATS, which, as his creators will tell you, stands for Applicant Tracking System.
In my effort to uncover how ATS thinks, what he likes, and how to please him, I posed as a potential customer with two ATS providers to understand how it works. Here’s what I found out that you can use to make sure your resume gets past the robot and into the hands of a living, breathing recruiter.
Who Uses Applicant Tracking Systems?
It was difficult to get a sense of exactly what percentage of the job market is using these robots, because I was getting different numbers from different sources, but the lowest I heard was that 75% of organizations use some form of automated resume scanner. Even if that’s inflated, the reality is, we need our resumes to be optimized for automated review.
What does ATS do?
ATS is an intelligent robot. He can manage the entire hiring process including recruiting candidates, reviewing applications and ranking candidates (scanning your resume and deciding if you get an interview). He can also do a whole bunch of fancy stuff to help the recruiters plan and organize the interviews.
The reviewing of applications and ranking candidates function is what we’re going to focus on here. Specifically, how do we make the robot like us and rank us among the top candidates so an actual human will look at our resume?
How do I please the All-Mighty ATS robot?
Master Your Keywords - Typically a recruiter will upload the same job posting to which you applied, into the ATS, and it will automatically pull keywords from that posting. Those keywords could be things like “Sales”, “Account Management”, “Social Media”, “Break dancing”, it all depends on the job. ATS wants to see those keywords on your resume.
Solution: The beauty of the situation here is that it’s no secret to us what the keywords are because they come from the job posting. Scan the job posting for any words related to key functions of the job and make sure to include them (word-for-word) 2-3 times each in your resume.
Use Standard Job Titles - ATS weights job title relevance highly. If you’ve got a wacky job title that doesn’t really explain your role, it could hurt your ranking.
Solution: Let’s say you’re an event planner and your most recent job was at a petting zoo. At the zoo, your official title was something bizarre like “Jamboree Master” and you’re now applying to a non-jamboree-related job. To get around this, you can include your standard job title in brackets like this:
Jamboree Master (Events Coordinator) January 2016 - April 2018
ATS will like this. He’ll like it a lot.
Include a Qualifications Summary - ATS, and the human reviewer who will later see your resume, will like to see those keywords near the top of your resume. The caveat here is that you can’t simply list keywords like “team-oriented”, “management experience”, “excel”, these mean nothing in the hands of an actual human reviewer.
Solution: In your Qualifications Summary section at the top of your resume, include 4-6 bullet points of concrete things you accomplished where you can work in keywords. For example:
- Restructured assessment practices using Microsoft Excel at BloggersInc.
Keep Format Simple: ATS is a complicated robot in many ways; however, when it comes to resume formatting, he prefers things simple.
Solution: Use simple headings like “Marketing Experience” or “Sales Experience” or even “Work Experience”. Don’t use fancy margins or unusual arrangements. Simply list your job title, duration of employment, company name, and then your bullet points below.
For more information on writing Badass Bullet Points, check out my blog Why Your Resume is Betraying You… and what to do about it.
Spell out Acronyms: ATS is intelligent, but we don’t want to assume he knows all our acronyms. We have to teach him.
Solution: Instead of writing “RN”, ATS would be happier if you wrote “Registered Nurse (RN)” the first time it comes up. After you teach ATS the acronym once, you can start using “RN” on it’s own. He’s a fast learner.
Two ATS Warnings
Do not overuse keywords. ATS is smart enough to know when you’re trying to take advantage of him. Resumes that “keyword stuff” are ranked lower. This is why it’s recommended to stick to using each keyword 2-3 times.
Remember that ATS is not your only audience. You also have to write the resume in a way that will intrigue the human to which ATS will pass off the top ranked candidates. You have to use clear, resume-ready language, that a recruiter will like as well.
Want to know how our friend ATS feels about your resume?
There are a several free services that will let you scan your resume through an ATS and give you feedback on how it does. I sent mine to this one; however, they didn’t ask for a job posting that I’d like to apply to, so I’m not really sure where they intend to get keywords from.
I’ll update when I hear back to let you know how it goes.
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