Do you really need an ATS resume?
Despite your feelings, expectations, and wants/needs, ATS systems are here to stay … and these systems are having SOME CONTROL over your career.
Many job seekers just like you are finding themselves at the mercy of an algorithm and a few keyword searches.
However, I’m here to tell you that you have some control here. You can ensure your resume is ATS compliant.
Let’s get started…
Here’s what we cover in this article:
- What ATS Software Does
- ATS Use as CRM
- How ATS is Flawed at Times
- An Under-The-Covers Look @How These Technologies Work
- Criteria That ATS Software Uses
- How to Format an ATS Resume
- Checklist to Ensure Your Resume is ATS Compliant
- Final Dos & Don’ts For ATS Systems
The promise of ATS systems is alluring:
ATS systems give recruiters and hiring managers access to a search system much like those that exist with Google, Bing, and other search engines.
Type in what you want and voilà! The perfect candidate appears.
That’s the idea anyway.
Support For HR Functions
ATS systems aren’t just for saerch. These systems allow companies to manage job applications (especially when there is a high volume of applicants) and to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for job openings.
The ATS can assist companies with hiring compliance. U.S. employment law prevents employers from discriminating in hiring based on age, gender, and ethnicity. By using these systems to select candidates to interview, the system allows employers to comply with the law.
They also provide hiring managers with metrics and data that can improve the hiring process.
Some systems collect the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data from candidates as part of the job application, streamlining compliance reporting.
In short, ATS software saves time and reduces the cost per hire for hiring companies.
And, that’s BIG especially for companies that hire 1,000+ candidates per year.
What ATS Software Can Be Used For
Most ATS systems have robust functionality.
For example, ATS can be used to:
- Schedule/manage job interviews
- Automate the hiring workflow
- Initiate background checks for new hires
- Provide reporting functionality
- Social media updates
- Pre-populated job posting
- Automated communications
- Serve as a database for communications between the company and the candidate/new hire
Bunches of features, right?
This Software Can Be Flawed/Unfair
These systems are limited by the information they acquire from jobseeker resumes. If resumes aren’t structured in a way that fits the applicant tracking system, they can enter a black hole.
Adding to the problem…
… success on the hiring side of things depends on querying the system with the right keywords, specifications, and requirements to draw out resumes that are the best fit for the job.
However, even if an applicant can do the job, if the resume doesn’t work well with the ATS, the recruiter or hiring manager won’t find him or her.
What ATS Software Gives That Professionals *LOVE*
One advantage for job seekers is that some systems automatically notify candidates whose resumes don’t meet the job requirements as identified by the ATS software.
Receiving a response to a manual resume submission is rare.
An automatic rejection, although heartbreaking, allows the candidate to pursue other opportunities, tweak the resume and resubmit, or to simply move on.
More than 80% of hiring companies use some sort of ATS system with Taleo being the most popular ATS software. Taleo is the preferred software for companies managing more than 1,000 job openings at one time, according to Tlnt.com.
An “Under-The-Covers” Look @ How These Technologies Work
Most online job applications end up in one of two places: an applicant tracking system, or an email inbox.
Neither is particularly easy to get out of.
Although companies can search their database for candidates (much like you would query Google to find what you’re looking for), most companies use their ATS only to manage job applications for a specific job.
There are different ATS software programs on the market — including a few that operate “in the cloud” (SaaS platforms).
However, they all work in a similar way, by allowing for filtering, management, and analysis of candidates for a particular job opening.
ATS systems “parse” the information in the submitted resumes, pulling them apart and placing information in specific fields within the ATS database, such as work experience, education, contact data, etc.
The system then analyzes the extracted information for criteria relevant to the job being filled — such as the number of years of experience or particular skills.
Then, it assigns resumes a score, giving candidates a ranking.
Criteria used to determine a match includes:
- Appearance of a keyword or phrase — this can be measured by its presence in the document at all — as well as the number of times the keyword or phrase appears.
- Relevance of the keyword within context. (Does the keyword or phrase appear with other keywords you would expect?)
The higher the resume ranking, the more likely the application will end up being reviewed by a human reader.
Success in navigating an applicant tracking system isn’t simply about the volume of keywords and phrases — it’s the right keywords — and, in particular, how unique those keywords are.
Most job seekers include the “obvious” keywords, but many applicant tracking systems put a value on related keywords, not those specific terms.
Applicant tracking systems see some keywords and phrases as more “valuable” than others.
Many systems also allow the hiring manager or recruiter to “weight” criteria — applying greater significance to certain terms or qualifications.
Hiring managers can also apply filters to further refine the candidate pool — for example, geographic or educational criteria. They can also specify keywords as either “desired” or “required,” which affects rankings.
In many cases, however, the system itself determines the most relevant keywords and phrases, as outlined in the job posting.
Companies that create applicant tracking systems continue to refine their processes and algorithms — and the systems are becoming less expensive as more providers enter the market.
And job seekers continue to learn to adapt their career communication documents (especially resumes and cover letters) to meet the needs of both humans and computers.
Newer ATS software doesn’t simply identify keywords and apply a score based on how many times that keyword appeared.
Older systems were subject to manipulation by job seekers who would simply “keyword stuff” their documents.
For example, the use of white text or a tiny font to include the same keywords over and over again once tricked the ATS into assigning a higher ranking to resumes based simply on the number of times the keyword appeared.
Context is the new part of this.
It’s not enough to have the right keyword in the resume — nor have it appear more than once (i.e., in a “keyword” section).
Instead, the system looks for the relevance of the keyword to your work history and/or education. Those keywords are analyzed and weighed in the context of the entire resume.
Also considered in context is how recent the desired skill has been used, and the depth of knowledge the candidate possesses of the topic (by assessing whether relevant and related terms are also present in the resume in relation to the keyword or phrase).
Resume effectiveness goes beyond the ATS, however.
Once your resume pops up in the ATS search results, it needs to reflect what the recruiter or hiring manager expects from a candidate with the qualifications they desire.
Think about when you’re conducting a search on Google. You type in your search criteria, and a list of results appears.
You begin clicking on results and can tell within a matter of seconds if the item fits what you were looking for.
If it does, you’ll read further.
If it doesn’t, you’ll click on to the next result. The same is true with the ATS.
For resumes analyzed by an ATS, it is important to include as much relevant, job-specific career information in your resume, specific to the company, as possible.
Inadvertent omission of key data can be the difference between having your resume appear in a list of candidates meeting search criteria — and not making the cut.
For example, if you are pursuing a degree or certification, it should be included in your resume (labeling it as “in progress” or “pending completion”), because a hiring manager may search for a specific type of degree or keywords contained in an area of study.
If the missing information is keyword-rich (i.e., a relevant job, educational credential, or certification), that can negatively impact the resume’s rating — and, therefore, the likelihood of being selected for an interview.
Keywords can be nouns, adjectives, or short phrases — and describe unique skills, abilities, knowledge/education/training, and/or experience.
7 Tools To Find Keywords & Search Terms to Write an ATS Resume
How can you find the keywords or search terms that are likely going to be used to query the ATS?
1. Review job postings for the type of job you’re seeking
2. Analyze your current job descriptions (and job descriptions of jobs similar to the one you have, and the one you want)
3. MyNextMove (https://www.mynextmove.org/)
4. Occupational Outlook Handbook
5. Dictionary of Occupational Titles (www.occupationalinfo.org/)
6. Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://bls.gov/ooh/) Also look for synonyms to the keywords you identify.
- Find 6-8 job postings for the type of job you want.
- Copy the text from the ad into a Microsoft Word document.
- Select all the text and copy it to your clipboard.
- Go to www.wordclouds.com to create a tag cloud.
- Paste your selected text into the “text” box and generate the word cloud.
The word cloud will reveal keywords and phrases that are relevant to the type of job you’re seeking. The larger the word appears, the more relevant it is for that type of job.
BONUS: If you have access to the Google’s Keyword tool, it too can be useful for finding keywords to make your resume more effective with applicant tracking systems.
How To Format Your Resume For ATS Compliance
The easiest way to ensure your resume will be accepted by an ATS is to submit a resume that is both ATS-friendly and human-reader ready.
Because the ultimate goal is to have the resume reviewed by a human, even an ATS-friendly resume needs to be readable — and attractive — to human eyes.
For example, some applicant tracking systems can manage graphics (or simply ignore them).
But, since many systems can’t handle graphics of any type, it is best to omit them if you suspect an applicant tracking system may be used to handle the application.
An old way of ensuring a match with a posted job was to “mirror” the job posting in the resume submitted online. In fact, Some ATS experts once recommended copying-and-pasting the targeted job posting at the end of the resume, listing it as a job.
However, this technique is no longer recommended.
A resume that matches too closely (that is, a 95% or higher match) may actually be flagged by the ATS.
Instead, work to incorporate the job posting information into the resume naturally.
One nice thing about applicant tracking systems is that they are not sensitive to the length of the resume, so two or more pages are fine.
How to Beef Up Your Word Resume
Even if hiring managers aren’t using a formal applicant tracking system, they often file documents on their hard drive.
To help with this, name your resume with your full name and target job title. use something like this:
- Jones, J. Sales Manager.docx
- McIntosh, S., Technical Writer.docs
Hiring managers may use Windows Search or Spotlight (on a Macintosh) to help find a document on their hard drive.
You can include search terms in the Keyword field in Microsoft Word.
Under the “File” menu, choose “Summary Info” and put the information in the keyword file.
Separate the keywords and terms with semicolons.
The main body of the resume is critical — some ATS software cannot read header/footer information, so if you include contact information in those sections, it may not be read. (And remember, geographic location can be used as a filter.)
Does an ATS-friendly resume have to be boring?
Not necessarily — although formatting has to be carefully considered.
Sophisticated systems no longer require a specific order for your jobs to be listed.
For example, it was once advised to list the employer’s name first, then the date, and then the job title. Like this:
Company Name Date
OUTDATED ATS RECOMMENDATIONS YOU CAN IGNORE
Other outdated ATS recommendations were to avoid using underlines, hyperlinks, italics, multi-color text, quote marks, and horizontal lines in your resume.
These are no longer avoidable.
How to Test Your Resume Format For ATS Compliance
Begin by opening the resume in Microsoft Word.
Under the “File” menu, choose “Save As.”
Rename the file (recommended format: LastNameJobTitle.txt) and save as “Text Only” (.txt) format.
Close the Microsoft Word window. Open the .txt file in Microsoft Word.
Although not 100%, this technique will give you some idea of how computers are perceiving your resume.
You may see issues with spacing and special characters that require your attention.
Ensure your contact information shows at the top of the document, with each piece of information on a new line.
It was once advised to label your phone number with “Phone:” and email address with “Email:.” However, sophisticated systems now recognize and collect these bits of data.
Next, be sure your resume uses proper section headings.
These can include “Summary,” “Work Experience,” and “Education.”
Use one heading per section (do not combine “Education and Training,” for example), and include an extra return (an extra line) between sections.
Use simple bullets (•) or keyboard characters (*, -, or >). Do not use dingbats or other special characters, as these will not be read properly by the ATS.
Be sure to avoid less common fonts, such as Script and Stencil, in favor of fonts that are the easiest to read; e.g. Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Tahoma, and Verdana.
Once you’ve made these adjustments, re-save the file as a .docx. (Under the “File” menu, chose “Save As.” Make sure you choose “Word Document” under the “Format” option.)
Getting Around the ATS
An applicant tracking system can be a real barrier when pursuing a job.
Even if you are qualified, if your resume is not “read” correctly by the ATS, you won’t be considered unless you can reach the hiring manager directly.
Although applicant tracking systems are being used more and more in the hiring process, ultimately, people hire people.
The computer might be used to conduct the initial screening, but the resume ultimately needs to be written to appeal to human beings too.
That means you can’t just stuff in keywords (to appeal to the applicant tracking system) and have it make sense to human readers.
Another important factor to consider is that applicant tracking systems — although popular — are not yet pervasive.
Appealing to human readers remains a priority — especially if you are targeting a company with fewer than 100 employees.
When you email your resume to one of these “small” employers, it’s likely to end up on a computer all right, but in someone’s email inbox, not in an applicant tracking system.
Which leads to the next important point:
Instead of spending a lot of time trying to make yourself more attractive to an applicant tracking system, you would be better served by making real-world, in-person connections (i.e., building your network).
Or, at least, taking that time to develop a 100% complete LinkedIn profile and making virtual networking connections.
Either of those techniques will yield you a much higher likelihood of job search success than spending an equivalent amount of time cracking the ATS code.
It’s estimated that 75% of resumes are not compliant with applicant tracking systems, which some believe is hurting hiring practices.
If you can’t bring your resume into compliance, you need to find another way to get yourself in front of the hiring manager.
This is also true if you are considering changing careers. Applicant tracking systems are not kind to career changers.
However, keep in mind that some companies do not allow hiring managers to accept a resume unless it is submitted through an applicant tracking system — and that policy applies even if the candidate networks his or her way to the hiring authority or connects through social media.
Ensure your resume:
√ Is saved in an approved format — resume is submitted as a .doc or .docx file. Although PDF files can be read by some systems, err on the side of using a Word file. (RTF and JPG formats are not ATS-friendly)
√ Does not use “over the top” fancy templates, borders, or shading
√ Is in a single column format (avoid tables, multiple columns, or text boxes)
√ Uses simply formatted text of a reasonable size (10 point size or above)
√ Includes standard fonts (Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, and Verdana are all “safe” choices)
√ Does not contain complex formatting (condensed or expanded text) — that is, don’t use extra spaces between letters, because the ATS can’t “read” it.
√ Include a few, clearly defined sections: Summary, Work Experience, and Education.
√ Does not contain images or graphics — or, if they do appear, they do not affect the single-column formatting (Be warned, however, that the simple inclusion of any graphics may be enough to “choke” some applicant tracking systems.)
√ Does not include any information in the headers or footers of the document (if saved in Microsoft Word format)
√ Has been thoroughly edited and spellchecked and there are no errors. (The ATS will not recognize misspelled words).
√ Does not include any special characters or accented words.
√ Contains proper capitalization and punctuation. Both of these can affect how information is parsed and assigned within the ATS database.
√ Uses the full, spelled-out version of a term in addition to abbreviations and acronyms [i.e., Certified Public Accountant (CPA)]
√ Incorporates relevant, targeted keywords and phrases for the type of job being sought (Have you included specifics — i.e., “Photoshop” instead of “image-editing software”)
√ Has been customized for the job being sought. A “one-size-fits-all” resume does not work with applicant tracking systems.
Other Do’s and Don’ts for Applicant Tracking Systems:
- When applying for a specific job, do use that job title on the resume.
- Do include the descriptor “phone:” and “email:” in front of the phone number and email address so the ATS can identify this information.
- When listing dates for employment or education, do put the dates to the right of the information.
- Do consider including section headers in ALL CAPS to make it easy for the applicant tracking system to categorize the information.
- If you are working towards a degree or certification that is a requirement for the job, do include it on the resume — but make sure you include a phrase such as “Pursuing (name of credential)” or “Degree anticipated (date).”
- Do check your email after applying for a job online. Some applicant tracking systems acknowledge submissions, but because these are automated responses, it may be diverted to your spam folder.
- Do be mindful of special characters and accents you use on your resume. Some words and phrases can be misinterpreted by an applicant tracking system — for example, accented words.
- Do not list your credentials (MBA, CPA, etc.) next to your name. Include that information on a separate line.
- Do not include skills you don’t possess on the resume as an attempt to “trick” the applicant tracking system into selecting you. (Remember, the resume will eventually be reviewed by a human.)
- Do not submit multiple resumes to the same company.
Applicant tracking systems have a memory — all those previous submissions remain in the system.
You can apply to multiple, related job, but make sure the resume information is consistent (i.e., the number of years in a particular job, for example) because the hiring manager will have access to the other versions too.
It’s worth noting that some of these aren’t hanging offenses.
For example, if you overlook a special character in your resume, such as a copyright symbol ©, the systems will either ignore it or replace it with something far less attractive, such as:
Recruiters and hiring managers have grown accustomed to seeing oddities in resumes that are uploaded into their systems.
So, don’t get yourself worked up over the small things.
ATS In Review:
The best way to “beat” applicant tracking systems is to ensure your resume is optimally written and formatted.
Remember, no unusual fonts, spacing, or format.
Use keywords/keyphrases strategically. Use synonym keywords too.
Tools such as LSIgraph.com can help.
Customize your resume content so it’s flexible, and doesn’t limit you to one job title.
Avoid using graphics and other fancy design elements.
If you want to learn more about how ATS/hiring on-demand works, check out this video:
Article was last updated 7/18/19