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Secrets to Beating an Applicant Tracking System

What is an ATS?

Applicant Tracking Systems

Nearly 90% of companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to manage the recruiting and hiring process. Essentially, it organizes the candidate’s information into easy-to-access platforms. Job seekers need to be aware because it organizes their information and can survey their documents.  The tracking systems work by allowing recruiters to scan resumes for key phrases, keywords, headings, contextual indicators, and related content. The goal is to allow recruiters to “score” or rate the most qualified candidates.

Seems unfair right? The resume you wrote, edited, tailored, and submitted may not even be seen by a person. However, the ATS saves the recruiters from having to sort through irrelevant, underqualified, weak, and unrelated resumes. As a candidate, you need to consider use the right format, keywords, headings, and context so your resume isn’t parsed out. Here are some tips to help you beat the ATS:

1. Match the Keywords

Every posting, job, industry, profession, has certain keywords. Whether it’s responsibilities, skills, qualifications, etc. there are terms that are common within the industry. An ATS will be used to search for key phrases and information related to these areas, especially, in regards to the position posted.

To ensure you’re matching the keywords try using these techniques:

• READ the posting! Take the time to scan through the whole posting and make a list of the skills, requirements, qualifications, and responsibilities. I suggest doing this at least twice, each time writing or typing the key bits of information.

• Include the verbs, skills, and key phrases written in the posting/job description in your resume. There is a high probability that these will be the words the recruiter is looking for. Think “senior accountant,” “Python,” “Bachelors Degree in (blank),” or “process improvement.”

• If there is too much text to analyze try using and copy and paste the posting in there. Hit visualize and it will display the words appearing most often. Although not always accurate, this can at least give you an idea of what keywords are more likely to be detected.

• If you’re using acronyms in your resume include the full spelling the first time you use it. This will help with ATS scoring and will assist the recruiter if they are not familiar with the acronym.

A Little Extra…..

As a caveat, don’t “stuff” your resume with important keywords. Although this may help your resumes score with some applicant tracking systems many are intelligent enough to recognize this exploitation. More importantly, remember, a recruiter eventually reviews your resume. They will immediately recognize the overuse of these words and send your resume to the trash. Try to repeat the keywords a few times if appropriate. Keep the content fresh and avoid sounding redundant for the sake of some keywords.

PS: NEVER use white text to hide keywords throughout your resume. There was some success with this years ago (kudos to the crafty job seeker who discovered this loophole) but it is now recognized and will harm your resumes score and your professional image.

2. Use a Simple Format

I can appreciate the desire to stand out among the hordes of competing job seekers but this is best done with a well written resume. You simple don’t need a flashy resume design with dozens of colors and fonts. Try to avoid adding pictures, logos, graphs, ranking bars, shading, underlines, excessive bolding, and icons. Use a normal professional font because it is easily readable. (Calibri, Times New Roman, Courier, Corbel, etc.)

Use normal headings and section titles as ATS’s scan these for relevant data. Work History, Professional Experience, Experience, Skills, Expertise, Education, Volunteer Work, and the like. Creating, inventing, or adding odd section headings like Unrelated Personal Projects, Personal Development, or Affiliations can harm your resume's searchability.

Finally, be wary with two-column style resumes. Although these can work well (I have seen many successful ones) they can be challenging for many ATSs to parse. If you have a two-column resume avoid sending it to large organizations or positions that you assume will have many applicants. These are better suited for small organizations or start-ups.

3. Check for Spelling and Grammar Issues

Everyone knows that a single spelling and grammar error is enough to get your resume sent to the trash. How does this affect

Double Check Your Resume

4. Consider a Professional Profile/Summary

A professional profile is a two to six sentence paragraph that acts as an elevator speech. It’s an introduction that can highlight your important work experience, skills, education, work ethic, and other important career-related information. This gives a recruiter a highlight reel of your career that they can scan quickly. More importantly, it is a great area for you to include keywords.

Ideally, your resume will end up in human hands.  Make sure you are avoiding the biggest resume mistakes  and don’t stuff it full of keywords and filler content. The perfect resume is a hybrid of both applicant tracking system optimization and readability. It’s a hard balance to perfect but with practice and these tips, you will find yourself ahead of the competition!

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