The Internet has significantly altered the job search landscape. Easy online availability of information about industries, professions and companies have created a very small world, essentially rendering physical distance irrelevant when it comes to looking for employment.
Now, someone in Los Angeles can not only find about a job opening in New York, but can apply for the position just as easily as someone who lives across town from that employer.
At first glance, this would seem to open up a whole world of employment opportunities when, in reality, it may actually limit them instead. Why? Because the digital world provides access to anyone who seeks it, be it to info, music, news, or job openings. As a result, employers who once had to sort through perhaps dozens and, in the odd case, hundreds of resumes, now find that number in the thousands. The number of applicants who actually mail a printed resume is dwindling. The number of those who submit their resumes online, however, is not. In fact, job seekers have the ability to apply for as many jobs as they can, limited only by time and desire. Needless to say, employers (and even recruiters, for that matter), are often overwhelmed.
And this is where Applicant Tracking Systems come in. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a type of software which enables recruiters and employers to manage their hiring processes. Once a job has been posted (either on a company site or a job board), ATS provides an interface through which a candidate can apply online by completing an application and, usually, providing a copy of his or her resume.
The ATS does more than simply capture data however; it screens that data, sorting through it (also called “parsing”) for pre-programmed information and, in so doing, essentially pre-qualifies a resume for review by a recruiter or the H.R. department. In other words, Applicant Tracking Systems enable companies to streamline and automate H.R. processes.
Naturally, you want an Applicant Tracking System to pick your resume for review, not dismiss it out of hand before anyone has even laid eyes on it. But how can you make that happen? What do you need to do? To borrow from a popular TV show/movie franchise, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to consider the following when using an online interface to apply for a job:
What does the job description say? No, really. Read and reread the job description. Do you understand what the company is looking for? Are you qualified to perform the job? If not, stop now. Applying for a job for which you lack the basic requirements is a waste of time. Your resume will likely get picked off, never to be seen again (at least not by that employer).
Once is enough. “Wait”, you say, “what if it’s just one of several jobs I’m applying for with the same company? Shouldn’t I try to get my foot in the door any way I can”? Sure, but this won’t do it. In fact, the ATS will identify multiple applications or, worse yet, multiple submissions for the same position. Trust us, the employer or recruiter will not be impressed. If you are qualified for more than one opening, be sure each application is tailored to meet that job’s requirements.
If the shoe fits… . Once you have carefully analyzed the job description, tailor your resume to fit the opening by focusing on the experience, training and skill set(s) to which that description refers. Much like successful online marketing requires effective use of keywords, so too does successfully getting your resume past an ATS. If the job description emphasizes certain requirements for the job, be sure that your resume includes specific reference to your experience with those requirements. Verbatim. They’re called keywords for a reason; Applicant Tracking Systems search for them. Even if you’re eminently qualified, failure to speak the employers language, so to speak, will doom your chances before your resume has even been read.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. On the version meant for the ATS, no fancy fonts, no photos or graphics or logos, all of which are incompatible with most ATS software. Remember, the interface is only designed to identify specific information. As well, avoid the use of headers or footers, both of which can cause the software to glitch. The simpler the format of a resume, the greater the chance it gets past the ATS. The ideal is to submit your resume in two formats: Word or PDF for the human reader and plain ASCII text for the ATS system.
Be smart with your cut and paste. A resume that’s submitted via cut and paste usually ends up being a visual mess because programs like Word are not plain text. As we’ve already mentioned several times, you should maintain your resume in multiple formats. Always cut and paste from the plain ASCII text format.
Don’t “Text” your text. No silly abbreviations and proofread because grammar, punctuation, and even capitalization matter to ATS software. Have everything you intend to submit reviewed by others. Plural.