A question I continue to hear often is “will my new resume pass the ATS?” This week, I attended in a Pennsylvania Career Development Association (PACDA) webinar where three ATS experts provided context and perspective I think we all need an understanding of how to deal with these systems. Here are a few of the questions and answers we discussed, along with information I’ve learned from other sources:
- What is an applicant tracking system?
- Does every employer use an applicant tracking system?
- How challenging is it for someone applying for a job to get through the system?
- Can a candidate “get around the system” when applying for a job?
Job seekers I have heard from frequently wonder why they are not getting responses to their online applications. A conceptual understanding of what ATS systems do—and do not do—can help us build resumes that will reach the hiring team.
What is an applicant tracking system?
An applicant tracking system is the “employer-facing” side of online job applications. For example, I’ve learned from conversations with recruiters that they use a LinkedIn Recruiter product as their applicant tracking system, or ATS. There are many other applicant tracking systems on the market, too.
ATS systems typically include search engines that allow hiring teams to search for candidates in many different ways, including past job titles, specific job skills, years of experience at specific jobs, degrees, certifications, licenses, applicant’s location, schools attended, and many more. High-end systems like LinkedIn Recruiter use artificial intelligence to improve search results. Less expensive systems may search only for exact word matches.
Does every employer use an ATS?
Nearly every large employer uses an ATS but smaller employers may lack the resources to invest in a system. According to JobScan, more than 98% of Fortune 500 employers use one of the 200-odd ATS products available. In other words, about 490 of the Fortune 500 have an ATS. Chances are that virtually every recruiting firm uses an ATS, too, because they handle a huge volume of job orders and job candidates.
Small, low-budget, employers may not be using an ATS system. A consultant at the PACDA webinar told us he shopped for an ATS a small workforce development program with 25 employees could use. He found one they could subscribe to for $60 per month, but that was still too much for their budget.
Experts say hiring teams spend about 6 seconds reading each resume, so you will have to get their attention quickly if an employer you apply to is not prescreening resumes electronically.
How challenging is it to get your resume through the ATS?
Applicant tracking systems vary in sophistication so it could be more difficult for some companies to pick up your resume than it will be for other companies. Older and less expensive systems that are not AI-driven may only pick up exact keyword matches. A modern system may pick up plural forms of search words and phrases, for example that older systems will not find. The newer generation of ATS software will also look for words in context.
The best suggestion I have gotten is to read each job posting and use the same keywords in your resume that the hiring team used in their posting. Another approach to finding keywords and qualifications for the job is to look on LinkedIn for current or recent incumbents in the position. Their backgrounds will give you clues to the experience, education, and keywords the employer will be looking for in their system.
Make certain an ATS will read the text once you have established the resume is responsive to the job posting and includes relevant keywords. We covered a simple way to do this at no cost in last week’s post.
Can a job applicant “go around” the system?
The consultant that spoke with us at the Webinar said it is feasible to work around ATS systems. The systems he has worked with allow employers to search by name for a specific job applicant. That means job search networking is more important than ever because you will need a “champion” at the company who will bring your resume to the hiring team’s attention.
LinkedIn makes it easier than ever to identify and contact potential champions at your target company. Enter the company name into the LinkedIn search dialog box and look at the names of people in your network that come back. Ideally, you will come across someone that knows your work well and is willing to ask the hiring manager or other members of the hiring team to look at your resume. Otherwise, you will have to reach out and arrange telephone or Zoom conversations with the contacts you identify, and convince them to champion your application for the position.
Employers may also search beyond their ATS when they recruit talent. Specifically, hiring teams may view social media for people using keywords suggesting skills needed for jobs they are filling. This may lead them to candidates with sought-after skills that are not looking for work right now.
The Workforce-2030 report we highlighted on this blog post several months ago predicted this kind of talent sourcing would happen in the next ten years. It’s happening now!
Ultimately, it’s your job to make ATS systems your ally rather than your nemesis. Identify and cultivate key contacts in the industry and company you plan to work in so they look for your application on LinkedIn and in their corporate ATS. Keep in mind that small, low-budget, organizations may not subscribe to an ATS service. It comes down to a basic tenet of marketing: know your customer.
Let’s talk about ways to build a resume for you that will attract attention and then lead to action on your application. Click here to schedule a time for us to speak.