Most of us have been told during our career that our job is to turn problems into opportunities. We have to do the same thing when searching for work.
Last week, we identified employer applicant tracking systems (ATS) as one of the gatekeepers that can keep our resume from reaching hiring teams’ computer screens. That’s because, according to one estimate, ATS systems screen out 75% of the resumes jobseekers send their way. That’s an astounding number, so job hunters should take action to turn this problem into an opportunity.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep your resume format simple,
- Respond to the job description,
- Don’t let an employment gap eliminate you,
- Apply directly to the employer, and
- Use your network to go around the computer.
According to an online ATS guide, 99% of Fortune-500 companies are using some form of ATS, and many smaller companies are doing the same. That means we may not find many companies that will let us apply solely via email or postal service mail. We will have to submit our resume to the system at some point.
While it seems unfair for computer software to eliminate three-quarters of a company’s applicants before anyone reads their resumes, the situation could be no worse than it was in the prior century. The old paper process that I experienced seemed slow, subjective, and labor-intensive.
Back in 1980, I was one of the administrative people that screened and categorized stacks of resumes. The process I was part of did not appear to be fair. Hundreds of candidates applied for certain jobs, but hiring managers “invited” specific people to apply. The HR manager filled other jobs through “blind” ads that did not include the organization’s name. She screened candidates through a phone line that rang only in her office.
Another practice I observed was running ads for non-existent jobs. An organization I worked for in 1998 ran ads and collected resumes to find out what salaries job candidates would request.
The practices I observed were probably the exception rather than the rule. Nonetheless, these instances point to the fact that automated systems may be no more unfair than subjective and flawed paper-based systems.
Simple resume formats can win.
The ATS reads content, not clever and elegant graphics. This gives us an opportunity to concentrate on writing well and telling our story. Shiann Aronson, a representative of an ATS company, sent me an email last week in which she agreed with my previous statement that “ATS systems don’t read graphics.”
This does not mean you cannot create a visually pleasing resume. It does mean that text included within a graphic element won’t be seen by the system. It also means that, if you are not an artistic person, well-written and neatly-formatted text will do the job.
A problem I see occasionally is that jobseekers include their contact information in a nice graphic, in an MS-Word header, or both. The ATS ignores headers, as well as graphics, so your name and contact information would be lost,
In other words, take the opportunity to keep your resume format simple. When in doubt, copy your content into a text editor like Notepad to make certain it is readable.
Respond to the job description.
We constantly read that ATS systems are driven by artificial intelligence, or AT, that selects resumes for employers through some mysterious process. While up-to-date systems, including LinkedIn’s recruiting products, have AI features, the process is not totally mysterious. We know, for example, that ATS systems allow hiring teams to search based on keywords. That means we can analyze the job description we are applying for to make certain the right keywords appear on our resume.
Don’t “keyword stuff.” Reportedly, one role of AI in ATS systems is to look for words in context. If you do make it through the ATS screen with a keyword-stuffed document, the recruiter will eliminate you anyway.
Match yourself to the job before applying. That will increase your chances of passing through the ATS screen.
Fill your employment gaps.
Resume gaps decrease your chances of being selected for interviews. We were aware of studies during the 1990s indicating those with gaps of six months or more had more difficulty being hired. As a result, at my first career advising job we spent a lot of time helping people show they were doing something productive such as volunteer work instead of having a gap.
Today, it’s more important than ever to fill gaps. It’s easy for an automated system to eliminate a resume that does not show a current job. LinkedIn will even tell you that your profile is “not complete” if your profile does not include a “current” role. That means you will not show up in LinkedIn Recruiter searches when recruiters look for people that are currently in a role they are hiring for.
Apply directly to employers.
According to the ATS Guide, modern systems automatically post to major job sites, in addition to the company Website. This should mean it will not matter whether you apply through the job site or the employer’s website. You are still better off applying directly to the company.
There are at least two reasons it’s a good idea for you to apply directly to the company.
First, job postings on major sites are paid advertising so the employer’s ad could have expired by the time you respond. The ATS will not get your application if you applied through the job site.
Recruiters also like to see that you took time to seek out information about the company. Applying directly to the company shows you made the extra effort.
Use your network when applying.
LinkedIn Recruiter and other ATS systems, I’ve been told, allow hiring teams to search for you by name. So, using your network to find someone that can ask a hiring manager to find your resume in the ATS can pay off. As we’ve seen, there are myriad reasons why you cannot rely on automation to show your great credentials to the manager. Make your own luck and find someone to advocate for you.