If you’re applying for a job online, then your resume is bound to hit the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). If you’re unfamiliar with ATS, it’s commonly used by employers – especially medium to large corporations – to help manage applications and resumes that come in for an open position. It essentially helps hiring managers clear out job candidates who do not have the required experience and skills to fulfil the position, and it highlights for them the ones that do.
Applicants given a high ranking by the ATS are most often the ones that will get a call back. Unfortunately that means as much as 75% of the applicant pool is eliminated from consideration without the hiring manager even looking at their resume.
While the ATS can help simplify the process to finding the right candidate for hiring managers, it does not always recognize the very best candidates that apply for the job. If the job applicant doesn’t have the exact matching keywords, specifications, and requirements entered for the system on their resume and if the resume is improperly formatted for the ATS to read, it won’t receive a high ranking.
So, here’s how you can help improve your resume’s ranking with the ATS:
Don’t overstuff with keywords, but use the right keywords and phrases.
Many misunderstand and stuff their resume with keywords, but in fact, the ATS is looking for specific keywords and phrases that are used in context – not just have a word dump of keywords. Carefully review the job posting to understand what keywords and phrases are important to apply to your resume and put it in context with other content.
Send a Word document, not a PDF.
There are tips out there to send a PDF file of your resume when applying for a job so that no formatting is lost, but when you’re dealing with the ATS, it is best to send a Word document. The ATS searches for specific fields on the resume and when it formatted as a PDF, it may be unable to properly read it. Send your resume in .doc format so every system can read it.
Forget about Word tables and text boxes.
The ATS cannot read MS word and text boxes so avoid using them. It also can’t read fancy fonts so you want to stick with fairly traditional font styles like Calibri, Cambria, Tahoma, Arial, and Times New Roman.
Properly label your sections.
Don’t try to make your resume unique by labelling the sections of your resume differently. The ATS doesn’t know to interpret “Outstanding Achievements” as “Work Experience” and will simply skip over the entire section where there may be the most information to indicate you have the qualifications for the job.
You also want to lay out information under Work Experience in the following ATS-friendly-readable fashion: Employer’s name, Job Title, Dates of Employment. Avoid starting with dates of employment first because that will cause the ATS to read your information improperly.
Other key labels to include to your resume include Profile or Profile Summary, Education, Certifications, and Affiliations. Note that while proper labelling of the sections is necessary, you can still customize it – for example, “Profile: IT Networking Engineer.”
Watch out for acronyms.
The ATS may be looking for acronyms or the spelled-out form of the word so be sure to enter both if you don’t want to miss the boat. And if you’re going to use “/,” which is quite common in the IT profession, have a space between it like “Networking / Programming.” The ATS may not read “Networking/Programming” as two separate keyword matches.
Clearly the game of getting your resume noticed has changed, but it ultimately still has to go through the human reviewer. Remember that while customizing your resume for the ATS, the content needs to also appeal to the human reviewer who will be looking to see how your specific experience and skills may be applied to the job to help its company.
By Don Goodman