Crafting Your Resume

How To Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System

Recruiter advertising for job vacancies
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What can you do to get your resume noticed? How can you make the cut and get selected for an interview? You might have been rejected for a job before a prospective employer even laid eyes on your resume. It's a harsh reality, but the advent of online applications and digital resume submissions have made it easier for applicants to apply for jobs, expanding the number of resumes that employers receive.

Automated Systems That Screen Resumes

To screen this large volume of resumes, many employers use software to help them conduct an initial screening of resumes. Almost all large companies utilize automated systems to screen candidates, and a significant number of mid-size organizations do the same. Companies with fewer than 50 workers are much less likely to use such a system.

These applicant tracking systems (ATS) screen out or reject an estimated 70 percent or more of the resumes submitted either because the documents don't reflect the desired qualifications or are formatted in a way that the system can't digest the information.

Applicant tracking systems can be an impersonal or puzzling hurdle for those seeking employment, but there can be advantages for job seekers as well as disadvantages. It's important to understand these in order to have the best chance of getting noticed.

  • Appropriate, accurate keywords should get the right candidates noticed.

  • Traditional page limits for resumes are less significant.

  • Well-tailored applications less likely to lose out to generic applications.

  • Candidates who have done their homework are rewarded.

  • Formatting issues can lead to rejection.

  • System algorithms lack human ingenuity and instincts.

  • Tailoring application for the system can lead to loss of focus.

  • System can bypass quality candidates.

10 Tips to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

  1. Make sure your application contains keywords relevant to the job you're applying for. Review the qualifications listed and implied in the job advertisement. Make sure you also visit the company website to determine if a more detailed job description is available. If there's not much information available, you can review similar job vacancies on major job sites like to gain further insight. Or, interview professionals in your target field and inquire about the keywords and jargon they would recommend using given the knowledge and skills that are most highly valued in the field. Make a list of words and phrases used to describe the ideal candidate, and incorporate them into your job application materials. 
  2. You can use the most critical keywords more than once if possible, but don't go overboard. There will be no penalty for repetition and systems often tally points for each mention of a key asset, up to a realistic point.
  3. Incorporate a skills section or a summary of qualifications to list keywords for assets that you might have difficulty fully supporting through descriptions of the positions you have held.
  4. Generic resumes are the enemy of applicant tracking systems and will be the first documents screened out. Be sure to tailor your resume to each job you are targeting. Incorporate as many of the keywords and phrases that you have identified in the job description as possible, though make sure your writing still sounds natural and reads well.
  5. Don't leave off the dates of your employment. Systems may be screening based on the amount of experience required for a particular job.
  6. Keep the format simple and avoid fancy graphics. Plain text Word documents are usually the most easily digested by automated tracking systems. PDFs can be troublesome for automated tracking systems. Use a font size of at least 11 points and margins of at least one inch on all sides.
  7. You can usually utilize a somewhat longer document than the traditional 1- or 2-page resume since length doesn't typically matter for applicant tracking systems. Most systems will generate a summary of your resume data for decision-makers and not yield your actual resume. However, some employers will retrieve your actual document and view it online. To account for either case, use a simple but attractive format and avoid unnecessary and flowery language that will distract the reader from focusing on your most essential qualifications.
  8. Some employers also use software to search the web and assess your social media presence. Cultivate your brand online. Make sure the facts represented through your social media profiles are consistent with your resume and applications.
  9. Develop and save a "human eyes only" version of your resume for small employers and when you are dropping off resumes or networking. You also should bring a few extra copies of your traditional resume to your interviews.
  10. Don't put all your eggs in the automated online application basket. Regardless of how well your resume is designed to penetrate applicant tracking systems, you still should place a high priority on networking strategies. Given the flood of online resumes submitted to employers, it helps to have advocates inside organizations pointing out their view that you are a viable candidate. Most employers have an employee referral program, and an endorsement by a member of their staff might enable you to bypass an ATS screen.
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