Résumés for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Résumé tracking is the norm these days. Most mid-sized to large organizations receive hundreds and even thousands of résumés through the internet. Company representatives must deal with these huge volumes and somehow find and select the ideal candidate. As a result, employers and recruiters rely on technology to automate the résumé selection process.
Driven primarily by the increasing volume of applicants, the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) was born. Through the ATS, employers are able to sort, rank, store, and manage the considerable number of résumés they receive on a daily basis. Ideally, only a few good résumés will be selected out for recruiters and employers to read and they will never need to spend time handling the rest.
There are many different ATS systems on the market, and each is somewhat different. Some have multi-layered functionality and others have quite basic features. As with most technology, no ATS is perfect. They parse out poor candidates, but they sometimes filter out strong, qualified ones, too.
Many résumés are misread by ATS. This is because the system requires specific formatting and structure. Veering from this even a bit may hamper correct scanning, interpretation, and filtering.
Your client may be the ideal candidate, but if he or she does not have the right résumé, no one may ever know it. But, if you understand the way the system works — including its weaknesses — you can improve your client’s chances of being selected for an interview.
To ensure that your client’s résumé passes the résumé tracking system, analyze it against the following areas that might be missed, misaligned, misunderstood, or muddled by ATS systems:
- ATS systems are gluttons for information — they can take in seemingly unlimited amounts of data. Your client’s résumé can be as lengthy as it needs to be so that you can give the system as much relevant information as possible.
- ATS can’t decipher the meaning or significance of the subjective and intangible value the job seeker brings. To improve the résumé’s relevance and ranking, ensure that it includes words and phrases that match the job posting or job description closely.
- While “longer-the-better” résumés may be effective, you can boost the ATS ranking by cutting articles, pronouns, and other unnecessary words out of the document.
- Keywords and key phrases are crucial to the functionality of ATS, but the ATS cannot always translate or exchange synonyms. Consider including many variations of keywords and phrases in the résumé.
- ATS algorithms are designed to select keywords and phrases that are specific to a particular job, but unique and different from other job postings in its data base. Your client’s résumé will be ranked not only against the post, but also against other résumés that are submitted. Take your keywords to the next level by adding keywords that other candidates might not think of using.
- ATS résumés are parsed into components to compare applicants “apples-to-apples.” It expects to locate the following sections in your résumé: Contact Information, Summary, Work Experience, and Education. If you have anything important to share, make sure to do it in one of these sections so that the ATS ranking system will include the information in its tallying of “credits” (points).
- Most systems only recognize a very straightforward reverse chronological structure. Even if your client has earned promotions within a company, list every job separately. In every section, include the company name, job title, the start and end dates, job responsibilities, and achievements, in that order.
- The system calculates the number of years’ experience for each competency to calculate the number of credits that the job seeker will be assessed. Therefore, it is best to list activities in every position held, repeating them multiple times if necessary.
- Most ATS need work history to credit applicants for experience. Even if your client is a student, include a “work history” section; add projects so that the ATS will give credit for skills and competencies.
- It is beneficial to include special sections such as: Certifications, Professional Memberships, Speaking Engagements, Publications, and Lists of Patents since it will allow you to incorporate additional keywords that are relevant for the ATS. However, these areas do not affect the résumé’s overall points and ranking within most ATS systems.
- ATS prefer Word documents (.doc or .docx), but are also capable of scanning text files and PDFs. Some employers will specify the type of file they would like candidates to upload, so be sure to follow their instructions during the online application process.
ATS may be smart, but people are smarter. The most diligent recruiters know that they may miss strong candidates if the ATS does not “screen in” strong résumés, for whatever reason. They may continue to very briefly scan every résumé, just in case someone special is sitting in their candidate pool. In addition, many savvy recruiters will jump at the opportunity to meet candidates who take the time to call and explain why they are a perfect fit for the opportunity. So, if your client is not chosen for an interview, but is a strong fit for the role, recommend that he or she follow up with the employer directly.
Need training on creating ATS résumés that get results? Join us for Technology Optimized Résumés.
Sharon Graham is founder and executive director of Career Professionals of Canada. Committed to setting the standard for excellence in the career development profession, Sharon has authored top-selling paperback publications and textbooks, and has established a range of certification, professional development, community development, and mentoring and award programs. As executive director of CPC, she provides foresight and leadership within the career development sector and ensures that the mandate of CPC is upheld with integrity.