New technology has revolutionized the job application process, bringing candidates closer to their ideal employment opportunities, or so it seems… until they get an automated email reply to their application form that leaves them baffled and wondering if there is a human being on the other end that actually read it. No, you are not hitting a brick wall, it is just that the rule of the job market game has changed. In the good old days, a candidate had to get past the secretary to arrange a meeting with the executive whereas in our tech-savvy era, you need to beat a robot to make an appointment with a recruiter.
Then who in the world is reading your resume? There are four potential readers and each of them has a different approach. Recruiters search for job applicants who meet the set criteria of their clients (usually, a hiring company). Screeners work with checklists, without fully understanding the position, so they allow candidates to move to the next stage only if they match the listed skills. The most flexible are the decision makers because they are in control of the interview and the hiring process. The antipode is the ATS, a computer scanning system that usually does the preliminary screening of resumes. It is reported that more than 95% of large organizations and more than 50% of mid-sized organizations use these systems on a daily basis, which is kind of impressive. If you ponder the probability that an ATS is your first encounter in most industries and the first “person” that reads your resume, you may wonder: really, does it read my resume?
To understand better, it is helpful to know what an ATS is and how it works. The infographic entitled Meet the Robots ( http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-get-past-the-robots-that-are-reading-your-resume-2015-2?IR=T ) produced by Column Five in collaboration with HireRight provides a simple, yet comprehensive description of ATS. This software application enables recruiters to manage the job openings of a company through the electronic preselection of job candidates. They could be implemented in the HR department of large companies or accessed online as open source programs on a small business level. They sort out the content of your resume into different categories: contact information, work experience, job titles, employers’ names, periods of employment, skills and education. If the contact information is neutral and the education is a fact, the way you list your skills and work experience in the resume makes a huge difference.
The ATS search among all the job ads that the company has ever published online and identify the keywords and phrases that are specific and distinctive to a particular job. According to their findings, they scan the current applications and determine how closely they match the keywords and phrases. The more dots connected, the better for the candidate. The information pulled out from the resumes is then organized in a database, so that the employers don’t see the resume that the candidate has submitted, only a bunch of summaries and analyses of it. Again, this is impressive and frightening as well, turning the writing of a resume into rocket science.
The subsequent two questions come naturally. Why do employers use robots’ assistance? Are they really helping? Think about large companies that get thousand of applications for different job openings just within a week. To handle them, these companies would need hundreds of people to spend all day long reading and classifying them, which is unproductive. The ATS save time and energy, speeding up the process of identifying the right candidates. They seem to be very efficient in matching the experience and skills and the qualifications employers are looking for, but the insiders have another opinion. It has been demonstrated that the ATS are very flawed and because of their weaknesses, they “kill 75 percent of candidates’ chances of landing an interview as soon as they submit their resumes” ( http://www.cio.com/article/2398753/careers-staffing/5-insider-secrets-for-beating-applicant-tracking-systems.html ). However, many companies take the easy way out and keep on using them.
Therefore, it may seem brutal, but the only option remaining is to optimize your resume to get past the ATS and get in front of two human eyes. It sounds like an SEO specialist job, as you have to carefully select and mix the keywords to tell the system what your resume is about. Follow some basic rules of thumb that grant you the successful passing of ATS screening. The best rule is KISS or keep it simple and stupid. No matter how intelligent this software is, don’t forget that at the end of the day they are only robots which do only what they have been told to. Bearing this inflexibility in mind, you will be more likely to develop your SEO skills.
To help the robot do its job, avoid fancy fonts and formats that could make the system choke or decimate your work. Although the software has improved a lot along the way and many can read now a PDF, use a Word or text file and standard fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, just to be on the safe side. Then, don’t even try to be inventive with the subheadings, as the ATS is likely to place sections under wrong categories or overpass them altogether. Another rule is to revise your resume many times until it is error-free because spelling mistakes mean the death of your resume. An ATS has no idea what a misspelled word means, so it will overlook the entire sentence because of a, let’s say, ‘innocent’ missing letter.
Pay attention to the keywords, they are considered the backbone of a resume. If you don’t know what these magical words are you can go over the job description and see which words are repeated or emphasized. You can also compare two job descriptions of the same position at different companies and write down the common words and expectations. Or the safest way, you can go straight to the source and analyze the keywords with an insider. An HR manager in that work sector could tell you better which skills and experience are appealing to them in their candidates.
Besides the conventional secret of keywords, there is a more powerful one: use industry lingo and relevant terminology. If you are not familiar with the terminology in a particular industry, do a research for specific jargon and add it to your resume. Such targeted language makes your story unique and relevant for the ATS, because it feeds the system the quite expected meal. Stereotype titles and abbreviations have to be preserved entirely in the resume. For example, it is recommended to both spell out words and include in-bracket abbreviations, like in Corporate social responsibility (CSR).
If all these facts about ATS seem a little scary, there is one more step to take: stay human in your resume. Even if it is tempting to turn your resume into a machine-beating device, don’t forget that at the end of the chain there is a real person who wants to read the resumes that defeated the system. If your resume got past the ATS you really need it to be appealing to human eyes. Once you won the technology, you need to conquer the human mind, which is far more complex and hard to pin down than a robot. However, the ATS play a decisive role in this process and you really need to look great to it in order to get the chance for a real interview in the end.