When I speak with my clients for the first time, and we discuss crafting and strategizing their LinkedIn profile and resume, most of them don’t know about the resume black hole, or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
ATS were developed to deal with the overwhelming number of resumes executive recruiters and employers receive these days for openings posted on job boards and company websites.
Many job seekers have aggravated this situation because, even though they may be unqualified for a job posting, they’ll send out their resume to any and all job listings that are even remotely a fit for them.
How do Applicant Tracking Systems work?
Here’s what happens when you respond to a job listing online, or send your resume to a gatekeeper – an executive recruiter or human resources department:
1. The document is put into a database or ATS, along with thousands of other resumes, for various kinds of jobs they’re trying to fill.
2. To call up good-fit candidates, the database parses the content for relevant keywords pertaining to a particular job.
3. Resumes with enough of the right keywords, according to particular criteria, are chosen.
4. Resumes that are incorrectly formatted, don’t contain enough relevant keywords, or don’t fit the bill in some other way aren’t called up, at least for that particular job.
But companies need ATS, right?
Maybe. But they don’t do their job well . . . and they pose several problems:
→ When you respond to a job listing, the site won’t tell you that your resume will go through an ATS. And, if you’re like most of the executive job seekers I’ve spoken with, you don’t know about ATS. You upload a highly-formatted resume without pumping it full of the right keywords. It gets dumped into the system and then never called up.
→ There is not one universal ATS and they’re always evolving. A resume with formatting enhancements may work for some ATS, but not for others. The job seeker has no way of knowing.
→ Companies lose out too. ATS actually eliminate most candidates. Even 100% perfect-fit candidates may get passed by because they don’t know about ATS and how to get their resume through them.
And job seekers need job boards to get a job, right?
Unfortunately, landing a job is not that simple. This job search strategy yields dismal results. Something like only 10% of jobs are landed through job boards.
Recruiters are a source for jobs, but they, too, don’t provide a great success rate, so you can’t heavily rely on them to get you a job.
That is why I recommend spending very little time on these strategies. Use job boards for research instead.
What’s a job seeker to do, to keep their resume out of the black hole?
The lesson here is that networking is still the best way to land a good-fit job. Here’s the advice I give to my clients regarding ATS:
Network your way into your target companies, circumventing the gatekeepers and therefore ATS, for as long as you can. If a candidate makes a person-to-person connection with a hiring manager and becomes an even somewhat known entity BEFORE their resume goes into ATS, they’re more likely to sail through the ATS.
Send the people you’re networking with 3 versions of your resume:
1. A nicely formatted Word version that’s pleasing to the human eye.
2. A PDF version of #1 because formatting of Word documents may shift from one computer or device to the next when viewed and printed. A PDF will always look exactly like the original document.
3. An ATS or text version in case they’ll be forwarding your resume over to an ATS. Let them know that’s why you’re sending it. And let them know that, if they’re viewing your resume on a mobile device, this is the version to open. The formatted Word and PDF versions may not be mobile-friendly, depending upon their device.
What if you want to use job boards?
If you decide to respond to job board listings, use the ATS-friendly version to either cut and paste your resume content into the blocks provided, or upload the document, following the instructions on the site.
Perhaps surprisingly, your ATS-friendly resume needs to be human-friendly, too. A hiring professional will review it once the system calls it up.
Your ATS-friendly resume, just like the nicely formatted version, should reinforce your personal brand. Be sure to give a feel for your personality and softer skills, along with hard skills, which translate to the all important relevant keywords and phrases needed to succeed through ATS.
What does an ATS-friendly resume look like?
Not much. To successfully make it through ANY ATS, don’t include the following:
- Underlining and graphic lines
- Graphic boxes
- Special characters
- Word headers and footers
Here’s what you can, and should, include or do:
- Any characters sitting directly on your keyboard.
- A list of relevant keywords in the Summary section at the top.
- Also use these keywords throughout the content.
- Use a Word document, but make it the second most recent version (Word 2003 at this writing). Some companies have not upgraded to the newer Word versions.
- Don’t worry about length. The ATS doesn’t care. In fact, more content probably means more of the important keywords and phrases will be there.