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Beyond the Resume (Part 2): 7 Things Every Job Seeker Should Know About ATS

ATS_NavigateAs competition in the job market heats up, the frustration level rises for job candidates trying to get their resumes in front of recruiters. Many are bemoaning the fact that applicant tracking systems (ATS) have taken the human out of human resources. They perceive that they are being treated as commodities, and to them this perception is real. HR professionals, on the other hand, would counter this by saying they are swamped with too many resumes, and need a cost-effective tool to manage their recruiting process.

Jon Ciampi, former CEO of Preptel, now VP of Marketing at CRC Health Group, knows quite a bit about ATSs. “Applicant tracking systems contain different database fields for information on a resume, such as the candidate’s name, contact details, work experience, job titles, education, employer names and periods of employment. These systems try to identify this information on a job seeker’s resume, but if a resume isn’t formatted according to the applicant tracking system, it won’t pull this information into the proper fields.”

One of my clients wanted to know how she could make sure her resume was selected by an applicant tracking system on a government website. She had all the qualifications for the job. We discussed the pros and cons of the ATS, and I told her she should ensure that her resume mirrors the job posting as much as possible. I encouraged her to do a practice run of the application process right up to the ‘Submit’ button then cancel it. This allowed her to get a behind-the-scenes look at the system. After that exercise she completed the formal application.

A few days later she logged into her account and was shocked to see that over 4,000 people had applied for the position. She was equally shocked last week when she was called for an interview. We concluded that her resume was selected by the system because she had used the right keywords, and aligned her experience with the requirements of the position.

Having written about applicant tracking systems and listened to experts discuss them, I believe that every job seeker should know the following seven things to better navigate the ATS:

  1. Approximately 80% of large and small employers use some form of an ATS. Since employers are flooded with hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes for very few positions, they turn to ATSs to help them deal with the onslaught, and save time and money.
  2. Applicant tracking systems operate on a level playing field. Many job seekers view these systems as just another unnecessary barrier to their job search. On the contrary, they actually level the playing field. Each resume is treated fairly because ATSs are programmed to recognize and select keywords that are specific to the job description. They also gather information based on specific headings and titles. If a resume does not conform to these specific requirements, it will not be read by the ATS.
  3. The length of a resume is not an issue. No need to worry if a two- or three-page resume will be accepted. A longer resume created in plain text and crammed with relevant keywords is preferable to one that is beautifully designed.
  4. Tables, graphics and special characters are difficult to read. Most applicant tracking systems cannot read tables, special characters or images. That’s the reason for the plain text version. The nicely formatted, graphic-rich resume is more suitable for networking purposes, in-person interviews or as an email attachment. They are also useful if the system offers an option to upload a Word or PDF document.
  5. About 75% of qualified candidates are eliminated by the system. This may appear to be in contrast to the point mentioned earlier, but one of the main reasons qualified candidates are rejected is that they do not understand how to configure their resumes to fit the ATS.
  6. Sandbagging the system is a test of your integrity. Do not manipulate the system by using needless repetitions of words and phrases or by using white fonts to hide keywords. This is known as ‘sandbagging’, and recruiters view any attempt to game the system as dishonest.
  7. All applicant tracking systems are not created equal. ATSs are becoming more sophisticated as developers put new versions on the market at rapid speed. These different versions do different things. The onus is on you, the job seeker, to do the research to find out what system your prospective employer uses and adapt your resume accordingly.

While there are no guarantees with the ATS, your resume will stand a better chance of being selected by the system if you take the time to understand how it works. In the meantime, keep networking. It is the best way to land that job.

Related links:

10 Resume Tips to Beat the ATS

Robots Are Reading Your Resume

How to Leverage Applicant Tracking Systems to Land a Job

 

Why Dumbing Down Your Resume is a Dumb Idea

Resume_iStock_000015851364Small

If you are dumbing down your resume and downplaying your achievements, you are playing small. You are cowering under the pressure of other people’s opinions. You are undervaluing your capabilities.

The majority of my clients are aspiring managers, managers and emerging executives. Some are also senior leaders or presidents of their own companies but are considering corporate opportunities. Many are faced with challenges from being told they are overqualified, they don’t have Canadian experience, or that they are too old.

I had a conversation with a senior leader (someone in his late fifties) this past week where he said that headhunters have told him that he is too old. I asked him how old is his intellectual capital – that mass of knowledge, ideas and experience housed in his cranium that some 30- or 40-somethings wouldn’t have. This man is an executive within the energy industry, and prior to that worked in the investment and bond markets. Will his age prevent him from adding value to a company?

My colleague Sharon Graham, wrote a blog post recently on this topic. The link is posted below. In it she exposed some of the myths about dumbing down one’s resume. She discussed the fact that there is currently a leadership vacuum, and that new industries are emerging, while others are here to stay. For those reasons, one should highlight one’s achievements instead of dumbing them down.

We live in a real world where these things happen, and I know you hear it quite often. Employers, hiring managers and recruiters telling you overtly or covertly that you are overqualified or you are too old. This is a dumb approach and only serves to exclude potentially good candidates. By the same token it  puts you on the defensive. There are strategies that you, a potentially good candidate, can use to overcome these barriers:

  1. Research the potential employer thoroughly then focus on areas where you know you can solve their problems and add value. Don’t apologize for your accomplishments and successes.
  2. Seek to connect with decision makers, or other people who know these decision makers. This proactive approach might be uncomfortable for some of you but it’s better than constantly uploading  resumes that may end up in the resume black hole.
  3. Be prepared to begin your conversation with something like: “I want you, just for a moment, to suspend your belief that I am overqualified, too old, don’t have Canadian experience [or whatever your specific circumstance is]. If you would like your company to remain where it is, then I might not be a good fit. But, if you would like to see explosive growth within the next X months/years, then we should be having a discussion.” Of course, you have to back up this blatant claim with your proven success stories.

It is the responsibility of managers, emerging executives, or any job seeker for that matter, to focus on what they have to offer their next employer. The next step is to determine how they can package this offer in a way that will have employers reaching out to them. This is not the time to leave your career up to job boards, applicant tracking systems, or junior staff who sometimes screen you out because their perception is that you are overqualified or too old.

If you find yourself downplaying your achievements, it’s time to stop. You are someone with a whole lot of things to offer. Stand tall, pull your shoulders back and be prepared to articulate your stories in ways that produce conversations. If you are meeting too much resistance, then ask yourself if this particular organization would be a good place for your to work.

Have you been told to dumb down your resume? If so, share your story in the comments section below, reach out to a career coach, or contact me. We just might be able to help you overcome these job search obstacles.

Related resources

Dumbing Down a Resume is Not a Great Idea (Sharon Graham)

10 Resume Tips to Beat Online Applicant Tracking Systems

 

10 Resume Tips to Beat Online Applicant Tracking Systems

Career Coach Daisy Wright

Are you a job seeker who is frustrated with online applicant tracking systems (ATS)? Do you often wonder if your resume has disappeared into a blackhole because the only response you have had from the company is a generic, computer-generated acknowledgement? Well, you have a legitimate reason to be frustrated. After all, only 1% of total applicants get an interview. It’s also likely that your resume may have fallen into the 75% (approximately) of resumes that are discarded for using the wrong words. [Source: Preptel].

To help you understand the ATS process, and to find out how you can boost the chances that your resume will get through this ubiquitous system, I contacted two experts: Chip Cohan, VP of Business Development at PrepTel, and Sylvia Dahlby, of Advanced Personnel Systems, Inc., the company that develops the SmartSearch® applicant tracking system.

SmartSearch® helps companies find resumes fast in a searchable database, and because employers can store thousands of resumes in databases, the system helps them identify qualified candidates among previous as well as new applicants.

PrepTel, on the other hand, is a job seeker’s ally. They are the developers of ResumeterTM, a tool that uses the same technology hiring companies use to help identify deficiencies and show where a résumé may be improved, so it rises to the top of the applicant pool during the screening process. According to Chip, the tool “…enables individuals to quickly and easily customize a résumé for each job opening increasing the success the résumé will be reviewed and considered for an interview”.  This Candidate Optimization service is purported to “…improve a candidate’s chances of getting an interview, securing an offer, and maximizing their compensation package.”

Below are some tips that you should consider when using applicant tracking systems:

  1. Don’t limit the length of your resume. Job seekers are often told to limit their resumes to two pages. That’s still OK if you are sending it as an attachment or delivering it in person, but if you are using the ATS, you can send in a longer version.
  2. Use a generic heading like ‘Work Experience’. Fancy headings like Career Summary, Career Progression, and Notable Accomplishments, are passed over by the system because it is not designed to recognize such headings.
  3. Begin the work experience section with the name of your employer. It is customary to start this section with the employment dates, but the system looks for the name(s) of employers first. Therefore, start with employer’s name, your title, and the dates you held these titles, and place them on separate lines.
  4. Keep formatting simple and omit tables and graphics. The system cannot read graphics, and misreads PDF files and tables.
  5. Include a blend of keywords and phrases. Keywords are important, but the system is programmed to conduct semantic searches where it looks for strings of words identified in the job posting.
  6. Do not ‘sand-bag’ the system. Mirror the job posting as much as possible, but do not manipulate the system with needless repetitions of words and phrases. Recruiters frown on candidates who try to game the system.
  7. Research the company’s corporate culture. Before you submit your resume, visit the company’s website to get a sense of its corporate culture. Look at the words they use to describe their value, then incorporate those words in your resume and/or cover letter.
  8. Make the Resume Easy and Fast to Read. Even though the machinery is searching for keywords, candidates are well advised to have a nice, clean looking document with plenty of white space that’s easy to read on a computer screen and in print.
  9. Use Bullet Points. To avoid long sentences and huge blocks as paragraphs, it is advisable to use bullets, preferably asterisks.
  10. Add a Cover Letter. The cover letter is the perfect place to show interest and fit for the company culture.

Dahlby also offered some additional suggestions:  Job seekers should rewrite their resumes for each position to make sure they mirror the job description. She also advised against ‘sandbagging’ the process. Sandbagging is when candidates include needless repetitions of words and phrases, or when they try to ‘game’ the system by using a lot of keywords and hiding them with white fonts.

With the above information, you should now be equipped to optimize your resume to make sure it ranks high enough where a human will, at the very least, read it, and your frustration level should be reduced a notch.

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