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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

 

Beyond the Resume (Part 1): Unconventional Ways to Get Noticed By Your Next Employer

Beyond_the_Resume_Red2Are you tired of your resume being rejected by inanimate applicant tracking systems? Have you been spending hours of your precious time submitting your resume on websites without success? Is it beginning to feel like you are going fishing but keeps returning with an empty net? If you answered “Yes” to those questions, it’s time to apply some outrageous strategies to get the attention of your next employer.

In this three-part “Beyond the Resume” series, you will be introduced to some unconventional, and sometimes outrageous strategies that people have used to get the attention of employers.

There is a popular quote that says “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got.”  If that’s what you have been doing without much success, it’s time to suspend all that you know about the job search, stop doing what everyone is doing, and try something different, scary, and unconventional. After all, what do you have to lose?

Below I have highlighted some unconventional ways that people have been able to get the attention of employers. Some have landed their dream jobs; others are in the initial stages:

Foot in the Door Strategy: The first is a story I heard of a woman who wanted to work for the biggest advertising agency in town. She sent the owner a box with a shoe (a new one) along with a note that said, “Now that I have my foot in your door, I’d like to talk to you about a job.” “Outrageous”, you say. “That would never work for me or anyone I know”. It might or might not, but this lady had done her homework and knew this gentleman was likely to be impressed with her strategy. (She got the interview, and the job.) Bear in mind that companies hire when they see someone with the skillset they need…that’s why you should aim to get your foot in the door.

Failed Fax Machine: Last week my Office Coordinator client tried to fax her resume and cover letter as requested in the company’s job posting. She tried for hours and couldn’t get through. She decided to Google the name of the company to get the phone number. She found the information and made a call. Here is her account of what transpired:

“I called [Company] on Wednesday because after faxing for about an hour and getting a continuous busy signal… I had to make the call. I had a long and informative conversation with a gentleman. He explained that they have had, and are still having problems with their faxes and emails.  He invited me to submit my resume by snail mail. After hanging up the phone I googled his name and found out he is the owner of the company. I amended my cover letter to read:

Dear Mr. _____,

Thank you for giving so freely of your time to explain the problems with the fax machine at your office. I was hesitant to call as the ad stated .. no phone calls, but I was quite concerned that my cover letter and resume for the Office Coordinator position was not going to end up on your desk if the fax wasn’t working. I can only hope that the problem is corrected quickly so that orders are received and processed in a timely manner and you can continue the business of running [Company].  

I finished with the rest of my cover letter.”

This client did not allow a non-working fax machine to stop her from getting through. She took the initiative to call, and who who did she get? The owner of the company. Her resume and cover letter have probably reached the owner’s desk by this. Let’s see what happens.

Focusing on Microsoft: I have often talked about this young man in Oregon who tried for two years to get into Microsoft through the normal ‘apply online’ channel. Realizing that it wasn’t working for him, he decided to start adding his comments on Microsoft’s blogs on any topic that was within his realm of expertise. Someone took notice and began to monitor him and his comments. Very soon he was contacted by a Microsoft recruiter and within 10 days of the contact he had landed his dream job.

This story was shared by a senior recruiter at Microsoft some time ago during a recruiters’ teleconference.

This Business Insider link – Best Techie Resumes – also provides additional creative ways that some people have landed opportunities. And, before you begin to think it worked for them because they are technical wizards, put on your thinking caps and see how it could work for you.

The above examples are some bold and probably outrageous ways to stand out, get connected, get interviewed, and get hired. You might not want to be that in-your-face, but consider this, how else will you be found?

The point of this post is: whether you are entry-level job seeker, an aspiring manager, manager, or emerging executive, you too, can do something outrageous and unconventional to pull employers towards to you. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of nerves.

Are you ready to do some out-of-the-box thinking to land your dream job? Share your strategies here.

Why Are Robots Reading Your Resume?

Robot Reading ResumeAfter a robust discussion this week on a LinkedIn Group (Career Coach Forum) about applicant tracking systems, one contributor, Sharon Davis shared the infographic below about ATS.

What started out as a discussion about the length of time recruiters take to scan a resume, ended up as a segue into a thread on the inanimate ATS (applicant tracking system). That pesky tool that gets to decide which resumes get in front of the hiring manager, and which ones don’t.

Resume overload in human resources departments has given rise to robot-like applicant tracking systems. One of my earlier blog posts, 10 Resume Tips to Beat Online Applicant Tracking Systems, explains how these systems work, but this HireRight graphic shows how job seekers what they can do to ensure their resumes have a better chance of being seen by recruiters.

Since applicant tracking systems remain core to HR, according to Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte, job seekers should learn how they work and beat them at their own game.

Meet the Robots Reading Your Resume - An infographic by HireRight

Attribution to www.hireright.com for this graphic.

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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