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10 Applicant Tracking System Tips to Get Your Resume into Human Hands

June 24, 2015

Have you responded to job posting after job posting with little or no success, leaving you with the feeling that your resume has been lost in a cyber Bermuda Triangle?  If so, you’re not alone.  A common applicant complaint is that they never get interviews or even responses after they submit their resumes to a company, and it is no surprise.  In many cases, a resume is rejected from consideration before an interviewer even sees it, because of the growing popularity of applicant tracking systems (ATS).  According to a Wall Street Journal article, upwards of 90% of large companies use an ATS in recruiting and hiring, and the number of small- and mid-size companies using them is increasing substantially.

 

But there is good news for an applicant who is battling the difficulties of getting past a computer to showcase their skills to a recruiter.  By submitting an ATS-friendly resume, you can actually gain an edge over less-informed applicants, even if they are better qualified for the job posting!  Let’s look at how applicant tracking systems function, and ways to improve your chances of getting your resume into human hands.

 

About Applicant Tracking Systems

Why do so many companies use applicant tracking systems?  There are a few reasons, but the biggest appeal is these systems streamline the resume screening process.  Since responding to job postings has become so simple, one advertised opening may draw hundreds of resumes.  The ATS can sort these resumes based upon specified parameters that include job titles, keywords and years of experience, providing a match rating for each one. Then, the resumes are ordered by their ratings.  If your resume doesn’t rank in the top 10 to 20, there is little chance that it will be viewed by a person.  Even if you are a strong candidate, you will be overlooked.  To increase your resume’s rating, follow the tips below.   

 

Tip # 1:  Submit Your Resume in .doc or .txt Format

Many applicant tracking systems have trouble reading PDFs, and will view a PDF resume as a picture instead of a document, resulting in it being rejected by the ATS.  Also, when given the option during an apply-online application, it is better to submit your resume as an attached document then it is to cut and paste it into a text box.  The ATS will have an easier time reading the attached .doc or .txt document, resulting in a higher rating.  

 

Tip #2:  Keep Formatting Simple

Even though you may be tempted to highlight your creativity by having a resume that stands out, applicant tracking systems are very poor at interpreting complex formatting, so simple is best. Don’t include graphics, tables, watermarks or columns. To highlight information on your resume, try using bullet points and bolding.  Also, don’t use a resume template.  Templates have a lot of hidden formatting codes that tend to confuse an ATS.  Finally, use a sans-serif font (11 point or larger), such as Verdana or Tahoma rather than a serif font like Cambria.

 

Tip #3: List the Dates You were Employed at Each Position

As mentioned, applicant tracking systems use dates of employment as a way to rate a resume. For instance, if a company is seeking an administrative assistant, someone who has held an administrative job for 20 years will rate much higher than someone with only one year of experience. When dates are not included, the system will automatically rate your experience as low, ranking you near the bottom.  Also, it is best to list the names of the employers first, followed by the dates you worked at the company.  Some ATS get confused if you list the dates first.

 

Tip #4: Use Standard Job Titles

Resumes with job titles that match the job listing will be given the best rating by an ATS.  Even if your company was creative in naming your job, use the most common job titles for your position on your resume, or even better, one that matches the job for which you are applying.  It only takes a moment to edit your resume so the job titles match, but it can pay big dividends.

 

Tip #5: Include Descriptions of the Type of Companies That Employed You

Many recruiters feel that candidates with experience in their industry are ideal matches, so if you include a description of the company and the product or service they provide, you could hit on one of the recruiter’s keywords, pushing your resume to the top.  For instance, a chemical manufacturer may search on the keyword, “chemical manufacturing.”

 

Tip #6: Use Bullet Points Instead of Paragraphs

Typically, bullet points are easier for an ATS to read than paragraphs.  And, once your resume gets past the ATS, bullet points are easier for a recruiter to read as well.

 

Tip #7: Include Keywords

When applying for a job, pay close attention to the keywords used in the job description and skill requirements.  Then, review your resume and make sure that these keywords are sprinkled throughout your resume.  If you find that most of the keywords in the job description don’t apply to your experience, you are probably not a match for that particular position and your time would be better spent focusing on other opportunities.

 

Tip #8:  List Technical Knowledge/Skills/Certifications/Degrees – Be Specific

When seeking the ideal candidate, a recruiter will utilize keywords for the position’s desired technical knowledge, education and certifications, making it vital that you include specifics about these items. For instance, if you are a computer programmer with experience programming JavaScript, C# and PHP, list each one on your resume.  Also include all certifications and degrees you have obtained or are working towards. The more details you provide, the better your odds of a high rating.

 

Tip #9: Use Both Acronyms and the Full Spelling of Titles, Certifications & Industry Lingo

It is hard to predict if a potential employer will use an acronym or the full title as a search parameter.  Even though there have been many applicant tracking system advancements, some systems won’t recognize that CPA also means Certified Public Accountant, so listing both is best.

 

Tip #10: Double-Check Your Resume for Spelling Errors & Typos

If you misspell a keyword, the ATS will not find it on your resume.  And, it won’t be just the ATS that rejects you.  Recruiters quickly eliminate candidates with misspellings and typos on their resumes.  To be safe, have someone review your resume for errors.  A new set of eyes may catch a mistake that you missed.

 

In Conclusion

Even though searching for a new position is a daunting task with many obstacles along the way, following these tips will help you get your resume past the ATS gatekeeper and into human hands.

 

Feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments section.

 

 

 

If you’re ready to find an exciting new position in the Cleveland area, let the experienced team at Area Professionals help fast track your job search. Contact our expert recruiters today.

 

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