The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a black hole that gobbles up 70 percent resumes submitted to companies through online applications. In the name of efficiency, companies that have 50 employees or more, pass down your painfully crafted resume to a bot. Only a handful of resumes get past the ATS into the hands of humans, who then objectively assess your worth as a candidate.
This process weeds out many weak applicants that have no business applying to that particular job. However, many candidates with just the right set of skills and all the relevant work chops never get past the ATS—making online applications a nightmare for most.
Many candidates don’t know what they’re doing wrong, so they keep doing the same thing over and over again—until an automated message from the company website tells them their application has been rejected—once again.
If you find yourself in these shoes, I suggest using 10 simple strategies to make changes to your existing resume. But, remember to always step outside the confines of your home into the offices that you dream to work for. Meeting real people in your industry might be the only way to beat the bots.
1. Tailor-make Your Resume
You’ve prolly been told that a cover letter should be your focal point while filling out online applications. Change your thinking to also include the resume. Use the job description advertised on the company website to influence what you need to keep or delete from your resume. Divide your resume into four basic sections—qualifications, experience, education, and skills. No point getting creative here.
2. Format Using Word
Most Applicant Tracking Systems are primitive bots incapable of reading PDF files with as much skill. Stick to plain, boring Microsoft Word to layout your qualifications. It doesn’t matter if your content spills onto to 2 or 3 pages. What matters is readability.
3. No Snazzy Fonts
Keep Didot and Egyptienne at bay. When it comes to fonts—stick to Times New Roman or Arial. Make sure the font size is at least 11. Give your resume breathing space of at least one inch from the margin. You don’t want to include any other formatting elements like fancy borders, shadows, logos, photographs, arrows, and lines. The ATS should not feel defeated.
4. Keywords Are Key
Use industry specific jargon to pepper each section of your resume. If you’ve no clue what these words are—ask a friend who works in the same field, use words from the job description provided to you on the job site, or pluck them out from LinkedIn profiles of people you admire. Once the resume gets past the ATS a human’s going to read it. So, make sure that the keywords come together to make perfect sense.
5. Sell Your Hard Skills Hard
The ATS needs to know the names of the software, tools, or programs you’re proficient in. It needs to know if you speak a foreign language relevant to this job, and the exact number of years under your belt. It doesn’t need to know how you’re a badass at Adobe Creative Suite, how fluent you are at that foreign language, or how well you multitask at work. Your soft skills are important, but only once you make it past the ATS.
6. What You Need To Do With Acronyms
Spell out the acronyms and keep their short forms tucked away in brackets for the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)—like so. Don’t use acronyms or jargon specific to companies that you worked for earlier. They’ll make no sense to humans and bots in any other context.
7. How You Should Format Dates
Write out the year as 2017 than ’17—again in the interest of readability. Look at the company’s lingo in the job description to figure out the language that’s appropriate for your resume. For ex. The difference between writing 5 years and five years matters in this case. Look for what the company wants and give them exactly that. If you’re a writer like me and the job description specifies thorough knowledge of the Associated Press Stylebook—mention just that. It doesn’t matter that you know The Chicago Manual of Style equally well.
8. Your Life Goals Don’t Matter
You don’t need to have a section for career objective. No one’s interested and certainly not a machine. You can have a profile section instead with a short paragraph that clearly defines your skills to match the job description given to you. Use the keywords you’ve researched earlier, but also make this paragraph an elevator pitch to impress your future boss.
9. Spellings Matter Big Time
Spelling mistakes are the biggest hurdle where an ATS is involved. The robot won’t understand you’re speaking English if you get the most crucial words in your resume wrong. Your resume will be ejected out of the system. On the other hand, if you manage to get a spotless resume through the ATS, chances are the human reading it on the other side will be happy too.
10. Try Sending Out The Pain Letter
If you’re convinced that this is the job of your dreams and you’ve researched the exact name and designation of the hiring manager—send out a pain letter. This means you’re gonna print out your resume and cover letter and post it directly to your future boss by traditional mail. In cities like New York where they love risk takers—the pain you went through to walk that extra mile might actually be worth it. Plus, the letter’s never gonna meet an ATS along the way.