Best practices for an ATS-friendly job search
Follow these tips if you want to make sure your résumé gets into the right (human) hands.
Like something out of a science-fiction movie, today's hiring process often includes computer programs, called "applicant tracking systems," that scan and sort résumés to determine which should be reviewed by a hiring manager. If you've ever applied for a job online, there's a good chance your résumé was viewed by an ATS.
As a job seeker, what can you do to make sure your résumé gets in front of a human being? Check out these tips for beating the machine and getting closer to the job you want.
The use of an ATS in the hiring process
Why do businesses use these systems in their hiring process? "Typically, the larger the organization, the more complex the hiring process will be for the applicant," says Bryan Timsah, human resources manager for Home Creations, based in Moore, Okla. "Large companies may receive thousands of applications per position. That is where the use of an ATS becomes vital for such organizations. Then, they can create pre-qualifying questions to ask during the online application process."
While an ATS can be used to find qualified candidates in a large pool of applicants, such screening software is also sometimes used to reduce the number of people who are able to apply. "Some are specifically asked for that position to weed out any unqualified candidates," Timsah says. "For example, for a driving position, one pre-qualifying position would ask: 'Do you have a valid state driver's license?' With a higher volume of candidates, usually tighter requirements become standard, such as having a bachelor's degree, instead of just an associate [degree] or requiring 10 years' experience versus the original six years. They all vary by organization because the pre-qualifying questions are fully customizable."
Working with the ATS
Since ATS screening is becoming a more common part of the hiring process, it's important to know how to get your résumé past the system. "You may have a great background with a wealth of career-related experience; however, if you do not include terminology from the posted position description that relates to your knowledge, skills and abilities, you might get passed by via the ATS," says Eric Melniczek, a career counselor at High Point University in High Point, N.C. and the author of the book "Transition to the Real World." "Have a trusted friend or family member review your marketing materials (résumé, cover letter, etc.) after reading over a copy of the position description. Ask them if they would interview you based on your résumé [or] cover letter and the company position description."
The use of keywords in your résumé can ensure that it's ATS-friendly. For instance, many systems look for keywords that are used throughout the résumé, rather than concentrated in one spot, such as on a list. Customize your résumé for each position, and use keywords from the job description throughout the document.
Always remember to be truthful about your capabilities when translating your experience. It's smart to write language from the job description into your résumé, but it's not OK to say you're good at a skill that don't possess. "When applying online, applicants should know that honesty is the best policy," Timsah says. "Ultimately, it's all about identifying the best candidate (out of possibly hundreds or thousands) for that position. If the company finds exaggerations or untruthful answers on an application, it will only lead to mistrust and a guaranteed removal from the hiring process."
Working around the ATS
If you think you'd do better face to face, rather than trying to make it through the ATS, there are ways to work around the systems. "ATSs can benefit an organization, as it identifies a pool of candidates who might be the best fit for the vacancy," Melniczek says. "However, nothing can replace endorsements, recommendations or referrals from current or past well-respected associates within the organization. The key in the hiring process is to obtain an internal employee referral. Many companies incentivize their associates by paying them a bonus for referring friends and family members for hiring needs. If you have a friend or family member who works for the organization, ask them if they would be able to get your résumé to the hiring manager [or] decision maker."
If your references don't have an "in," turn to social media and expand your network. "Utilizing a resource such as LinkedIn can benefit the job seeker when he or she is looking to get their résumés into the physical hands of the hiring manager versus into the ATS," Melniczek says.