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ATS (Applicant Tracking System)

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading advice columns and I follow a few that are focused on workplace issues, such as Ask a Manager and The New York TimesWork Friend.” I thought it would be an interesting format to respond to a couple of questions I received recently after hosting a webinar on “Reengineer your resume to get the job you want.” We had a super engaged group on the webinar who asked many questions. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to answer them all, so here is my attempt to address a few of them, in a series of three short posts.

Today’s topic is on applicant tracking systems (ATS). I’ve written about ATS before and given a few workshops on it to various groups around Hong Kong. To get everyone up to speed, ATS are a form of automated recruiting software that uses algorithms to read, parse and classify your résumé into a format that is easy for the internal recruiter or manager to review. This means that if your résumé isn’t in the appropriate format, it could be rejected by the ATS. The recruiter then inputs keyword searches into the ATS that align to the top skills from the job description. The ATS then automatically ranks the top candidates according to how well their résumé matches up to the job description.  Confused? So are others! Let’s try to answer some questions!

How could we tell if the job I'm applying for is using ATS? (except the case when an email address is provided) – S.L. Great question! There are usually two ways that companies ask candidates to apply for jobs. 1. Via Email – The company will post an email address and ask you to submit your resume via an email attachment. 2. Via an online portal – If the company is asking you to submit your resume via an online portal – something where you have to fill in an online application and include your resume as an attachment – this is most likely an ATS system. 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS. Even 66% of medium-size companies and 35% of small companies use ATS as well. This means that your odds are pretty high that your resume is going to go through an ATS, even if you are applying to smaller companies. This is because the ATS software has gotten more efficient and less expensive over the years, as more cloud-based players have entered the market. There are a number of well-known ATS that are used by large MNC’s, including Workday, Taleo and SAP SuccessFactors. Popular ATS for small and medium sized companies include, Lever, BambooHR, Greenhouse and Bullhorn. One easy way to tell if your resume is going through an ATS system is to check out the URL of the job posting while you are submitting your application. Typically, you’ll be able to see the name of the ATS listed somewhere in the URL (see sample screenshot below). Want to know more about how an ATS works and how to beat the system so your resume rises to the top? Check out my detailed article here.

Do the tips on graphics/photos apply if you are emailing the CV direct rather than submitting through ATS? Couldn’t graphics sometimes help to get information across quicker than just text? – K.K. I recommend not including any photos or graphics on your résumé if you plan to apply to jobs via online job boards. Some ATS cannot process graphics of photos correctly and it may lead to your résumé being rejected. This is particularly risky if you buy what I call a “Pinterest” template. ATS systems can’t process these types of resumes with heavy design components. There’s a good chance that things like pie charts or icons will produce errors in the parsing process – sending your resume to the trash.

However, if you are emailing your resume directly to a hiring manager or to someone within your network, then including graphics is completely fine. If you are working in a more creative field (such as graphic design or photography), then it might be expected that you’d have a more “designer” resume. In this case, I recommend that you have two different resumes. One that is more traditional that you use for applying online and one that is more creative that you can use when emailing.

One other word of caution is that old-school hiring managers could be biased toward your snazzy resume template. They might be expecting a traditional resume and could react badly when they see your “Pinterest” version. Be aware that a recruiter might hate your design choices, also leading to implicit bias. But I think these risks are minor, particularly if you are in a creative field.

If you’re trying to “Reengineer your resume to get the job you want,” check out this clip from the webinar, which gives some helpful tips on how to structure your job search.

✅ Contact me if you want to have an amazing résumé that can beat the ATS and ensure you rise to the top!

✅ If you like this post, appreciate a 👍 and please follow me for updates. Renee Conklin is a career coach and HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIn!

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