Beat the Bots! Make your resume ATS-friendly
Updated: Mar 11
As I’ve written about before, technology has made the job search process both so much easier and so much harder for candidates. When you can apply for a job at the click of a button, thousands of people do it – spreading their risk, but making it harder for you – the actual, qualified candidate – to get an interview.
Technology has made it easier to look for a job, but harder to actually find one.
When I work with clients, I am often shocked by the number of them who have never heard of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Why should you care about what an ATS is? Because 98% of Fortune 500 companies are using them in their recruitment process. You might say, “That’s ok, Renee. I’m looking for jobs at SME’s or start-ups.” Think again! 66% of large companies and 35% of SME’s are using ATS as the technology improves and becomes more cost effective. So, there is no escaping it!
But why are ATS such a big deal? Because 75% of qualified résumés are rejected by the ATS because they can’t be read. This could be YOU!
If you are still writing your résumé thinking that it will be reviewed by someone that looks like this, then think again.
You need to write your résumé for someone that looks like this:
Scary? Intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. Read on for tips on how you can beat the ATS and make sure your résumé rises to the top.
How do Applicant Tracking Systems work? Applicant Tracking Systems 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. For example, if a job posting received 100 applications, the recruiter will only review the top 10 that the ATS deemed a good match. The remaining 90 will be rejected with no one having looked at them except an algorithm.
Beat the ATS There are a few simply ways you can write your résumé to make sure it gets past the ATS bots. Make sure you have a clean layout with common headings (like education, experience, etc) and a consistent format. Don’t include any photos or graphics on your résumé as some ATS cannot process these and it may lead to your résumé being rejected. Using tables or columns is also a no-no. Many ATS will jumble your content if your résumé contains tables or columns, leading to lost job opportunities. Using headers or footers can also cause problems. Please don’t put your contact details in your header! This is a surefire way to ensure your perfect résumé gets lost in the ATS.
Although they may look stylish and easy, don’t be tempted to purchase an online résumé template. They look great, but they wreak havoc when trying to apply for roles via an ATS. Remember to use just one standard font style (such as Times New Roman, Calibri and Arial) throughout your résumé. Clients often ask me if they should submit their résumé as a PDF or as a word document. Generally speaking, PDF documents are always best because they retain your formatting and ensure no one can make any changes to the document after you’ve sent it out. However, some ATS systems are better at picking out keywords in Word documents, so pay attention to what format the company’s website is specifically requesting.
How to Get Found in the ATS To make sure your résumé gets into that top 10% that are actually reviewed by a human, maximize your own personal SEO. Your résumé should be keywork heavy – I usually recommend at least 6 keywords. Where do you find these keywords you may ask? From the job description of course! It’s also a good idea to try to incorporate the exact title of the position you are applying for. For example, if the position is for a “Marketing Executive” and your role at your previous company was “Marketing Guru,” you can revise the wording to align to the job description. Or, you can include the exact job title somewhere in the summary/introduction section of your résumé.
Be careful with acronyms. Some ATS have trouble understanding that an MBA and a Master of Business Administration are the same thing. Whenever you can, take the time to spell out any common acronyms on your résumé. You never know exactly which keyword search is being used by the ATS!
Lastly, clients often ask me if they really need to condense their entire career onto a one-page résumé. These days, the one-page rule no longer applies. My general guideline is that if you have less than five years of experience, your résumé should be no more than 1 page, but anything more than that can be two pages. However, I always try to restrict clients to no more than two pages. Remember that once your résumé maneuvers successfully through the ATS system, there is still a time-poor recruiter on the other end, spending about 6 seconds reviewing it.
So that's it! Simple tips for understanding how an ATS system works, how you can beat it, and how you can make sure your résumé makes it past the bots and into the hands of a recruiter!
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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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