Optimizing Your Resume for Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Software
Advancements in the field of technology has changed every major aspect of our lives, including the ways in which recruiters hire these days. Many fresh graduates and job seekers might be surprised to know that the reason why they never hear back from recruiters is that their
resume or job application was never optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
While some HR professionals still manually read resumes, many companies today are using computer software applications to shortlist candidates for interviews. (especially large corporations)
They use these systems in order to be more efficient in handling the large volume of resumes they receive. It is not uncommon to receive hundreds or even thousands of resumes for each job opportunity they post.
It would not be efficient to waste costly human labor in manually shortlisting potential interviewees. So, help from technology is required.
Application Tracking System,or simply the ATS, is the name given to such software applications. In this article we will discuss how these ATS applications work and how to better optimize your resume to dramatically increase chances for landing interview calls.
What is Application Tracking System?
ATS is a software that recruiters and HR professionals use to filter and scan resumes that match their recruiting needs. It acts as a database management system for companies to store and filter applications, the data for which is gathered either internally through specific applications or resumes received or externally from job boards. It allows processing of hundreds or even thousands of resumes within few minutes; hence, saving a lot of valuable time.
How Does ATS Work?
It makes use of the Optical Character Recognition to read text provided in the resume to extract the important information (keywords, years of experience, former employers, education, skills, etc.) according to pre-set parameters. For example, it may look for specific keywords or experience in a resume to assign a value. Each resume is given a percentage/score according to the level of content which matches with the desired parameters. Resumes are then compared, and top ones may be chosen for shortlisting and interviewing.
An ATS program is usually compatible with all major text file formats, and while it is a very useful tool for recruiters, it has made life challenging for job seekers. Even though such software is brilliant in analyzing content and shortlisting according to pre-set parameters and directions, it does not necessarily guarantee that the best candidate is chosen since it might miss certain important data or the factor of human look.
Optimizing Your Resume:
Instead of allowing a machine to decide your fate, you can make certain efforts to stand out of the crowd. As most candidates are usually unaware of ATS and how it works this provides you a wonderful opportunity to land your dream job if you can design your resume according to basics of ATS. All you need to do is to optimize your resume to allow the ATS to recognize your true potential. Here are 15 of the most important tips and tricks to help you in this regard.
Never Submit In .pdf Format:
Some ATS programs cannot read “. PDF” format at all and they simply reject such resumes right away. Even those which have the capability to read this file format usually read with less accuracy if compared with the accuracy of other formats, such as “. Doc” files. (MS Word). It is also important to carefully read instructions as many recruiters or job ads specify the format in which to submit the resume.
Understand SEO Basics:
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is the system (algorithm) through which search engines, such as Google, rank websites and the content present on websites. While you do not need to gain all the knowledge or expertise in SEO, it is recommended to understand the basics of SEO. ATS algorithms usually follow the same guidelines when using keywords to shortlist resumes. More details related to optimizing keywords are discussed below.
Carefully Read the Job Ad and Look for Keywords:
In almost all cases, a recruiter will provide the ATS with a set of keywords to filter resumes. So, it is a best practice to carefully read the job ad and look for potential keywords to optimize your resume accordingly.
For example, if a company wants to recruit a Project Manager, then words like MS Project, Gap Analysis, Project Plan, Created, Assigned Tasks, etc. may be important. However, the best practice is to look for these keywords in the ad, especially the portion where job responsibility and experience requirements are mentioned. Carefully incorporate those keywords into the text of your resume. It also means that it may no longer be a best practice to submit the same resume everywhere. Instead, find some time to customize the resume for each job opportunity or hire a professional resume writer to create the resumes for you.
Don’t Overcrowd with Keywords:
Once you find the correct set of keywords that are to be added to the resume, be careful not to overcrowd your resume with these keywords. As a rule of thumb, adjust these keywords at three or four suitable places within the resume. ATS applications can be programmed to look for over doing it with the keywords (keyword stuffing) and they may flag a resume which has too many keywords. Also for obvious reasons do not add a keyword that is outside of your experience or qualifications just to make the shortlist.
Avoid Graphics and Images:
While images and fancy designs may be useful for certain jobs, such as when applying for a creative role, this practice is usually discouraged for most jobs. Employers are generally looking for serious candidates and imagery may give an otherwise impression. However, an even more important reason to avoid graphics and images is that the ATS may not be able to accurately read data provided in the form of images and graphs. For example, if you highlighted your experience in the form of a well-designed image in your resume, the ATS will be unable to read and translate it. Therefore, stick to all text for resumes and if you have material with images you can present those in the interview.
Spelling errors can leave a negative impression on the recruiter. However, it may not be a total deal breaker with a recruiter. You may still make the short list with a spelling error on your resume if a recruiter manually reviews your resume. The bad news is an ATS program will ignore the word that is spelled incorrectly and that could possibly get you omitted from the shortlist or a low rank. And if that misspelled word was something mandatory they are looking for then you could be disqualified altogether although you have that skill, qualification, experience, etc.
Suppose the ATS program has been instructed to look for the keyword “Zendesk” to find candidates who have experience with the Zendesk software as mandatory criteria. You will not be shortlisted if you wrote the spelling as “Sendesk” in the resume. The automated system will be unable to find the keyword it is looking for. Most ATS programs are looking for an exact match in the keywords. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you carefully re-read the resume and each word that is included in it. Make sure to have right spelling, ones which match the variant of location or country you are looking to get the job in. For example the difference in spellings in Canada and the USA.
Reverse Chronological Format:
State your most recent job experience first and then your previous job experiences in reverse chronological order. It allows the system to give appropriate credit to the number of years that you worked for in specific areas. This is not an exact rule but it’s usually recommended.
Formatting is the Key:
The format of your resume can go a long way in deciding your chances of success (or otherwise). All ATS computer applications are designed to give due consideration to the format. The following are some generally accepted formatting guidelines.
A) Try to use basic and commonly used fonts, such as Times New Roman or Calibri. Do not try to be creative by using special fonts as some ATS may not be able to recognize special or uncommon fonts fully. Also, avoid unnecessary use of Italic or Bold feature.
B) Try to ensure maximum readability in the document by providing a lot of white space.
C) Avoid symbols and special characters, especially near keywords. Many ATS simply ignore the content that is before or after such characters, such as slash or question marks.
D) Never use boxes as content within boxes is not read by the ATS.
E) Be consistent in size, font, and format throughout the document, including headings and numbering. Also, do not use borders or shading.
Always Mention Dates of Previous Experience:
It is crucial to mention dates of your past work experiences in an appropriate format as, otherwise, there is a risk of your experience getting omitted since ATS is unable to measure its length. Also remain consistent in the format that you use throughout the resume.
Are You a Job Hopper?
Well, you might have your reasons, but the ATS might not appreciate a job hopper as the system maybe designed to reject such candidates. However, no need to panic if you have a lot of short-term jobs on your resume. You can simply combine few short-term jobs to make them more presentable. At the same time, avoid listing some at all if you cannot provide a good explanation as to why you left those job(s).
Correct Place to Put Contact Information:
Many people put contact information in the header of the resume. However, it may be an extremely incorrect place since the ATS does not read headers or footers but only the main body of the document. Hence, always put your contact information within the main body of the document to ensure it is being read by the ATS.
Multiple Roles in the Same Company?
The trick to getting better results with an ATS system is to make it as easy as possible for the software to read your data. Listing of multiple periods of employment in a single company can be complicated for the software, and it may get confused about how to interpret it. The solution is to list one period of employment for that company with all the roles you held, then below that go into more detail on the roles but do not list each role with a period of employment. The ATS looks for dates and when it reads the same employer with multiple different dates, it might not know how to interpret it. Here is an example of how you can list multiple roles within the same company:
Company Name, Job Titles You Held, (Date of Employment) (list most recent role first)
E.g.. ABC Company, Marketing Analyst / Marketing Manager / Marketing Director (September 2010 – Present) **make sure to put a space between slashes, hyphens, etc. so the ATS does not interpret it as part of a word**
Company Name, Most Current Job Title (Date of Employment) ABC Company, Marketing Director (2012 – present)
You will then include information about the other positions you held under the 2nd heading e.g. “Earlier positions include Marketing Analyst and Marketing Manager….”
You would include accomplishments/highlights from those positions. Do not break down the period of employment for each position. You can go into details on the time spent at each role in the interview.
Be Precise In Your Writing:
Suppose that a job requires skills related to MS Excel. Make sure to provide the same context to the ATS to make its work easier. Writing MS Office does not necessarily convey that you have MS Excel skills. In this situation, your MS Excel skills may get omitted from the results of your resume evaluation. Also, be precise in everything you write, especially related to job experiences, education, and skills.
The single-page resume rule seems outdated now. It was okay when recruiters were manually reading resumes, but today the work is done by computers. So, it is okay to have a resume of two or even three pages in length. In almost all cases, the length of the resume would not cause any issues with the ATS or get you omitted. However, do not overwrite just for the sake of making it bulkier. Be precise and accurate and write only the relevant information.
Review/Scan Your Resume:
Last but not the least. Before you finally submit your resume, make sure you review it a few times. Manually review the resume, keeping all the discussed points in mind. Especially focus on things like having the right keywords at the right place and for the right number of times. Various websites also offer free or paid scanning services to check if your resume is ATS compliant.
If you apply the information presented in this article you will be much further ahead of any applicants who are still using traditional ways of writing resumes. Best of luck with your job hunting!
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