If you've never heard of an applicant tracking system, you need to become very familiar with it if you're one of the millions of Americans who is looking for another job after losing yours in the pandemic.
An applicant tracking system (ATS) is used by nearly 40 percent of employers to screen candidates for job openings. This technology is designed to help employers eliminate those who are unqualified for certain positions.
This sounds reasonable, until you understand that these ATS systems can also eliminate people who are qualified simply because they don't use the right "keywords." These keywords are often skills or talents that the employer is looking for: "teamwork," "multi-tasker" or "excellent communicator."
To further complicate matters, your resume might state that you are a "team player," but you get eliminated because you didn't say "teamwork," which is what the software is seeking. While some of the newer software is designed to look for variations of "teamwork," others are not -- and you have no way of knowing if an employer has newer software.
It's been estimated that 75 percent of resumes are never seen by an actual human and are simply stewing in a company database somewhere.
While this situation may sound daunting, there are ways you can improve your chances that an ATS will let your resume through and improve your chances of getting an interview and a job. Here's what you need to do:
- Rely on the job description. It may be a pain, but you will improve your chances of being accepted by an ATS if you use the terms of the job description whenever possible. So, don't say you're a "good communicator" when the job wants you to be "great at communications." Also, use the style posted in the job description, whether it's using the % sign instead of "percent" or writing "4 yrs." instead of "four years."
- Use the right format and font. The older ATS systems can be a bit wonky and may have trouble recognizing Serif fonts like Times New Roman. To be on the safe side, use something like Calibri that is sans serif. Also, don't try to put in fancy design elements, even when it comes to a bullet point. It should be round, period.
- Read the instructions. So many job seekers get tripped up by the fine print. They send a PDF when a Word document is requested, and vice versa. I know that it's exhausting filling out online applications, but you must be careful to submit the application exactly as requested. You don't want to do all the work and then get tossed because you didn't file it correctly.
Finally, remember that if you get past an ATS, you resume could be seen by a human. Even though you're trying to use all the right keywords and the right format, you want to make sure your resume highlights all your accomplishments that make you such a great fit for the job.