What’s that? Your online job applications aren’t yielding positive results? More than likely, it’s because you’re up against an inhuman force. Meaning — an Applicant Tracking System or ATS. And your resume isn’t up to the task of beating it.
If you’re not up to date with modern job search lingo, an ATS is an automated filtering algorithm designed to assess resumes for fit at scale.
If you want to ensure your resume doesn’t disappear into the abyss of the internet and actually makes its way into the hands of a human recruiter, you need to know how to outsmart an ATS.
Artificial Intelligence (AI—and specifically Machine Learning, or ML) is the technology that’s powering these ATSs – and it is advancing by the day. This means the robots that stand between you and your next job are smarter than ever.
Gone are the days when an ATS was a simple keyword scanner acting as a gate-keeper for recruiters.
Enter an age in which the bots have female names – Olivia, Mya, Vera, for example. Check out this chat between a robot and a candidate:
Sure, part of their role is to improve candidate experience versus going through a lengthy online application process), but make no mistake.
Like Luke Skywalker’s R2D2, they’re all about serving their master. And their main objective is to deliver the top 20% of applicants for any open requisition to their human recruiters.
The screening criteria they use are the clincher.
If you happen to land in the 80% of applicants that didn’t make the cut, and you’re truly a stellar candidate, both sides clearly lose.
However, if you prefer to write your own resume, read on – my tips below will help you craft a resume that gets past the ATS.
But first, let’s review some helpful background on the most current ATS technology.
We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto.
Until recently, most ATS used a technology known as semantic search.
They were programmed to look for specific keywords while screening resumes, they tallied up the totals, and the resumes with the most keywords were passed along.
This created an unfortunate phenomenon known as “keyword stuffing”, which resulted in the creation of many resumes which were littered with scads of repetitive keywords and very little professional narrative.
In 2019, however, the robot which reads your resume looks for context.
Sort of like a human would. It scans to see how your skills (those keywords) perform in the context of your work experience.
The resumes with the most relevant context are the ones passed along. So in a way, your keywords are more important than ever – as is avoiding the practice of “stuffing.”
And while the technology remains far from perfect, it’s a major improvement indeed.
Here’s how to beat the bots at what they do best.
1. Use Standard Resume Sections.
The ATS robot will scan your resume and look for expected sections. For example, it’s likely to be programmed to search for information on:
Qualifications & schooling.
Social media profiles.
It’s easy to imagine that a quirky designer with extensive experience at Apple might call ‘former employers’ something like ‘previous gigs’ as a way to convey their ‘personal brand’ to a recruiter.
However, an ATS will ignore that section completely – because it doesn’t know what ‘previous gigs’ means.
So instead of the designer being flagged as working at arguably one of the most prestigious design departments in the world, they’d never even get an interview.
Don’t let this happen to you.
2. Explore Additional Ways To Amplify Keyword Context.
Craft a title at the start of your resume that succinctly states the position you’re seeking. Follow it up with a desciption which succinctly captures your unique selling proposition.
Resist adding a traditional “Objective” section. Instead, write a compelling profile which articulates your career narrative in a way that’s designed to engage the human recruiter.
Consider, as we mentioned above for your resume, adding a paragraph which lists the important keywords mentioned in the job description. (More on this below).
Also, ensure that whenever you mention your job titles, you use terms that an ATS can understand (e.g. ‘credit control’, rather than just ‘Accounts clerk’ or – worse – ‘Number monkey’!)
While most ATS focus on LinkedIn, if you’re active on other social networks (Facebook, Twitter etc.), it’s a good idea to update those, too (or, if they’re for personal use only, lock them down with maximum privacy settings).
Furthermore, a lot of the newer systems automatically scan your social media accounts, which means that those shaky iPhone videos of you dancing on a table in Amsterdam are likely to get attached as ‘supplementary information’ to your employee profile.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Machine Learning we mentioned earlier can go beyond rejecting you. It can also write your “Dear John, thank you for applying, however…” letter, too.
5. Snoop Around LinkedIn Competitor Profiles.
Simply relying on the job description for your keywords is only half the battle, as they tend to be riddled with skills ranging from “must have” to “nice to have” to “hiring manager ideal.”
So don’t stop there in identifying your keywords. Hop on LinkedIn and check out the profiles of people who may be competing for the same role as you.
For example, you’re going after a CFO position.
Use LinkedIn’s search function to find your CFO colleagues / competitors.
Narrow it down to 5-10.
Next, check out the “Featured Skills & Endorsements” section of their profiles. Good news! These are keywords that have already been optimized by LinkedIn’s algorithm. Feel free to use them as-is.
Create a list for yourself. Then choose the 5-7 in which you are an absolute expert. Use these in your resume and LinkedIn profile.
6. Do Not Use PDF.
Unless otherwise specified, most Applicant Tracking Systems don’t like resumes formatted in PDF format as it’s difficult for them to extract the information they need.
They just want text. No glitter or fancy formats – just text.