Part 3: THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN SENDING YOUR JOB APPLICATION TO AN APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEM (ATS)
When it comes to hunting for a job, most of the work is done online. Jobs are largely posted online, applications are made done using online questionnaires and even if you remove the use of traditional online job portals, employers are still more likely to find you online: on social media.
A 2015 Pew research conducted in the US found that nearly 80% of job applicants have used the Internet as a resource during the job hunt. Furthermore, 45% of US job seekers admit to having applied online for a position. This dramatic shift to using the Internet has also included another major element to the hiring funnel: the use of technology in finding the right candidate.
In this post, we will examine the use of such technology in the form of Applicant Tracking System. After we examine what the technology entails, we’ll go through the things you need to keep in mind when applying online. In short, we’ll reveal how you can be picked by the ATS and increase your chances of landing that job interview.
WHAT IS APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEM?
Before we examine what an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is, here are a few statistics by Capterra that should make you take the system seriously:
- 75% of recruiters and hiring professionals admit to using an ATS.
- 90% of Fortune 500 companies filter job applicants and resumes through an ATS.
- 94% of recruiters and hiring professionals acknowledge that their use of ATS has had a positive impact on the hiring funnel.
You really shouldn’t take the importance of ATS lightly. Understanding this technology can help you navigate the world of online job hunting slightly better.
What does the ATS do?
The ATS is a software application that allows digital handling of a company’s recruitment needs. The software processes resumes and job applications, filtering out the ones it seems qualified or unqualified based on a set of filters provided by the employer. These filters are often the use of specific keywords that match the kind of candidate the employer is looking for.
The filters and examples of their use can be found in the below graph:
When the system receives a new job application or a resume, it will scan it for the keywords and filters it has been given. If the resume or application is a good match against the specific criteria, it’s then forwarded further down the hiring funnel. If it’s not, then you can stop expecting the interview call.
When do employers use ATS?
As the statistics above show, employers are rather fond of the software. It’s not much of a wonder, as it can save a lot of time and money. Employers receive on average around 250 job applications per post and going through these all manually would delay the hiring process by quite a bit – or they would need to employ a lot of HR personnel, which again, would cost money.
The software can be used for scanning resumes posted for specific jobs in an online portal or the company’s online application site. But companies don’t just use them for so-called fresh resumes. The ATS can monitor past applications posted through the system and therefore, pick candidates who might have applied previously.
The ATS can sometimes be used to monitor and track social media for suitable candidates. Therefore, a LinkedIn profile could be scanned with an ATS when the employer is looking for suitable candidates.
HOW TO BE PICKED BY THE ATS
Remember how surveys showed recruiters and hiring professionals enjoying the use of ATS? Well, unfortunately, many of you job candidates disagree. An astonishing 80% of job applicants found the online job search and application process stressful.
To counter the stress, you need to understand how to make the ATS work for you not against you. There are a few clever tricks to ensure this happens. These are the key things you need to consider and keep in mind when sending your job application to an ATS.
You need to use the language from the job description
The most important thing to understand is using the language of the job posting to your advantage. The employer will have chosen the wording carefully – it would have picked skills and qualifications with its needs in mind. It would be these words the recruiter uses as keywords for the ATS.
For example, if the job posting states knowledge of a specific software as a requirement, you want to mention the software in your resume instead of just stating a generic use of a software. For example:
- Job posting: “ability to use accounting software such as Y.”
- Good resume example: “3 years of experience with accounting software Y.”
- Bad resume example: “Proficiency in the use of accounting programs.”
There are two mistakes there in the bad example. First, you do not mention the specific software the job posting is asking for. Second, you don’t use the keyword accounting software but you opt for the word accounting programs. This could ultimately see your resume rejected outright.
Now, this doesn’t mean you want to start stuffing in keywords. You might be penalized for overuse of the words – so you shouldn’t mention the ability to use accounting software in every sentence. However, you do want to replicate the exact language the employer has used and pay attention to the keywords they are highlighting. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to mention a keyword more than two to three times in the application and resume.
A good way to figure out the correct keywords is to run the job posting through a cloud service like Wordle and TagCrowd. These programs immediately identify the most used words and help you build your resume around the keywords the employer is using.
When you are using keywords be careful with things like punctuation and the use of acronyms. For example, if the job application specifically mentions “front-end software”, you can’t use “front end software” in your application. This tiny difference in writing could mean the difference in your application being passed forward and not.
A similar thing occurs with qualifications. Master of Business Administration is different than Masters of Business Administration, according to many ATSs. So, always aim for the exact same punctuation and language.
In terms of acronyms and abbreviation, you generally want to include both versions. You can first use the full term, such as Master of Business Administration, and then add the abbreviation at the end, MBA.
A final piece of advice here is to also pay attention to the employer’s website and the industry as a whole. You should definitely read about the company’s vision in order to notice crucial keywords (more about this below). Furthermore, you need to be on top of industry lingo –it’s a good idea to browse similar job posts and check what specific terms are currently used in your industry.
Understand the company culture and values
As mentioned above, you also need to dig beyond just the job posting in order to beat the ATS. You can better keyword your resume and application if you understand the way to company speaks about itself, its vision and company culture, and the position.
Browse the company website and run through an analysis of the kind of words that are mentioned. For example, the company might talk about sustainability or mention its emphasis community cohesion. If it does, you might want to find away to include these to your application and show you share the values and work ethics of the organization. For instance, talk about your work at an environmental charity or how you’ve worked for a local community group.
You might also want to contact someone that works in the organization or discuss the job posting with a recruiter. If you’re applying for medical jobs, talking with a specialized recruiter in the industry can help you understand the kind of keywords and language employers in the field are looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask directly – it shows passion and enthusiasm!
Create the right format for your resume
You also need to pay attention to how you format your application. According to a Forbes article, nearly 75% of qualified job applicants are rejected due to things like incorrect resume formatting. So, paying attention to the format actually matters.
What kind of formatting is essential for the application and resume to pass through the system? You will often find the answer within the job posting or in the information provided by the online portal or application system. There is usually a section for formatting your application – read it and follow the instructions. If it says the preference is on Word-documents, then stick to a Word-document. Remember you can always contact the recruiter if you have questions about formatting – it’s better to ask then to have your application fail just because of formatting.
Now, there are certain rules you should also follow – especially if you’ve not been provided with any information on the formatting and you can’t reach the recruiter or employer. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when formatting your document:
Don’t be afraid of the long resume
The golden resume application of the past used to be to ‘keep it short’. Recruiters and career advisors everywhere kept telling candidates to shorten their resumes and then shorten them once more. This was correct advice; when you have human recruiters reading all the resumes, they don’t want to spend ages reading them through.
But the ATS scans your application and matches against a pre-determined set of variables and keywords. You don’t necessarily need to make it as short as possible. The machine can do the ‘reading’ in seconds.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should just add everything you’ve ever done to your application and resume. It just means you shouldn’t be afraid of including all relevant information even if the length goes up. If you are better able to use the correct keywords and expressions to match to the language of the job posting, then you should absolutely do that.
Keep the information updated and simple
As mentioned at the start, employers don’t just use the ATS to scan current applications and resumes. They can use the software on social media and scan past applications when they are looking to fill positions. This means you need to keep any resumes and applications you download online updated – or ask for their withdrawal from the system.
Employers can sometimes browse their databases to see if there are suitable candidates even before they open the applications to the public. By ensuring your information is correct and updating your resume with relevant achievements and experience to the industry or job posting you desire, you can ensure the ATS picks you up even when you weren’t looking.
You should always make sure your work experience mentions the latest job you’ve held. You can tweak it with keywords to ensure it fits the career path you are aiming towards. For example, if you are applying for a consultancy job and your current job is in project management, you could tweak your job title to Consulting Project Manager.
You shouldn’t try to play tricks with your resume either. Titles like “What I’ve done” or “What I’ve been applauded for” might sound catchy but they mean nothing for the ATS. You’re much better keeping it all simply with categories such as “Work Experience” and “Professional Achievements”. It might seem boring but robots like boring things, right?
Don’t forget that a human will read it after all
The above might sound like you are fighting against a robot, and if you just stick a keyword here and there the job will be yours. While you can and you should format your resume and application in a way that passes the ATS with flying colors, you also need to remember a real person will read it at some point.
Passing the ATS is only the start of getting a place in that job interview. Therefore, you need to ensure you use a natural language in your application. Utilize keywords and the correct formatting, but don’t do so at the expense of a natural and customized job application or resume. The recruiter will notice if you just copy paste sentences from the job posting.
So, before you hit the send button, read your job application and resume. Do the keywords with naturally with your application? If it seems stuffy, then consider changing a few terms or re-writing the sentences to sound more natural.
It can also be a good idea to contact the recruiter when you’ve uploaded your resume or application. You can mention you’ve just applied and that you are looking forward to discussing the application with the recruiter. This might make them check up your resume and application from the ATS and fast-track you to the selected candidate list if you seem like the right match.
It should go without saying here that lying is stupid, even if it would help you pass the ATS better. You can’t claim to talk fluent Spanish if you have no idea about the language – no matter how good of a keyword that would be.
THE KEY TO OUTWITTING AN ATS
The ATS is undoubtedly a useful system for the modern hiring funnel that has to deal with an influx of applications. While it might seem rather daunting as a candidate, you shouldn’t be too afraid of it.
It can actually help your job application process by forcing you to think if and why you are right for the particular role. You won’t just blindly apply for jobs online, hoping to catch a break. You will take a more careful look at your qualifications and pay attention to knowing whether you are a good fit for the company, not just in terms of skills, but also the company culture.
Now, what strengths do you think the ATS has for you as a candidate?
Also read other parts of the Job Application Guide
HOW TO DOUBLE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING THAT JOB INTERVIEWRead Part 1
THE 3 LITTLE-KNOWN HIRING CRITERIA THAT MIGHT COST YOU THE JOB INTERVIEW OR OFFERRead Part 2
HOW TO WRITE A BULLETPROOF RESUME HIRING MANAGERS LOVERead Part 4
ELEMENTS OF A WINNING COVER LETTERRead Part 5
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