Published on August 13, 2020
How to Beat the Resume Robots: A Guide to ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)
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Wondering how you can beat the bots to get your resume into a recruiter’s hands?
Follow our guide on how to beat the resume robots.
After hours of hard work writing, editing and formatting, you have your best resume to help you land that elusive face-to-face interview for that dream job. But what if we were to tell you that the majority of job applications submitted online are only going to be seen by resume robots, to then be thrown out without even landing in a single real person’s hands? Unfortunately, this is the case for many job seekers.
It’s something that people have been aware of for years; however, as technology becomes even more advanced and people’s time becomes increasingly valuable, having a person read every resume that passes through a company’s recruitment portal is becoming increasingly inefficient.
According to research by job search site Jobscan, 99% of Fortune 500 companies use something called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
We can only assume going into 2020 that this number has risen, as well as the possibility that ATS will become more prevalent in smaller organisations as well.
What is an ATS?
An ATS is a computerised system that helps streamline the application process. It is most likely used by mid-large organisations that would be inundated with applicants when a job opening goes live. Put simply: each resume is scanned for specific keywords and phrases that determine the resume’s relevance to the job.
The more keywords and phrases a resume has, the higher it’s ranked compared to other applications, and the more chance it has to be read by human eyes (i.e. a recruiter or hiring manager). There’s usually a ‘grade’ or percentage that an online application needs to achieve to qualify for further review. If a resume doesn’t reach this qualification, it’s most likely thrown out and forgotten.
“The hiring landscape has gone through some remarkable changes over the past 5-10 years.”
Even if you have years of experience and you’re a highly qualified candidate, your resume still needs to get through those resume robots to be adequately considered as a job applicant. It’s a harsh reality but a reality nonetheless.
Let’s look at the steps you need to take to get your resume past the robots and your foot in the door.
A Word Document is the Go-To File Type
Neil E., (hiring manager of Resume Go) who has over 20 years of industry experience as a professional recruiter, heavily encourages the use of Word when writing a resume. This is because although ATSs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, Word documents are still the most compatible file type for the system to scan and pick out those magic keywords and phrases. Basically, avoid the use of PDF and Pages! If you don’t have Word on your device, we suggest creating your resume on Google Docs, and saving it as a Word doc once it’s completed.
Be Generic with your Titles and Subheadings
Keywords and phrases are not all ranked the same. Some are considered ‘stronger’ than others. You can think of it as a point system if you’d like. Some keywords and phrases are worth more points than others, and you’re aiming for the highest amount of points as possible.
A great resume has its strongest keywords as titles and subheadings because it’s these that are most easily picked up by ATS’ (they also capture the attention of hiring managers!).
Strong keywords are often fairly generic, so a standard resume goes a long way in the ATS. Make your headings ordinary and leave your creative flair for another time by sticking to the classic ‘work experience’ or ‘work history’ and ‘professional skills,’ the next time resume-writing season hits!
Use the Job Description Vocabulary
Not only do ATSs like keywords sourced directly from the job description, but so do recruiters and hiring managers. It makes sense for many of the keywords and phrases that the ATS’ are programmed to look for to come from the original job description.
Tailoring your resume directly to the role you’re applying for is essential to get past those resume bots. If there are specific skills, ‘preferred’ or ‘essential’ work experience, or responsibilities mentioned in the job description, it’s important to note these down. Make sure your resume directly refers to the selection criteria published in the job description (skills, experiences and responsibilities) with the same exact wording.
Using the job description vocabulary will help your resume rank more highly, and if it lands in the hands of a hiring manager it will show you’ve really taken the time to understand the role – two birds with one stone, as they say!
Find Those Keywords
Keywords and phrases can make or break your resume. Although reviewing the job description yourself is the best place to start, it’s not the only place to refer to when writing your cover letter and CV! Looking at the ‘About Us’ tab on the company’s website is also an excellent place to start. Doing this can help you write a well-tailored cover letter.
You can also compare job listings for similar roles to find trends and reoccurring phrases to include those most common (and more highly ranked) keywords. Similar job postings can be found through a quick job search on seek.com or indeed.com.au.
Review Your Resume
Online resources like jobscan.co are a great place to review your resume. These sites help you find keywords and rate the overall effectiveness of your resume. Furthermore, they give you useful tips on how to improve your resume’s ranking ability. Usually, all you need to do is copy and paste your resume along with the original job description in their respective boxes. The site will then review your resume and give you an overall breakdown and grade. A second opinion can never hurt.
The Obvious Dos are Must-Dos
Although it may seem like a no-brainer, punctuation, grammar and spelling checks are an absolute must when it comes to resumes.
- No abbreviations – ATSs can’t pick up on abbreviations, so make sure you spell out words correctly.
- Capitalisation, formal greetings spell and grammar check – the small things make your resume more bot-friendly (we like Grammarly.com for all our editing needs)!
- Don’t use headers or footers – the system won’t read this information.
- Do not use tables, graphics or pictures – ATSs can not pick up this information!
- Stick to basic writing fonts (e.g. Arial, Times New Roman), and stick to a plain text document
- Use bullet points when listing your skills
Writing a good resume can be difficult, but if you follow these steps, you’re going to be that much closer to making it past the robots. By using the proper formatting, knowing the job description back-to-front and finding those strong keywords, you’re giving yourself a better chance to meet face-to-face with potential employers, getting you one step closer to your dream job.
So, your resume needs some work.
Let our resume templates and examples give you a headstart.
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