What Happens When You Apply Online?

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We hope, when we apply online that someone is eagerly waiting to read every word of our carefully crafted resume. It is highly unlikely an actual person is reading any of it, at least on the initial screening.

Because companies continue to be inundated with resumes, more and more employers are turning to applicant tracking systems (ATS) to manage the volume and weed through all the applicants. What does that mean for job seekers? Here is a summary of what I have learned.

Why are they used?

ATS’ allow employers to manage large amounts of information, track every communication with a job applicant, as well as a consolidated view of all applicants against a job with the ability to build and track pipelines of talent. Additionally, they allow for better management of the interview process and help comply with legal requirements.

How do these tracking systems work?

When searching the database for candidates to fit a particular job posting, they can select an important keyword or phrase directly from the job description, and enter it into the ATS. The ATS will then search the database and return the resulting resumes to me, and this process can be repeated numerous times with different keywords or phrases.

What document formats can applicant tracking systems scan?

According to our experts, most systems can scan text and Word formats; some cannot scan Word 2007, PowerPoints, or PDFs.

What should job seekers do in order to get their resumes noticed by the ATS?

Customize the resume for each position: extensively tweak your resume for every job and make sure you weave common keywords throughout the resume as often as possible.

Keep job titles fairly generic. Avoid using job titles that are too specific.

Keep resume formatting to a minimum. Certain design features such as italics, bolding, and underlining can substantially increase the error rate on a system. Radical resume designs similarly are also off-limits because anything the ATS wasn’t programmed to look for will not be recognized. One suggestion might be to electronically submit your resume in Word and in a standard format, and save the “pretty” one you formatted for the live interview, since most of these characteristics were made to make the human reading experience more pleasant and exciting.

Avoid functional resumes. Functional resumes are very difficult for the technology to read. Use the more traditional chronological format for optimal results.

Include full keywords and their abbreviated formats. Some of the words or phrases listed on the job description can also be abbreviated; for example, Sarbanes Oxley can be abbreviated as SOX and accounts payable is often referred to as AP. Play it safe and include both versions in your resume.

Professionals recognize that are drawbacks: Often your resume isn’t seen by a ‘live’ person if it doesn’t make it past the ATS screening process. While there are many advantages, the real downfall with ATS is that they are not able to quantify the ‘intangibles’ that candidates bring to the table or skills that may be equivalent or transferable enough to make their resume worth reviewing.

The best way to make sure your ‘intangibles’ are recognized is to spend the required time researching where you would like to work and networking your way into the organization. Once you have a referral into that organization, the ATS will allow those that are aware of you to search by name. That’s a better way to get noticed and land the interview.

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.