Combatting ATS’s: How to Meet the Needs of the Computer and Get in the Hands of the Recruiter

When you apply for a position online, you usually receive an automated message thanking you for applying, followed later on by either an invitation to interview, or a rejection email.

Those invitation and rejection emails you receive are from an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and it means that your resume/application either did or did not match the combination of required education, experience, keywords, and the position description was asking for.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are used by most employers today. In fact, 75% of large companies use an ATS for receiving and reviewing applications.

Veterans may be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to ATS’s. Veteran Job seekers may have never had to apply through ATS, and are used to using Federal resumes through USA Jobs or simply sending a resume directly to a recruiter.

Also, as a Veteran, you are likely not used to applying for positions in a way that agrees with ATS software needs. For example, Veterans are used to using acronyms, and will incorporate them into resumes. If the acronym is not pre-programmed into the ATS software, however, it wont pick up the word and the applicant may be scored lower in the candidate pool because of the perceived missing keyword. It is safest to spell out all keywords in online applications and resumes.

So, knowing what you know about ATS’s and recruiting practices, how do you ensure you meet the needs of the computer, to get in the hands of the recruiter?

Below I have outlined 5 opportunities in an application to align your content to ATS technology, boosting your chances of receiving an interview:

Formatting:

  • When you apply through an Applicant Tracking System, your resume usually gets pasted into plain text for ease of use for the reader. Because of this, if you have your resume in nontraditional formatting, you could be eliminated from the candidate pool.
  • Common mistakes: Putting your name, address or contact information in the header or footer of your resume won’t paste into plain text through ATS’s. If a recruiter filters out applications with missing information, you’ll be eliminated. Also, if you have a “creative” resume format with text boxes or lines dividing the resume vertically, some of your resume information may not be pasted, resulting in large chucks of experience missing for the application.

Required Qualifications:

  • In most position descriptions, you’ll see required and preferred qualifications summaries. To ensure that both the ATS and the reader see these qualifications clearly, put them in the first 3rd of your resume.
  • Common mistakes: If you don’t put a professional summary in your resume, you’re losing out on serious keyword-matching real estate. Your summary is a great way to incorporate everything the ATS is looking for, all within the first few lines. It also allows you to speak to your level of education, years of experience, and areas of expertise, so that when it gets in the hand of the recruiter, you easily demonstrate your value and goodness of fit for the job.

Hard Skills:

  • Hard skills refer to the qualities of the job you must know, like technical skills, software knowledge, or direct practice knowledge. If the position lists skills and/or experience that relate to your ability to perform the role, ensure you are highlighting those areas in each of your previous work histories to hit not only the keywords, but the frequency of the keywords as well.
  • Common mistakes: Don’t copy and paste keywords directly in your resume to hit the right terms and satisfy the algorithm! ATS’s are smart, and they will rank you not only on whether the keywords occur, but also on how frequently the words occur, and how well they are integrated into text (so, listing “Project Management” 5 times in a row on your resumes and changing the text to white won’t work in your favor).

Soft Skills:

  • Many opportunities online also note preferred personality qualities in a candidate, like “innovative”, “passionate” and “able to work independently”. These are soft skills that relate to culture fit for a company, and are tracked by the ATS as well.
  • Common mistakes: Many job seekers don’t think that these qualities matter, because they don’t relate directly to the position. Don’t make this mistake – rate higher in the applicant pool by incorporating these buzzwords in your professional summary or cover letter in your application. You can include these words in your professional summary to boost your ranking, and give yourself a leg up over other candidates that only focus on the hard skills.

Other Keywords:

  • Other keywords that occur in a position description online could relate to industry-breadth. These words could be “technology” “Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems” or “Veteran services”. These words usually occur within the initial summary of the position, and relate to industry knowledge.
  • Common mistakes: Don’t take these terms lightly. A company will want to hire someone who may already have industry-related experience and will have a shorter learning curve once hired. To outline your industry knowledge, ensure you identify these keywords and incorporate them into your resume, ideally across multiple work histories.

Digging Deep: The Top 3 Most Common Applicant Tracking Systems and Their Features:

Taleo: This is the most common ATS by far, with over 40% of companies today using Taleo for their sourcing needs. This ATS does not pick up plurals, and tense changes in your resume can mean the difference between a rejection and an offer. For example, if a hiring manager searches “Planning Events” and you list “Event Planning,” your resume might not be recognized as a match.

  • Companies that use Taleo: Starbucks, Nike, Marriott, Nintendo, Tesla, Kaiser Permanente, Nordstrom, Boeing, Walgreens, HP, US Bank, United Airlines.

Greenhouse: This ATS does not parse resumes into plain text, so creative formatting may be acceptable if applying through Greenhouse. Also, Greenhouse ranks applications based on frequency of keywords. For example, a resume with “Project Management” listed 6 times will be ranked higher than one with it only 2 times.

  • Companies that use Greenhouse: Airbnb, FitBit, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instacart, TripAdvisor, Reddit, Warby Parker, BuzzFeed, J.D. Power.

iCiMS: This ATS parses resumes to search for the skills listed in the position description. Because of this, it is important to precisely match the exact skill that is listed online. For example, if you write “Project Manage” and iCiMS was instructed to look for “Project Managed” it will not pick up the match and will rank your application lower. Also, iCiMS uses knockout questions for application, and you’ll get flagged for selecting “no” for these.

  • Companies that use iCiMS: FedEx, Sony, Amazon, Uber, Goldman Sachs, Samsung, and Southwest Airlines.

Tailoring your resume and application to individual jobs can be tiring, but if you make it a habit to identify the ATS, apply the right keywords, and focus on highlighting your relevant experience, it becomes easier over time.

Also, job seekers who integrate tailoring into their applications see 3X more call backs and invitations for interviews, so it is worth the effort! I hope these tips have helped you to boost your confidence in your applications and in your ability to show employers why you’re a top candidate for a position. Try working with the ATS, and give yourself a leg up over other applicants!

Cheers, Maggie