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7 Things You Need To Know About Applicant Tracking Systems
1. What is an Applicant Tracking System (“ATS”)? Plain and simple, an ATS is software that companies license to streamline their recruiting and hiring processes. These systems aren’t cheap, but with the power to collect, sort, scan, screen and rank thousands of resumes for hundreds of job openings, it’s easy to see how they save companies money. Like ‘em, love ‘em or frustrated by them, they are here to stay. Taleo, BrassRing, WorkDay, Cadient, if you’ve applied for jobs online, these probably sound familiar to you. Or maybe you missed these and interacted with some of the 30+ other ATSs out there like TalentReef, ADP, iCIMS, etc. Either way, these systems process your application before it’s ever seen by a recruiter or Hiring Manager.
2. Why do Employers use an Applicant Tracking System? If you were paying attention, you got this one….first and foremost to save money. Each job opening can receive hundreds of applications. The manpower necessary to sort, screen and prioritize all of those applications for the Hiring Manager usually isn’t feasible no matter how many clerks you hire. The second reason, CYA (google it if you are not familiar with this acronym). Federal laws, state laws, EEOC, HIPAA, privacy are all potential pitfalls to any company hiring even just a few employees. An ATS will also help and employer stay compliant and most importantly, document their compliance for backup.
3. Applicant Tracking Systems are Everywhere We’ve already established that ATSs are here to stay and even tried to impress you by rattling off the names of eight of them. But when you consider that a Kelly OCG survey recently found that 98% of Fortune 500 companies, 65% of all large companies and for good measure, 42% of all small companies use an ATS, anyone would be hard-pressed to name them all. At this point, we have to accept that if you are applying for jobs online, you are submitting your application through an ATS.
4. How does an ATS Work? Collection and Storage: Applications and resumes are stored, sometimes even after the original position you applied for has been filled. This database can be searched and sorted at anytime so a Hiring Manager can find what they are looking for. Viewing Applications: Some Hiring Managers still choose to review every application that comes in. A study performed by TheLadders, indicates that in these rare cases, the application has six seconds to grab their attention. However, the same study, also indicated that most applications that do not meet the automated screening requirements are never seen. Automatically Ranking and Prioritizing Candidates: The automated scanning process can not only cull out the first round of applicants, but also automatically rank and prioritize those who passed the screening. This allows a Hiring Manager to focus only on the top candidates if they choose. Searches: This allows a Hiring Manager to perform keyword searches and find any applications that contain past job titles, skills or achievements - while also culling out those that do not contain those keywords.
5. The Format of Your Resume Matters When you upload your resume into an ATS, most software parse the document into a digital profile so all the nifty features discussed above are uniform. It is important to create a parsable resume by keeping section headings simple, consistently formatting similar information (i.e.: same font style and size for work history and dates), while avoiding tables and always using a .docx or .pdf file type.
6. There are Ways to Beat an Applicant Tracking System Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. But you can certainly increase your chances, like a card-counter at a Black Jack table, with a resume that is optimized for the ATS and appealing to the people pushing the buttons. Tailor Your Resume Every Time: A job description details the skills and qualifications the employer is looking for. Most resumes submitted are going to be a generic description of experience and qualifications, leaving it up to the ATS and the Hiring Manager to decide whether you are capable of doing the job. But, a tailored resume can load the deck in your favor if it is an easy-to-read road map where and how you developed each of the required skills and qualifications. Match Your Resume Keywords to the Job Description: This isn’t about figuring out how to stuff a bunch of keywords into your resume. Rather, it’s about using your thesaurus skills to replace keywords in your resume that match those in the employer’s job description. For example, if the job description is seeking a candidate that has provided outstanding customer service with cashier experience, the caption about helping customers and efficiently performing register transactions will not work. Match the keywords with “Played an integral role in providing customer service, ensuring customer satisfaction and continued retail store loyalty. Efficiently performed Cashier duties exceeding all customer service, accuracy, cash handling and safeguarding requirements.” Use as Many Variations of Long-Form and Abbreviation Keywords: For example, if the job description is requiring experience in MS Office, certainly use this nomenclature the most, but also try to weave in Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office Suite. Do Not Use Tables or Columns: These often lead to parsing and formatting issues. Use a Traditional Font: Helvetica, Georgia or Garamond tend to be the most friendly. Use Standard Resume Headings: Headers like “Contact Information”, “Work Experience” and “Education” are just fine. If you try too hard to stand out, the ATS may not know how to translate it. The Type of File Matters: Save your file as a .docx (preferable) or a .pdf. Keyword Stuffing or Over-Optimizing Won’t Work: Okay, maybe, just maybe, it will work to beat the pre-screening, but eventually your application and resume will be reviewed by a Hiring Associate or Manager. At that point, you will either look illiterate and get bounced or worse, you can get blacklisted on certain ATSs. Given that an ATS can be licensed by multiple employers, that could be detrimental.
7. The Applicant Tracking System is Here to Stay Given all of the benefits an ATS provides to employers, the ever-evolving use of Artificial Intelligence in the recruiting industry a wide net of applicants and ATS can cast, they are going to be around for a long time. It’s up to us, the jobseeker, to adapt and change the way we apply. An ATS-optimized resume is the first step in getting past the robots and in front of a Hiring Manager.
Did your employment application just get tossed by a robot?
Online job postings receive an average of 425 applications. 60% of employers use some sort of automated screening that allows them to quickly get to the shortlist of candidates. So even if you are a perfect fit for the position, there is a chance your application is tossed for missing a minor detail. First and foremost, read the application instructions carefully: all required fields must be completed, include “N/A” in optional questions that are not applicable to you and avoid using special characters. Triple check your grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Use the exact keywords from the job posting in your application – the more often the job posting repeats customer service, the more important that keyword is to the automated screening. Additionally, identify the key responsibilities and requirements – for example if you applying to work in a warehouse you may see terms like “Forklift”, “Material Handling Equipment”, “Receiving” and “Unloading”. Make a list and get those keywords in your application.
No work experience? No worries. How to find a job anyway.
It can be quite a conundrum – employers want to hire candidates with experience, but if you’re a first-time job seeker or have not worked in a long period of time, how can you have experience? The first step is understanding that anything task that required you to be responsible, solve problems and/or learn new skills can be considered work experience even if you were not paid. So that time you spent babysitting, housesitting, volunteering, washing cars and walking dogs for the neighbors or raising children all exemplify qualities that employers deem valuable. This is work experience that you can be proud to tout. Ideally, you are able to apply the skills you used and those you learned to doing these tasks to the position you are applying to.
What skills do employers value the most?
You just read through a bunch of job ads and are inundated with long lists and bullet points of “Essential Requirements”. You might even feel a little out of your league wondering if your skills match up to the competition. The truth is, most employers are looking for qualities in a candidate that are rarely listed in the job ad. What are these qualities? Problem solving - describe how you took on a challenge with minimal direction. Communication – provide examples how clear communication with others (including listening and following directions) resulted in a career success. Happy to learn new things – if you like to read or watch How-To videos on Youtube, say so. Proactive – show that you’ve already been thinking about this position by asking questions and anticipating challenges. If you can figure out a way to weave keywords and examples of these qualities into your application process, cover letter and certainly in your interview, you will have a successful job search.