How To Get Past The Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Image via TalSuite

I am sure many of you are aware of what an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is, since all job applications are required to be submitted online. Back then, job seekers had it way easier. They just had to rely on the newspaper and telephone, and they will be asked by the employer to come in for an interview. However, they have since, revolutionized the hiring process and the labor market in a blink of an eye.

Image via Jobscan
To find out more about how Applicant Tracking Systems have evolved, their article gives useful facts on their infographic.

An ATS is basically a robot that is programmed to pre-screen the applicant’s resume before the hiring team gets a chance to lay their eyes on them. Obviously, it is not as intelligent as humans are, since it is pre-programmed to do what it has to do.

The ATS is programmed to scan for specific keywords that the employer has entered into the system. Some resumes will only be selected to move on to the next step, based on the keywords that the employer has configured. Many employers use the ATS as a way to screen out candidates by asking knockout questions. This is a way to determine which candidates are able/willing or unable/unwilling to perform a job function. For instance, if an ATS is programmed to eliminate resumes that do not hold a Bachelor’s Degree, then those with an Associate’s Degree will definitely not be considered. Here are more examples of the types of knockout questions to look out for when applying on an online portal/job board.

The ATS has simplified the hiring process for employers, since 75% of recruiters and talent managers use some form of recruiting or applicant tracking software; according to Capterra.

On the other hand, causing it to be opposite for job seekers – the ATS makes their job search process more challenging and stressful as they have to pay close attention to every little detail. According to Mashable, nearly 80% described their job search as time-consuming and stressful, and many reported that they would be deterred from completing an application if they encountered tech hurdles (60%), couldn’t upload their resume (55%), couldn’t follow up on the application’s status (44%) or couldn’t complete the application on a mobile device (20%).

The nitty-gritty of getting past the ATS is to analyze and study the job description and keywords carefully as you tailor your resume to what they are looking for. Many job applicants tend to just submit their resume without tweaking their resume to the positions that they are applying for. Always make sure your resume matches the job description and that it has the exact keywords listed.

Note: The ATS is unable to distinguish the difference between the terms CPA and Certified Public Accountant, it is always more safe to list the whole word out instead of abbreviating or shortening it.

Note: Make sure your resume font and format is simple, organized and consistent. If a resume looks too fancy and abstract with colors, images, symbols and other unnecessary stuff, the ATS may count it as unqualified and will move on to the next resume. According to Forbes, studies have shown that up to 75% of qualified applicants are rejected by ATS programs because they can’t be read. You don’t want to be one of the 75%.


DO’s

  • Keep your font simple. Use Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial or any font that looks “appropriate” and “legible”. Make sure the size font is between 10-12. No bigger, no smaller.
  • Use simple bullet points like the one I am using at the moment or even a dash (-) works as well. Just make sure it isn’t a special kind of symbol because that can program the ATS to view your resume as “unqualified” and you don’t want to jeopardize a qualified resume just because of an unrecognizable symbol.
  • Consistent formatting. This is important to ensure that your resume will pass an ATS, so that it would not confuse the system.
    • Margin Size: 1 inch
    • Left Alignment is the way to go because that is the standard way of reading. Don’t center it or align it to the right. Definitely, do not include text boxes. I’ve seen some job seekers do that. This will just confuse the ATS. If we all read from left to right, that is how the ATS will be programmed to read it as well.
    • Length: Keep it minimum at 1 page and maximum at 2 pages. Remember, make sure it has the included keywords and is visually appealing to the employer! You are not writing a Curriculum Vitae. Unless you are applying for a profession that you have had years of experience in and highlighting publications that are linked to the work you do, (i.e., college professor), there is no need to go past 2 pages with irrelevant experience. Know how to distinguish the difference between a resume and a curriculum vitae.
    • Font: As mentioned in the first bullet point.
  • Your resume should aim towards the specific position. Like I have mentioned earlier, read and study the job descriptions. Always always always, keep a look out for specific keywords whether it is in the required qualifications or preferred qualifications that involves your education, competencies/skill sets, licenses, trainings and experience.
  • Do your research on the employer! Make sure you are always tweaking your resume based on their mission, goals and culture.
    • How can you be of value to them? How does your experience, education, skill sets match the employer’s needs of the role?
  • Make sure your section headers are simple: “Objective”/”Professional Summary”, “Skills”, “Certifications/Licenses”, “Work History”/”Experience”, “Education”

DON’Ts

  • Unless you are a graphic designer, avoid including images, graphics, tables/charts, special fonts or unrecognizable symbols. The ATS is programmed to read simple and straightforward things.
  • As mentioned in the DO’s section, section headers are preferred to be simple rather than overdone. An ATS will not understand “Where I Attended School”. So leave it as “Education”.
  • Do not misuse keywords. Use them where you see fit.
  • So many job seekers that I have assisted often put on the bottom of their resume, “References Available Upon Request”. This consumes space and employers obviously know that if needed, they will contact you for it.
  • Select the right file type for your resume. To play it safe, upload your resume as a .doc, .docx or .pdf file. These are the most common and preferred formats. It just looks more appealing to employers as well.
    • Please avoid using specialty formats such as .dot, .dotx, .rtf, .txt, .htm, .docm, .dotm, .xml, .mht because not only are employers unable to access the file, but many ATS can’t read them.
  • Categorize your section headers carefully.
    • If the employer is seeking specific skills (pro tip: when they list the requirements/qualifications, pay attention to those on the top as those are what they looking for in a candidate the most) and you have that, you may want to shift your skills section to the top while leaving your experience and education to the bottom.
    • If the employer is seeking 5+ years in talent management and you’ve been a talent lead or in the HR team for over a decade, you may want to put your experience first and highlight those relevant skills as you go along.
  • Never list your job duties using other terms other than action verbs!
  • When listing out your experience, make sure you do not include the word “I”. It should always be in third person as if you are the narrator of your resume.

Still need more career and resume advice on how to tackle the ATS and ensure that you land your dream job/career? Check out TopResume’s useful article and their informative infographic about ATS.