Regardless of the industry in which they operate, 99% of Fortune 500 companies and a growing number (50% and counting) of large and mid-sized businesses have one thing in common: they rely on ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems—commonly referred to as ‘resume-reading robots’) to help them manage the increasingly difficult job of filtering through the fat stack of resumes they receive for every open position.
What do resume-reading robots do?
Not all resumes are created equal—they are as diverse as the people who create them. For instance, one applicant might list their skills at the top of the page, while another might start with education or experience.
ATS algorithms are programmed to extract vital information from each resume and format them all the same way. The system can then categorize and rank candidates based on which resumes best match the job requirements. The resumes that get through to human eyes are those which highlight the experience, skills, and education that are deemed most suitable for the position.
Why do companies use ATS?
Competition for high-level positions has always been fierce. On average, 89 people apply for every executive position. And that is a conservative number. Many professional level vacancies have over 300 applicants. That’s a lot of resumes for a human resources leader or talent acquisition team to sift through, especially when you consider the fact that large companies often have multiple positions to fill.
Additionally, only 35% of applicants are qualified for the positions for which they apply, giving companies another reason to quickly weed lackluster candidates out before beginning the arduous and expensive process of interviewing and hiring the best choice among the hordes of hopefuls.
How do you impress a robot?
Of course, you are qualified for the position you want… but how do you convince a robot that you are the right man/woman for the job? Following are five tips that can help you run through the robot-resume-reading gauntlet and make it safely to the other side.
Avoid tables, graphics, headers, and footers.
ATS algorithms aren’t impressed by fancy graphics; in fact, they don’t recognize them. They are programmed to pick up plain text and can’t pull it out of formatted headers, footers, text boxes, or tables. They also can’t draw data from pictures.
Even if you have a great headshot, it won’t get you past the first level of this game. You don’t necessarily have to leave off graphics completely, but don’t let it take up precious space where you could include more impactful information. Be judicious.
Incorporate key words.
Applicant Tracking Systems automatically compare your resume to the company’s job description. They are designed to recognize key words that reference certain skills and accomplishments which hiring officials consider requisite for the job.
Companies don’t leave you in the dark in this matter—every job description delineates exactly what the ideal candidate will look like. It’s up to you to use language that will trigger the algorithm to recognize you as that candidate.
Caveat:One dishonest practice that has unfortunately grown in popularity lately is “hiding” key words in a resume by using white font on white paper so that presumably a human eye won’t see it, but artificial intelligence will. Don’t compromise your integrity in this way. You have plenty of opportunities to authentically highlight your key qualifications in a resume if you are truly a good fit for the job.
Use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Much like a word-processing spellcheck, ATS understands proper language mechanics and will disqualify you if you’re careless about such things. Check, double-check, and even triple-check if necessary to find and correct any errors. You can’t be too careful, as one misspelled word could pitch you right out of the arena.
Be clear and straightforward.
These are AI algorithms, not English professors. They are programmed to recognize simple, straightforward language. You shouldn’t ‘dumb it down,’ but neither should you try to elevate your vocabulary to unnecessary heights in an effort to impress. After all, the purpose of communication is clarity. If the program doesn’t understand you, it can’t recommend you.
Along these same lines, refrain from using abbreviations (such as ‘mgr.’ for ‘manager). An ATS may not recognize abbreviations, and you don’t want any important detail to get lost in translation.
Don’t worry about length.
The hard-and-fast rule for resumes of yesteryear was that they should never exceed one page in length. That rule was devised for the sake of the human eyes that had to read them all. Resume-reading robots, on the other hand, do not care how long your resume is. They can scan it, sort it, and rank it in a matter of seconds, even if you send them a novella (don’t do that). So feel free to list all relevant accomplishments and skills! The sky (almost) is the limit!
Resume-reading robots were developed to help employers, as a means to streamline the hiring process. However, once you know how to operate within that system, they can be your advocates as well and help you get your resume to the top of the pile.
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