Applicant Tracking System: The Algorithm Between You and Your Dream Job

Every job-seeker knows well how the process of finding a job is often frustrating and exhausting. After sending hundreds of applications, no answer comes. Except for the usual “we regret to inform you that someone else got the job, we’ll keep your information on our system if new positions open”. Small consolation indeed.

What many people do not know, is the fact that in most cases, applications are never read by a human. Machines do the first skimming.

How Recruiting Works

Every hiring company or recruiting agency receives a massive amount of applications when a new vacancy opens. So, if you are searching for a job and want to have at least a decent chance of being given a shot, the first thing to worry about is:

How is your résumé going to be noticed out from that huge pile of CVs and Cover Letters?

If you didn’t know, in most cases, at least with the big firms, no one is going to read all those applications. They use a dedicated software instead. Such software is the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Does this sound scary? Well, it shouldn’t. Good news is, there is a way to beat the ATS, improving the chances of landing an interview.

What is an Applicant Tracking System

An ATS is a software which screens all candidates’ applications sent to the recruiting system, and reports the ones which are more suitable to fill the vacancy. Applicant Tracking Systems make recruiters life easier, saving a lot of time and energy. On the other hand, about 75% of candidates see their chances of landing an interview as soon as they submit their resumes killed by ATS.

The main problem with ATS is that they are flawed. Too often, many qualified candidates rank as bad matches, despite of their qualifications and skills. Applicant Tracking Systems seek for certain keywords and phrases, and if the résumé does not contain the exact match, or is wrongly formatted, it will be automatically excluded.

In spite of all this, recruiters still use ATS because they give a place to start. Reading through all the applications manually would be too long and complicated. There need to be a skimming process first.

Once ATS terminates the screening, the recruiter receives the list of names who ranked as a good matches for the job. At this point, the submitted application does not appear to the recruiter, instead the recruiter sees a set of information pulled from the candidate’s resume by the system.

Now that you know this, let’s see how to boost your chances of success.

How to Optimize Your Resume for an ATS

There are several tips which can be used to beat the machine. Although many applicants, willing to stand out from the crowd, try to be creative when writing their resumes, this ends up hurting them in most cases. Instead they should start thinking as the ATS does.

Here is what you need to do, to finally beat the machine:

  1. Find all the relevant keywords and add them to your résumé. Read carefully the job offering and try to spot all the keywords it contains. These include the requirements for the positions, including skills and qualifications. These are most likely the same the ATS will be looking for in your résumé. Avoid using synonyms or any other similar words. Just stick to the exact wording used in the job posting. Every job application has to be tailored for that specific vacancy.
  2. Never send your résumé as PDF. Most ATS are unable to properly read PDF, so if you do send your CV in this format, the system will most likely misinterpret it. The best choice is .doc as it is the most recognizable for ATS. Moreover, .docx should be avoided as well.
  3. Avoid tables and graphics. ATS cannot read graphics and they misread tables. Instead of reading tables left to right, as a person would, they read them from the top to the bottom. No point trying to confuse the machine.
  4. Feel free to send a longer resume. Software does not bother to the length of your résumé. A longer CV can contain more relevant keywords and phrases, increasing the chances of ranking higher in the system.
  5. Call your work experience, “Work Experience”. As already mentioned ATS searches for keywords, and “work experience” is the one they are looking for. Avoid using other expressions such as “professional experience” or “career achievements” because they will not be recognized by the system.
  6. Start your work experience with the company name. Often people list their work experience starting with the date. ATS do not recognize this. So, if you want the ATS to correctly read your job experience, write in this order: company name, title or position, and dates.

So this is how to maximize your chances of beating the machine and landing a job interview. Once again, knowing the right keywords and using them correctly, makes the real difference.

Good luck with your job search!

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