6 Painless Ways to Format Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

woman_crying_typewriter.jpgFor active job seekers, there is nothing more important than a well-rounded resume. The resume is your first opportunity to show a potential employer who you are and why they should hire you. But, without considering this key point, chances are, no one will ever see it.

The average applicant spends hours perfecting each and every word, making sure to comb over resume tips articles, examine resume samples, and tinkering with their resume until they have finally developed a resume that is genuinely impressive. One of the advantages of the “digital resume” is that it allows applicants to broaden their search.

But, it also makes applying for jobs almost stupidly easy. All an applicant needs to do is click a button or two to submit their resume. Some people even create computer bots that apply for every job posted, even if it has nothing to do with their skillset. Altogether, it means that employers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of job applications for every job posting.


7 Seconds Per Resume

Within 24 hours of posting a job opening, most hiring managers are flooded with applications. Competitive positions at well-known brands can receive well over 1,000 educations within as little as a few days, and while not every company is quite that overwhelmed, most companies will still receive about 100 to 200 applications by the time the job is closed.

With so many applications, most companies simply cannot afford to go over each and every resume. That is why even when companies review resumes by hand, the average resume will only receive about 7 seconds of attention before the recruiter has to move on to the next resume.

With so little time available to review resumes, many hiring managers have chosen to stop reviewing resumes altogether. Instead, they have switched to what’s known as “Applicant Tracking Systems,” or “ATS”. And, if you don’t write a resume for the ATS, your resume may never be viewed at all.


Introduction to Applicant Tracking Systems

At their core, applicant tracking systems are simply resume databases. You send in your resume to a company, and someone within that company cuts and pastes the entire resume into a form, and then submits it to become part of that database.

Once in that database, one of two things may happen (depending on the ATS). Either the hiring manager can search for a key term that they believe is critical to the job, or they can program a mathematical equation that looks for key terms automatically, along with other types of data, and then scores the applicant’s resume based on the information requested.

No matter what type of applicant tracking system the company uses, the results are the same:

  • It makes it much easier to find a potential applicant.
  • It saves applicants in case future jobs open.
  • It ensures that hiring managers aren’t affected by bias.

Using an ATS, the employer is able to save time, reduce any chance of hiring the wrong person because of an unconscious bias, and find potentially qualified applicants from a much larger pool – including those that applied for a different job in the past.

The benefits for employers are substantial. But for job seekers, the ATS represents a new challenge. Even if you create an amazing resume that would wow the employer, if you missed just one important keyword, it’s possible that no one will ever see your resume.


How to Build a Resume that Beats the Applicant Tracking System

Your resume likely contains many natural keywords. While you cannot read the employer’s mind, you can increase your success rate by building a resume that incorporates keywords and key terms that hiring managers may look for.

If you are trying to beat the ATS, consider the following:


Utilize the Job Advertisement

Within the job advertisement are going to be key terms that should be in your resume. For example, if the hiring manager is looking for someone with SQL experience, the term “SQL” should be on your resume. You’ll find that many important terms are already listed in the job advertisement.


Write Both Full Phrases and Acronyms

Some jobs have key terms that are often abbreviated. For example, if you work in online marketing, you may call it “Search Engine Optimization,” but most people in the industry call it “SEO.” Those in the field know what you are talking about, but computers do not know that they are both the same thing.

So if a hiring manager searches the ATS for “SEO” and you only have “Search Engine Optimization” listed, you may not show up. Similarly, if you say “SEO” and they search for “search engine optimization,” you will not be there.

Make sure both the abbreviation and the full term are on your resume.


View Competitor Advertisements

Part of beating the ATS is about identifying key terms that other job seekers may have missed. If you only depend on the one job advertisement, you may be forgetting other important skills needed for the role. You can find more by reviewing other job openings for similar companies. You may find that there are key skills and terms that are great for your resume, because they are requested on similar job advertisements for other companies.


Take Advantage of Space

It can be difficult to place key terms throughout your resume. But you can add more if you take advantage of all available space. Consider using a professional summary instead of an objective statement, for example. Professional summaries are 5 to 6 sentence paragraphs about your job history, and they give you more space to share skills and use key terms than an objective statement would provide.

Prepare for Automation

Although not all applicant tracking systems use automatic scoring algorithms, it is still important to write your resume for those that do. There are several techniques that are important for this type of automation. First, use numbers instead of words. Some automated ATS read numbers as a part of scoring, and may not recognize that “6” is the same as “six.” It is better to use the number.

Also, automated ATS look for specific things on your resume. For example, they look for a “Work History” section. If you try to do anything too cute or off-the-wall, like name it a “My Professional Experience” section, the ATS may not know that that section is for your work history.

Write for Both People and the ATS

Applicant Tracking Systems are changing the way people write resumes. However, they are not changing everything. If your resume is flagged as a good resume, someone will still read it, and that means it still has to be well designed on a good template with excellent spelling and grammar. It still has to have all of the qualities of a resume that people would like to read.

But it’s also important to write for the ATS as well. That is why you should consider following the above tips, and write a resume that is ready for both people and computer databases. That is how you will give yourself the best chance to get the job.


About the Author: Sia Mohajer is a senior HR manager at Online Resume Builders where he helps students and young professionals find the jobs they deserve.

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