Author Topic: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems  (Read 2290 times)

BrooklineBiker

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Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« on: March 16, 2017, 05:23:21 PM »
Hi everyone,
I'm in the midst of a job search & have a few questions regarding Applicant Tracking Systems.
First, does anyone know of a link to a good example of an ATS-beating resume that also looks good to humans? (The ATS-friendly resumes I've seen on the web look pretty ugly.)
Second, I've read 90% of big companies use ATS. Is usage as widespread at smaller firms or nonprofits?
Third, I was told that if an online job application requires you to copy your resume into a "box", the resume will be screened by an ATS not a human. However, if the application lets you upload your personal resume, a person is likely to screen the resume. Does this seem likely? Or is an ATS always lurking at large enterprises?
Thanks!

lost_in_the_endless_aisle

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2017, 09:10:24 PM »
If that many major companies rely on ATS then maybe the ATS itself is a screening method that they expect clever applicants to overcome? It sounds ridiculous, but maybe that's true.

My guess is only a few very very big and famous companies (google, apple, etc.) would have a very strict system: the idea is to filter out the clear idiots but leave in the winners, while making the human part of the search tractable. I bet large, famous companies get everything from duplicated spam resumes to insane people/retards applying because of name recognition. That effect requires the (making this up) 10,000 resumes per position to be narrowed to maybe 100 per position for human review. The filter is probably generally very simplistic to throw out the obvious cranks; beyond that, you are probably pleasing a human, not a bot.

At my employer (Fortune 1000) the quality of the resumes I've seen imply a crude filter, rather than some sort of soul-sucking voracious creature, though I don't know the details.

Papa bear

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2017, 09:28:18 PM »
The absolute best way to beat an  ATS is to pick up the phone and talk to whoever is hiring. 

More companies that you would think use one.   I'll go into more detail about this when I get to a computer tomorrow.  I could write a damn dissertation on this.


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vivophoenix

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2017, 08:47:06 AM »
i have always just rewritten my resume to use the exact words and phrases in the job description. that way formatting is find but it gets past the ATS which is just a word filter, and HR who usually dont know what they are looking for and finally to the hiring manager who actually makes real decisions.

BrooklineBiker

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2017, 03:42:47 PM »
Hi everyone,
This is great information. Please keep it coming!

Papa bear

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2017, 09:06:26 PM »
My apologies for taking a bit of time to get back.  Getting to a computer to write a decent length post was starting to feel too much like work...

Short Answers:

I'm in the midst of a job search & have a few questions regarding Applicant Tracking Systems.
First, does anyone know of a link to a good example of an ATS-beating resume that also looks good to humans? (The ATS-friendly resumes I've seen on the web look pretty ugly.)

NO, create your own and tailor it directly to the job you are applying for.   Make sure you use some of the key words in the job description directly in your resume in some capacity.  If they need a Project Manager with JAVA experience in an agile environment in an Information Technology division, make sure your resume reflects that experience, no matter how intuitive it may seem by looking at a role.  Or if they need someone who knows US GAAP Accounting with creating financial statements and using journal entries, again, make sure this is on your resume.  ATSs are not smart systems and are only as good as the information that a generalist recruiter enters in to a prepopulated set of attributes that were created by a software developer with little to no experience working in a field that you are probably applying for.

Second, I've read 90% of big companies use ATS. Is usage as widespread at smaller firms or nonprofits?

I would say that 100% of large companies at this point are using some sort of ATS.  Their use is getting much more popular with small firms, non-profits, government, schools, etc.  You will have a better chance at actually reaching a person with smaller firms as applicant volume is low and the Manager/HR/Recruiter may have the ATS forward all resumes directly to them first. 

Third, I was told that if an online job application requires you to copy your resume into a "box", the resume will be screened by an ATS not a human. However, if the application lets you upload your personal resume, a person is likely to screen the resume. Does this seem likely? Or is an ATS always lurking at large enterprises?

I’m not aware that there is a general rule guiding whether or not an algorithm is screening your resume based on how you upload your resume.   I know in setting up ATSs, they are very customizable for how applicants will send resumes and to whom they get forwarded to.  If I were to come up with a general rule, I would say any company that has multiple recruiters in an HR department will have your application and resume uploaded to the ATS database first before being screened by a human.   For smaller organizations, your resume may be forwarded directly to an individual or may need to be screened by a human before being entered into a database.


Long answer – probably will be used as a blog post in some capacity in the future:

First, what is an ATS?  ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System.  This is a software package that allows recruiters and HR to better keep a handle on the pipeline of candidates that have applied to positions at their company.   This, in theory, should allow the recruiter or HR professional to identify and keep track of qualified candidates throughout the recruiting cycle, from application to start date.  ATSs have become ubiquitous in medium and large companies and are increasingly more common with smaller businesses as ATSs become part of Saas (Software as a Service). 

Now, ATSs can be a powerful tool.  These systems can make finding potential employees more efficient.  However, in practice, especially at companies with large recruiting teams, these systems create havoc for people applying to open roles, reduce internal communication between recruiters, and are limited by algorithms created by software engineers that aren’t experts in the fields that a company is recruiting for.

This affects you, the job applicant, the person with the skillset looking for a new career, the outstanding worker, the reason the software should exist in the first place!  You find a job online, click on “apply now” and get sent to a page to upload half of your personal information and resume, where is gets dumped with 1,000s of other resumes for people who have applied for this or other positions.  Now, depending on how a company’s ATS is set up, your resume may get quickly screened by a recruiter, get pre-screened by a computer algorithm, or get sent directly into a database for a recruiter to search for later.  The problem here is that your resume and application may never get seen by a real human! 

So, as the person who could be the best fit for an open role, how can you make sure your resume gets seen?  The goal of your resume is to get you an interview whether that be a recruiter or, hopefully, the actual hiring manager.  But to get an interview, your resume needs to get seen by a person who is recruiting for the position that you applied to.   Herein lies two problems, getting your resume in front of a person and in front of the right person. 

There are really two ways to get past this goliath of inefficiencies, change your resume to game the ATS algorithm, or go old school and get on the phone. 

Change your resume:
This is where it helps to know a bit about the ATS algorithms.   While the systems are getting better, they are still very limited.  First, the ATS has been pre-populated with criteria that a developer might think be useful for thousands of different jobs with different skills.  It is damn near impossible to come up with every potential criterion for every job and continually make updates.  Finally, searching for a suitable candidate requires that an applicant use specific keywords in a resume and that the recruiter is using appropriate keywords to search for a job.   The inputs are garbage.  You can control only one side of this equation.  Here are some ways to make sure your inputs, your resume, will be optimized.

•   Make sure you include all contact information, including address.  Algorithms can search based on location and distance to the job. 
•   Use MS Word or text to submit your resume.   PDF’s can cause problems with parsing your resume.
•   Do not use tables, text boxes, pictures, or other fancy formatting.  These will cause problems with parsing your resume.
•   Remove the “fluff” from your resume, including an Objective, references, etc.
•   Look at the public job posting for the position.  What criterion do they use in the posting that describes the role? Look at what they use to talk about the job duties, day to day work, management experience, etc. Make sure to look at the qualifications and skills tab. 
•   Take the skills from the job description and add those requirements directly to your resume, no matter how basic or how intuitive you think it may be to be on your resume.
•   If you work at a company that has odd or non standard job titles, add a title next to your company’s internal title that better reflects the work done.   For instance, if you are titles as Analyst II at Mega Corp, but your skillset reflects closer to Senior Accountant, feel free to add this next to your company title.  I would implore you to not exaggerate your titles above your actual work experience. 
•   Use a standard format for your work experience, such as:
ABC Corporation, SmallTown, USA                  2014-2017
     Title, Awesome Engineer
•   Write bullet points using action verbs highlighting SKILLS and quantifiable successes

Great!  You just spent hours tweaking your resume to apply to a single job.  This still won’t guarantee that your resume gets seen.  That brings us to number two.  Bypass the ATS directly and contact Managers, HR, or Recruiters directly.  This can be done by phone or by email.  In my opinion, this is the single best way for you to get your resume seen by the people that matter.   In fact, this is the strategy employed by third party headhunters for sales.   Staffing/recruiting is a multi-billion dollar industry that exists in part to work around an ATS.  Here are some tips:
•   First, make sure your resume is up to date and ready to be read by a company.
•   Next, find out who the key players in the organization are.  LinkedIn is a powerful tool to find people’s names, titles, contact information, etc.  I could write an entire paper just on LinkedIn marketing. 
•   Get in contact with those key players for the job. 
o   Send a LinkedIn invite with a personal message about the job.
o   Email their work email with what is essentially your cover letter
o   Call and leave a 30 second voice message with your contact information and 2 sentences about why you are awesome for the job.   This could be your elevator pitch.
o   If you get someone on the phone work in some small talk with the intent of having a brief phone interview.  Try to close to an in person meeting over coffee to talk more about the job.
•   Once you get into contact with a key player, request if you can send your resume.   Make sure you follow up and email them an MS Word copy of your updated resume.   
•   At this point, HR may get involved and ask that you apply to their ATS formally.   This is great!  You have now spoken with key players, they have your actual resume, and now you can officially apply.   
•   Follow up by email to thank anyone you spoke with for their help. 

Either of these methods can work to get you through the system.  If you don’t feel comfortable with reaching out directly to the company, make sure you do everything you can on your resume to beat the algorithm.   As with anything, there are no guarantees!  I wish you all the luck in your future job searches.



khangaroo

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2017, 11:35:47 PM »
I've heard of people writing all the keywords in the job application on their resume in white so it gets picked up by the tracking system but not necessarily seen by the recruiting manager.

Could be totally baloney but hey, if it gets you that interview/phone call...

BrooklineBiker

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2017, 02:45:47 PM »
Hi Pappa Bear,
Thank you so much for putting all of this together. You really helped me here!
My apologies for taking a bit of time to get back.  Getting to a computer to write a decent length post was starting to feel too much like work...

Short Answers:

I'm in the midst of a job search & have a few questions regarding Applicant Tracking Systems.
First, does anyone know of a link to a good example of an ATS-beating resume that also looks good to humans? (The ATS-friendly resumes I've seen on the web look pretty ugly.)

NO, create your own and tailor it directly to the job you are applying for.   Make sure you use some of the key words in the job description directly in your resume in some capacity.  If they need a Project Manager with JAVA experience in an agile environment in an Information Technology division, make sure your resume reflects that experience, no matter how intuitive it may seem by looking at a role.  Or if they need someone who knows US GAAP Accounting with creating financial statements and using journal entries, again, make sure this is on your resume.  ATSs are not smart systems and are only as good as the information that a generalist recruiter enters in to a prepopulated set of attributes that were created by a software developer with little to no experience working in a field that you are probably applying for.

Second, I've read 90% of big companies use ATS. Is usage as widespread at smaller firms or nonprofits?

I would say that 100% of large companies at this point are using some sort of ATS.  Their use is getting much more popular with small firms, non-profits, government, schools, etc.  You will have a better chance at actually reaching a person with smaller firms as applicant volume is low and the Manager/HR/Recruiter may have the ATS forward all resumes directly to them first. 

Third, I was told that if an online job application requires you to copy your resume into a "box", the resume will be screened by an ATS not a human. However, if the application lets you upload your personal resume, a person is likely to screen the resume. Does this seem likely? Or is an ATS always lurking at large enterprises?

I’m not aware that there is a general rule guiding whether or not an algorithm is screening your resume based on how you upload your resume.   I know in setting up ATSs, they are very customizable for how applicants will send resumes and to whom they get forwarded to.  If I were to come up with a general rule, I would say any company that has multiple recruiters in an HR department will have your application and resume uploaded to the ATS database first before being screened by a human.   For smaller organizations, your resume may be forwarded directly to an individual or may need to be screened by a human before being entered into a database.


Long answer – probably will be used as a blog post in some capacity in the future:

First, what is an ATS?  ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System.  This is a software package that allows recruiters and HR to better keep a handle on the pipeline of candidates that have applied to positions at their company.   This, in theory, should allow the recruiter or HR professional to identify and keep track of qualified candidates throughout the recruiting cycle, from application to start date.  ATSs have become ubiquitous in medium and large companies and are increasingly more common with smaller businesses as ATSs become part of Saas (Software as a Service). 

Now, ATSs can be a powerful tool.  These systems can make finding potential employees more efficient.  However, in practice, especially at companies with large recruiting teams, these systems create havoc for people applying to open roles, reduce internal communication between recruiters, and are limited by algorithms created by software engineers that aren’t experts in the fields that a company is recruiting for.

This affects you, the job applicant, the person with the skillset looking for a new career, the outstanding worker, the reason the software should exist in the first place!  You find a job online, click on “apply now” and get sent to a page to upload half of your personal information and resume, where is gets dumped with 1,000s of other resumes for people who have applied for this or other positions.  Now, depending on how a company’s ATS is set up, your resume may get quickly screened by a recruiter, get pre-screened by a computer algorithm, or get sent directly into a database for a recruiter to search for later.  The problem here is that your resume and application may never get seen by a real human! 

So, as the person who could be the best fit for an open role, how can you make sure your resume gets seen?  The goal of your resume is to get you an interview whether that be a recruiter or, hopefully, the actual hiring manager.  But to get an interview, your resume needs to get seen by a person who is recruiting for the position that you applied to.   Herein lies two problems, getting your resume in front of a person and in front of the right person. 

There are really two ways to get past this goliath of inefficiencies, change your resume to game the ATS algorithm, or go old school and get on the phone. 

Change your resume:
This is where it helps to know a bit about the ATS algorithms.   While the systems are getting better, they are still very limited.  First, the ATS has been pre-populated with criteria that a developer might think be useful for thousands of different jobs with different skills.  It is damn near impossible to come up with every potential criterion for every job and continually make updates.  Finally, searching for a suitable candidate requires that an applicant use specific keywords in a resume and that the recruiter is using appropriate keywords to search for a job.   The inputs are garbage.  You can control only one side of this equation.  Here are some ways to make sure your inputs, your resume, will be optimized.

•   Make sure you include all contact information, including address.  Algorithms can search based on location and distance to the job. 
•   Use MS Word or text to submit your resume.   PDF’s can cause problems with parsing your resume.
•   Do not use tables, text boxes, pictures, or other fancy formatting.  These will cause problems with parsing your resume.
•   Remove the “fluff” from your resume, including an Objective, references, etc.
•   Look at the public job posting for the position.  What criterion do they use in the posting that describes the role? Look at what they use to talk about the job duties, day to day work, management experience, etc. Make sure to look at the qualifications and skills tab. 
•   Take the skills from the job description and add those requirements directly to your resume, no matter how basic or how intuitive you think it may be to be on your resume.
•   If you work at a company that has odd or non standard job titles, add a title next to your company’s internal title that better reflects the work done.   For instance, if you are titles as Analyst II at Mega Corp, but your skillset reflects closer to Senior Accountant, feel free to add this next to your company title.  I would implore you to not exaggerate your titles above your actual work experience. 
•   Use a standard format for your work experience, such as:
ABC Corporation, SmallTown, USA                  2014-2017
     Title, Awesome Engineer
•   Write bullet points using action verbs highlighting SKILLS and quantifiable successes

Great!  You just spent hours tweaking your resume to apply to a single job.  This still won’t guarantee that your resume gets seen.  That brings us to number two.  Bypass the ATS directly and contact Managers, HR, or Recruiters directly.  This can be done by phone or by email.  In my opinion, this is the single best way for you to get your resume seen by the people that matter.   In fact, this is the strategy employed by third party headhunters for sales.   Staffing/recruiting is a multi-billion dollar industry that exists in part to work around an ATS.  Here are some tips:
•   First, make sure your resume is up to date and ready to be read by a company.
•   Next, find out who the key players in the organization are.  LinkedIn is a powerful tool to find people’s names, titles, contact information, etc.  I could write an entire paper just on LinkedIn marketing. 
•   Get in contact with those key players for the job. 
o   Send a LinkedIn invite with a personal message about the job.
o   Email their work email with what is essentially your cover letter
o   Call and leave a 30 second voice message with your contact information and 2 sentences about why you are awesome for the job.   This could be your elevator pitch.
o   If you get someone on the phone work in some small talk with the intent of having a brief phone interview.  Try to close to an in person meeting over coffee to talk more about the job.
•   Once you get into contact with a key player, request if you can send your resume.   Make sure you follow up and email them an MS Word copy of your updated resume.   
•   At this point, HR may get involved and ask that you apply to their ATS formally.   This is great!  You have now spoken with key players, they have your actual resume, and now you can officially apply.   
•   Follow up by email to thank anyone you spoke with for their help. 

Either of these methods can work to get you through the system.  If you don’t feel comfortable with reaching out directly to the company, make sure you do everything you can on your resume to beat the algorithm.   As with anything, there are no guarantees!  I wish you all the luck in your future job searches.

BrooklineBiker

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2017, 02:46:42 PM »
I've heard of people writing all the keywords in the job application on their resume in white so it gets picked up by the tracking system but not necessarily seen by the recruiting manager.

Could be totally baloney but hey, if it gets you that interview/phone call...
Hi Khangaroo,
I think I'll try that right now. Thanks! :)

DavidDoes

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2017, 04:59:09 PM »
I've heard of people writing all the keywords in the job application on their resume in white so it gets picked up by the tracking system but not necessarily seen by the recruiting manager.

Could be totally baloney but hey, if it gets you that interview/phone call...

This is what I do. But replace "white" with "whatever your background color is".

I create my résumés and cover letters in Apple's Pages, create a new text field, change the text color to match the background, make the font size tiny, and type up (or search Google for) all sorts of keywords that match and exceed the job description.

gisk

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2017, 05:36:02 PM »
I've heard of people writing all the keywords in the job application on their resume in white so it gets picked up by the tracking system but not necessarily seen by the recruiting manager.

Could be totally baloney but hey, if it gets you that interview/phone call...

This is what I do. But replace "white" with "whatever your background color is".

I create my résumés and cover letters in Apple's Pages, create a new text field, change the text color to match the background, make the font size tiny, and type up (or search Google for) all sorts of keywords that match and exceed the job description.

Has anyone ever called you on this? Mentioned it at all?

Papa bear

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Re: Getting Through Applicant Tracking Systems
« Reply #11 on: March 22, 2017, 07:18:08 PM »
I do see this from time to time, though not as much lately over the past few years.  In a lot of these systems, the recruiter will run a key word search or a match search from their job in their database.  Words tend to get highlighted and that will defeat the purpose of the "hidden" key words.  This may get your resume to get scanned by a person, but I'm not sure if it would help to get a call back. I usually tell people to remove the big list of keywords.   I'm not sure it helps but could hurt in a situation.  This is all anecdotal, I don't have any data to support this though.


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