Outsmarting Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

When applicant tracking systems came into mainstream use among corporations, they were very expensive, so if they kept up with hiring needs and didn’t break, they often didn’t get replaced. Newer ATS technology is available in the cloud now, so nearly any size company can afford to use it, but lots of companies still use their legacy systems. Hundreds of different applicant tracking systems are in use today, typically tailored towards a particular industry, and they’re used by recruiters with differing training and experience levels.

When a candidate applies for a job via the career page of a corporate website, the content from the resume they upload is read electronically and transferred into the company’s applicant tracking system.

Parsing software reads and sorts each resume’s contents.

In a nutshell, parsing software is comprised of algorithms that look at the data, compare it to patterns it knows what to do with, and, if recognized as fitting the pattern, puts the content where it belongs in the applicant file. For example, if the parsing software saw a three digit number followed by a three digit number followed by a four digit number on an applicant’s resume, an algorithm would recognize the number string as a phone number and the data would go into the phone number spot of that person’s applicant file.

The parsing software’s algorithms go down the resume and look for patterns, like the section titles called summary, education, professional experience and certifications. If those words are found, the content underneath is copied and placed into the corresponding section in the applicant’s file.

Keyword counting software kicks in next.

Keyword counting software’s job is to compare the words in each data set (the content from each applicant’s resume) against a keyword set – the words that the recruiter or hiring manager thinks are the most likely to appear on the resumes of candidates who are qualified for a particular position. People with the most keywords on their resumes appear at the top of the list, so this is where she’ll start.

Candidates with the most keywords are not always going to be the “right” candidate to move forward with, but at least they get a set of human eyes on their information. The recruiter will often go down the list and make a keep/toss choice until she has “enough” likely candidates to pursue. This is why optimizing the resume for keywords is so important; a candidate could be the best qualified, but if the recruiter never gets to their information because they’re too far down the keyword results list, short of a hiring manager who can pluck that candidate’s resume out of obscurity, they’ll never be invited in for an interview.

It’s often challenging to know if certain companies are using legacy systems or the newest cloud technology, so I format my client’s resumes to work with even the oldest parsing software. Simple section titles, “Work History or Professional Experience” (instead of “Marketing Success Path”), work for all parsing software I’m aware of. Some systems can’t see into graphics, like tables or charts, and some look directly underneath the section title for the content to parse into each section, so I avoid columns.

How to keyword optimize a resume.

When I write resumes, I nearly always leave the resume headline, the first word/phrase directly under the contact information, to be personalized for each job. If someone is applying to a large company that uses requisition or job ID numbers, those should appear adjacent to the job title headline, Area Sales Manager – Req. #4209478, for example. Job titles are nearly often keywords and the requisition number is useful for recruiters.

I like to include a sub-headline and a keyword section in the summary; both can be personalized to suit the job at hand and should be adjusted to match the company’s vernacular. If a person had, “Sales Team Leadership” on their resume but they were applying to a company that called it, “Success Group Management,” for example, that phrase should be swapped out on the resume sent to that company.

Another great area of opportunity for keywords is the education section. Listing course titles of the 3-5 college classes most relevant to current career goals is a good keyword optimization strategy, as is adding in online or employer-provided trainings. If switching careers, course titles may be one of the only legitimate ways to get keywords from the new industry onto the resume. Similarly, add the topics and locations/organizations of any relevant speaking engagements and add the full names (spell out acronyms) of any professional associations.

Jill Walser

pexels-photo-440588.jpegOwner, I got the job!