Saturday, October 20, 2012

Optimizing Your Résumé for Applicant Tracking Software [ATS]

Now that on-line job search technology has made it easier for job seekers to identify and apply for their next career opportunity, employers are using that same technology to help them search for qualified applicants.  Being aware of advances in recruiting technology and knowing how these systems work is very important in creating a résumé that will increase the chances of being selected for the job. 

Applicant Tracking Software [ATS] systems help employers efficiently sort, organize, store and maintain candidate résumés and supporting documents.  The objective of the ATS is to reduce the time and cost of identifying suitable candidates.  By using sophisticated screening and sorting programs, the ATS helps put the resume records into the right buckets.  These programs use a variety of filters and screeners, sometimes called “contextual parsers”, to help sort and categorize résumés. The ATS analyzes the résumé, identifies keywords and word sequences, and extracts the information needed to make a logical decision.  More advanced ATS can even combine many elements of the résumé to create a profile without any human intervention at all. 

The primary goal of writing the résumé should be to satisfy the human reader, but a human will not even see the document unless it is categorized correctly. Listed below are some ATS basics that help ensure that your résumé will scan properly and ultimately be read by a human:

All résumé databases ask applicants to fill out an initial screen of information.  The required fields of information include the following:
1. Location/contact info (address to determine commutable distance)
2. Career level (student, entry, experienced, manager, executive)
3. Education level (high school, certification, vocational, degrees though doctorate)
4. Occupational area (accounting, engineering, legal, sales, etc.)
5. Industry (or industry segment)
If this initial information screen is not provided, the ATS will work properly and be unable to classify the information using the logic built into it.  ATS also capture information on things like language proficiency, salary level, GPA, employment status and résumé source (employee referral, job board, or company website.) N.B. Leaving information out will cause the filter to overlook your résumé. Filtered résumés are then listed in order of relevance, with the most recently submitted résumés on top.  The freshness of your résumé is critical to getting to the top of the list.  If the system allows you to make changes to your resume, change it often (maybe every 2- 4 weeks) to increase your ranking and visibility.  

When using keywords your résumé, always use both the unabbreviated and abbreviated word/jargon/terminology Given that it is difficult to predict the exact search term used by the ATS, spelling out the terminology and using acronyms on the same line is a smart way to go.
HINT:   Review job descriptions, job postings and advertisements for jobs you are seeking and make a list of the skills required.  Look for terms, jargon and buzz words that are industry and job specific.  Having multiple columns of these words will help you to focus on the ones that are the most important.
HINT: The more technical your profession, the more important keywords are. 
HINT: A Keyword Summary section is not recommended because it is perceived by recruiters to be manipulative
HINT: Utilize software programs that create ‘word clouds’, i.e. that isolate important keywords as they can be very helpful when trying to decide which keywords to include in your résumé  These programs give prominence to words that appear more frequently and present the results visually.  

Avoiding the Black Hole:
ATS systems do not like special situations thrown at them.  Here are some general tips to help ensure that your résumé uploads properly and scanned without a hitch:
1. Stick to standard or system fonts
2. Use generic .RTF or .DOC file types.  Avoid PDF, DOCX, WPD, WPS or HTML.
3. Special characters used for bullets like arrows can cause problems.  Standard bullets are fine.
4. Graphics of any kind, or JPG, PNG, BMP images should not be used.
5. Avoid using borders, headers/footers, shading or symbols
6. Do not use hidden keywords or words with small text colored white so it does not appear to a reader
Copyright © 2012, Career Matters. All Rights Reserved. Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2012, Career Matters. Reprinted by permission of the author, Mary Salvino. “Career Matters” is a blog authored by Mary Salvino, Senior Consultant for SMART Career that is dedicated to those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. This blog is also dedicated to those who stand a little taller each time they picked themselves up after failing and those who gained the wisdom and humility from those experiences to help others do the same. For any questions or comments that are better addressed privately, please feel free to e-mail Mary directly at