How to Beat the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

Landing a job in today’s competitive economy is tough. Unfortunately for candidates, applicant tracking systems (ATS) can make the process more complicated.

ATS is the computer software used by companies to manage and sort the flood of job applications and resumes they receive. ATS has many benefits for companies and hiring managers, but the software presents several challenges for job candidates.

The average employer receives 250 resumes per job posting, according to a study from Glassdoor. ATS sorts and screens resumes, essentially weeding out the resumes that don’t match keywords and parameters set by employers.

This automation from an ATS saves companies a lot of time, money, and frustration. RecruitingBlogs estimates that small companies can save $10,000 in wasted time and effort by using an ATS.

Like it or not, ATS is here to stay. About 99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS software.

Why You Need to Know About ATS

Every job seeker today needs to know what an ATS is and, more importantly, write and format their winning resumes so they can get past one.

The function of an ATS is to eliminate resumes that are under-qualified, identify top candidates, and minimize the pool of resumes. This means if your resume isn’t designed to beat an ATS, the hiring manager may never see it.

Just because your resume didn’t beat the ATS also doesn’t mean you’re weren’t qualified for the job. Some ATS can’t reliably filter candidates. Great candidates may slip through the cracks because their resumes don’t have the correct keywords or aren’t formatted properly.

The Importance of Keywords

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

One key function of ATS is to analyze resumes for keywords. Because of this ATS feature, job seekers should have the proper keywords in their resumes for each job they apply to. The best way to do this is to carefully read the job description and ensure you have the most relevant keywords in your resume.

However, be very careful of keyword stuffing your resume to try and trick the ATS. This is the common practice of stuffing your resume with keywords from the job description to try and rank high with ATS resume checkers. 

These online ATS resume checkers can be very misleading since they simply compare your resume to a job description and generate a score that supposed to determine how well your resume will rank on the employer’s end. Unfortunately, there’s no way for these online resume checkers to know exactly how each company uses ATS to rank or sort their resumes, which is why employers shun upon this practice today since it creates an unnatural resume that doesn’t flow correctly.

Of course you want to include the relevant keywords in your resume since they’re important. However, rather than just list them in your resume, you’ll want to show how you’ve performed using these skills (keywords) and what real-world experience you have with them. 

Remember to only include applicable skills, and don’t try to cheat your way past the ATS. 

Formatting is Critical

The formatting of your resume also has a significant impact on whether it gets past an ATS. Many ATS remove formatting and analyze plain text. In turn, it’s recommended to keep your resume’s format as simple as possible.

Use standard headings for sections of your resume, such as Work History, Professional

Experience, and Education. ATS are usually programmed to look for specific headings and titles, so don’t get too creative when naming them.

Using tables and columns is usually great on a resume, as it allows you to maximize space on the page. But tables and columns aren’t so great when trying to beat an ATS.

An ATS strips formatting out of resumes, and when tables and columns are used, it can cause system errors. ATS could read table content out of order or simply jumble the information. The result is a hiring manager may end up reading confusing information, or not see your resume at all. You’re better off leaving tables and columns out of your resume altogether.

Using a unique font also isn’t advisable. Your best bet is to use Times New Roman or Arial to beat ATS. Other acceptable fonts include Cambria, Georgia, Calibri, and Verdana. Font size doesn’t matter, but a 10- to 12-point font is generally recommended.

Other formatting tips to keep in mind include:

  • Bullet points are okay. Bullet points are a great way to organize information on a resume, and they should be used. Just be sure to only use the standard black-dot bullet points. Getting fancy and using bullet points like stars or diamonds may work against you when facing an ATS.
  • Correctly format dates. Always use both the month and year when writing dates on your resume. Only using the year can confuse an ATS. When you only use the year, ATS may automatically assign January 1st as the start date of the work experience or education.
  • Use a professional file name. Some ATS include the file name in their systems, so it’ll be visible to hiring managers. In turn, make sure the file name you choose is professional.

Think Quality Over Quantity

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

ATS gets a bad rap sometimes because many think they exclude too many candidates from the hiring process. But one reason HR managers like ATS is because they usually only exclude candidates who aren’t qualified or aren’t serious about the job in the first place.

Many people who aren’t qualified for a position may apply online because they figure, “Why not?” The ease of applying online to jobs today is good for candidates, but it can make life harder for HR pros. HR pros can get spammed by resumes from candidates who aren’t even remotely qualified for the position. That’s why ATS is helpful.

The bottom line for candidates is to only apply for jobs you’re qualified for and serious about. That doesn’t mean you must possess every desired skill or qualification, but you should at least possess the core skills the company is looking for and think the position is a good match for you.

If you think quality over quantity in your job search, you’ll be more likely to get a call back because you’ll be putting effort into the resumes you send out.

Targeting Decision-Makers

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

Writing a cover letter will give you an edge if done correctly. Make sure the opening paragraph is catchy and explain why you love their company and you’re excited to work for them. Don’t use overly formal language and use the cover letter as a chance to show off your unique personality.

Keep the cover letter content to a few paragraphs with some key bullets and always one page. Also, always find the correct decision-maker to address the cover letter to – and never address the letter to “Whom it May Concern.”

Getting past an ATS is vital for landing a job. But remember: Connecting with the right people who can offer you the job is the goal.

Submit your resume through the required means, such as the company website or job board. But remember to always follow-up and send a hard copy of your resume and a targeted cover letter via snail mail that shows why you’re the best candidate.

Mailing a physical copy of your resume separates you from the pack because nearly everyone today relies on submitting resumes electronically. When a key decision-maker sees a hard copy of your resume and cover letter, this will significantly increase your chances of getting an interview.

Also, make sure you follow up with every decision maker you’ve sent a resume to. Send a follow-up email to the person each week to ensure they received your resume and cover letter and they have reviewed your credentials.

Three follow-up emails should be enough to get their attention and not go overboard. After the three emails have been sent, you can be confident you’ve exhausted your efforts and move on.

So, how do you find these decision-makers? When you find a company you’re interested in, research the company on LinkedIn and Google and identify who the decision makers are for the position you want.

For example, if you’re looking to work as an Accountant for a specific company, search LinkedIn and Google for likely titles for the person who would be your boss, such as Accounting Manager or Accounting Director. Then contact these people directly and send them your resume.

Beating the ATS Bots

Creating a resume that’ll get past an ATS seems like a tall order, but don’t be discouraged. If you include relevant keywords, pay attention to formatting, and follow some of the other tips we listed, you have a good chance of beating an ATS and getting your resume in front of human eyes.

Another thing to remember about ATS is the software scans resumes and looks for things that hiring managers look for, too. ATS parameters are set by hiring managers, after all. So, if you design a resume that’s appropriate for ATS, the resume will impress recruiters and hiring pros, too.

Finally, remember the best strategy for applying to jobs is always to get your resume and cover letter in front of the person who can hire you. Design your resume for ATS and submit it through the proper channels, but always make sure you directly contact the decision-maker. This is best done by physically mailing a copy of your resume and cover letter to a decision-maker, and then following up with them three times via email.

Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.

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