Friday, December 26, 2014

Q&A: Writing Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resumes

Got this question in the mailbag today!

Q. How do I make sure the resumes I write are ATS compatible?

A. Great question! "ATS" stands for "Applicant Tracking Systems," for those who are unfamiliar with the term. (And if you're a resume writer today, you should be familiar with it!!)

Applicant tracking systems fulfill two purposes: to manage applications for positions (especially where there is a high volume of applicants), and to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job.

Applicant tracking systems allow companies to determine which candidates may be a match for a particular position, based on a scan of the candidate's resume by a computer program that analyzes the content of the resume and determines how well it "fits" against the description of the position, including keywords.

Some applicant tracking systems also facilitate internal communication among hiring professionals — allowing those with access to the system to share applicant resumes and notes.

The goal of the ATS is to help hiring managers and recruiters more easily identify candidates with the skills, education, and experience that are most desired of candidates. Just like you want the most relevant search results returned when you type a query into Google, the hiring manager doesn’t want to sift through hundreds or thousands of resumes to find the handful of people he or she really wants to talk to.

When there are a large number of applicants for a position, the ATS allows the hiring manager to screen out low-ranking resumes, saving valuable time. In this instance, the applicant tracking system works a bit like your email spam filter. It separates out resumes it doesn’t feel would be relevant for the position being filled. Like a spam filter, it recognizes content that might not be important.

There are no clear statistics about the number of companies using applicant tracking systems; however, it’s clear that those numbers will continue to grow as the software’s cost comes down.

You might not know if the resume you're writing is going to go through an ATS, but the chances are that it probably will, so it's wise to keep that in mind when writing the resume UNLESS you know the candidate is only going to be submitting his resume to companies with fewer than 20 employees OR she is going to be giving the resume directly to the hiring manager and won't be subject to "resume screening."

It helps to have an understanding of how the ATS works so you can ensure you're writing resumes that will work seamlessly with a wide variety of systems and software.

Note: This post will discuss resume content; I'll write another one tomorrow that talks about resume formatting for the ATS.

There are numerous different ATS software programs on the market — including a few new ones that operate “in the cloud” — and all applicant tracking systems are slightly different. However, they all work in a similar way, by allowing for filtering, management, and analysis of candidates for a particular job opening.

Applicant tracking systems “parse” the information in the resumes submitted, pulling them apart and placing information in specific fields within the ATS database, such as work experience, education, contact data, etc. The system then analyzes the extracted information for criteria relevant to the position being filled — such as number of years of experience or particular skills. Then, it assigns each resume a score, giving the candidate a ranking compared to other applicants so recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates who are the “best fit” for the job.

Criteria used by the applicant tracking system to determine a match includes:
  • Appearance of a keyword or phrase — this can be measured by its presence in the document at all — as well as the number of times the keyword or phrase appears. 
  • Relevance of the keyword within context. (Does the keyword or phrase appear with other keywords you would expect?) 

The higher the resume ranking, the more likely the application will end up being reviewed by a human reader.

Success in navigating an applicant tracking system isn’t simply about the volume of keywords and phrases — it’s the right keywords — and, in particular, how unique those keywords are. Most jobseekers include the “obvious” keywords, but many applicant tracking systems put value on related keywords, not those specific terms.

Applicant tracking systems see some keywords and phrases as more “valuable” than others. Many systems also allow the hiring manager or recruiter to “weight” criteria — applying greater significance to certain terms or qualifications. Hiring managers can also apply filters to further refine the candidate pool — for example, geographic or educational criteria. They can also specify keywords as either “desired” or “required,” which affects rankings.

In many cases, however, the system itself determines the most relevant keywords and phrases, as outlined in the job posting.

Resume effectiveness goes beyond the ATS, however. Once your client's resume pops up in the ATS search results, it needs to reflect what the recruiter or hiring manager expects from a candidate with the qualifications they desire.

Think about when you’re conducting a search on Google. You type in your search criteria, and a list of results appears. You begin clicking on results and can tell within a matter of seconds if the item fits what you were looking for. If it does, you’ll read further. If it doesn’t, you’ll click onto the next result. The same is true with the ATS.

For resumes analyzed by an ATS, it is important to include as much relevant information as possible. Inadvertent omission of key data can be the difference between having your client's resume appear in a list of candidates meeting search criteria — and not making the cut.

For example, if the client is pursuing a degree or certification, it should be included in the client's resume (labeling it as “in progress” or “pending completion”), because a hiring manager may search for a specific type of degree or keywords contained in an area of study.

If the missing information is keyword-rich (i.e., a relevant job, educational credential, or certification), that can negatively impact the resume's rating — and, therefore, the likelihood of him or her being selected for an interview.

Keywords can be nouns, adjectives, or short phrases — and describe unique skills, abilities, knowledge/education/training, and/or experience.

How can you find the keywords or search terms that are likely going to be used to query the ATS?

Also look for synonyms to the keywords you identify.

In tomorrow's blog post, I'll address the importance of formatting the resume correctly to comply with the ATS software.

1 comment:

  1. It’s no secret that the applicant tracking system (ATS) has been one of the dominant sources of frustration among talent acquisition practitioners and job seekers alike. While many ATS vendors have come a long way in offering more user-friendly interfaces and intuitive workflows, many employers leverage their ATSs simply as place to store resumes and post jobs. While these features are necessary to the recruiting process, they aren't core features for which these systems were originally intended to be used.