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How to Keep Your Resume Out of the ATS Black Hole

10 Feb, 2020

How to Keep Your Resume Out of the ATS Black Hole

I have been a paid Moderator for LinkedIn’s Premium Career Group since 2012. It’s a great community where people can ask burning job search questions and experts like myself reply.

One of the topics I frequently deal with the Applicant Tracking System and how job seekers can create resumes that will work with the ATS instead of against it.

Now, my personal belief is that we should lean more on our network and outreach to find that next perfect position but…

…we cannot ignore the need to create ATS friendly resumes.

Resumes should absolutely contain the language and layout the ATS needs to see so you can be filtered into the right bucket. However, what you should include on an ATS formatted resume is not always clear, so read on to find out how to create the perfect ATS formatted resume.

Strategies to Beat the ATS

Most people won’t get hired by job boards or third party recruiters (they are the remaining 10-15% of how hires are made). Yet, again, this is how most people spend their time job searching.

So the first strategy to beat the ATS is to avoid the ATS.

According to Sources of Hire studies by Silkroad, Zerista, and SHRM, 65-75% of job hires will happen via your network. If you want human contact in your job search, reach out to humans. Shift gears and make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile is right for people hiring for your target jobs.

With that said, 20-25% of hires do get hired through job postings and the ATS and as I mentioned earlier, having an ATS compliant resume should be part of your tool kit.

Here are some steps to best maximize these resume submissions to an ATS/job board. While no process is foolproof, use this guide to better prepare your resume for an online application.

Step 1: Answer filter questions completely and properly…and take the next step.

A staggering 75% of resumes are never seen by employers (CNBC 9/2019), so it is important to start the process right. An ATS typically screens candidates based on information provided in the application such as location and level of experience.

Make sure to answer all the questions on the application, because when a question is left blank, the ATS may discard your resume. Completing all the information asked in an online application will improve your chances of your resume being seen by a person.

Focus on the positive aspects of the ATS. With a combination of networking and a strategic outreach system, a job seeker can capture target job information that they can then put in the hands of the recruiter or hiring manager.

Every time after applying to a job through ATS, take the extra step and go find a contact that is connected to the job posting. Use the company website, LinkedIn or Google to source a contact name.

First target a hiring manager and as an alternative find a recruiter/talent acquisition manager. Reach out and introduce yourself promptly. Reference the job title and requisition number if there was one and ask for an informational phone call to share how you can add value in that job to that company and team.

The ATS can work if you don’t rely on the recruiter to act upon the application as the only way to get noticed. Plus the ATS can work as research too.

If you seek out a contact name, reach out, and ask for a phone call, you will be one of the very few people taking this next step. You would think that many people do this but they don’t and if could give you the edge you need.

Step 2: Format your resume in an ATS-friendly manner.

When applying online, minimize anything on your resume that could potentially clog the system. Advanced ATS can handle more font treatment than older ATS, so minimal treatment is okay.

The key is to avoid firm templates and keep formatting simple. Here are my top ten rules for ATS compliant resumes:

* Title your resume with your name and targeted title i.e., Your Name – Marketing Director.

* Remove unique headings and stick to common resume headings including Summary, Work Experience, Education and Skills.

* Remove images, columns, tables, fields, text boxes, and graphics so the ATS can quickly scan your text for keywords and phrases. The ATS may not be able to read data placed in images, tables, and text boxes, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Some light graphics are fine but on the whole, just keep it simple.

* Remove special characters and avoid creative or fancy bullets that are often illegible to an ATS scanner. Keep bullets simple.

* Avoid special fonts, font treatments and colors. Stick to fonts such as Arial, Georgia, Calibri, Cambria, Lucinda, Tahoma or Trebuchet, and only use black color.

* Avoid underlining words, which can mess up the legibility of lower case letters such as g, j or y.

* Avoid spelling errors, since an ATS doesn’t know what you ‘meant’ to write.

* Include contact information in the body of your resume, not in the header or footer.

* Save your resume as a basic word doc (.doc) or .txt file.

* Avoid templates, which are a combination of fields and tables and can confuse ATS systems. Also, avoid page numbers.

* When writing your employment history, present the information for each employer in the same order, i.e., company name, title, city, state, and date, and in reverse chronological order.

Step 3: Focus on your resume’s content.

Now that you’ve got the formatting nailed down, let’s take a look at the actual content of the resume and make sure it is compatible with an ATS.

1) Beef up your competency section: Improve your chances of being discovered by the ATS, make sure to include any certifications you’ve received and mention any industry-specific terminology (i.e., Salesforce for sales professionals or Oncology for healthcare professionals). Include both the spelled-out version and abbreviations of the same word.

2) Customize your resume: Optimize your professional summary with bulleted achievements and skills that relate to the job description. Then, find a natural way to include those keywords and phrases in your summary and throughout your resume.

3) You can also optimize your headers and titles based on the job description. Let’s say you see the term “communication skills” sprinkled throughout the job description. In your resume, make sure you mention your “communication skills” as an exact phrase.

4) Don’t overuse keywords: Do you need keywords? Absolutely. But stuffing keywords throughout your resume won’t get you anywhere.

At the end of the day, make sure your ATS-optimized resume is simple, straightforward, and will delight both a machine and a human reader. By all means, feel free to use a more designed version of your resume once you’ve landed the job interview!

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