When I speak with my clients for the first time, and we discuss crafting and strategizing their LinkedIn profile and resume, most of them don’t know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the executive resume black hole.
ATS were developed to deal with the overwhelming number of resumes executive recruiters and employers receive these days for openings posted on job boards and company websites.
Many job seekers have aggravated this situation because, even though they may be unqualified for a job posting, they’ll send out their resume to any and all job listings that are even remotely a fit for them.
ATS and the Executive Resume Black Hole – What You May Not Know
How do Applicant Tracking Systems work?
Here’s what happens when you respond to a job listing online, or send your resume to a gatekeeper – an executive recruiter or human resources department:
1. The document is put into a database or ATS, along with thousands of other resumes, for various kinds of jobs they’re trying to fill.
2. To call up good-fit candidates, the database parses the content for the relevant keywords the ATS is looking for, for any given particular job.
3. Resumes with enough of the right keywords, according to particular criteria, are chosen.
4. Resumes that are incorrectly formatted, don’t contain the right relevant keywords, or don’t fit the bill in some other way aren’t called up, at least for that particular job.
But companies need ATS, right?
Maybe. But ATS and the executive resume are not a match made in heaven. ATS don’t do their job well . . . and they pose several problems:
→ When you respond to a job listing, the site won’t tell you that your resume will go through an ATS. And, if you’re like most of the executive job seekers I’ve spoken with, you don’t know about ATS. You upload a highly-formatted resume without pumping it full of the right keywords. It gets dumped into the system and then never called up.
→ There is not one universal ATS and they’re always evolving. Companies can choose from more than 200 different ATS software applications. A resume with formatting enhancements may work for some ATS, but not for others. The job seeker has no way of knowing.
→ Companies lose out too. ATS actually eliminate most candidates. Even 100% perfect-fit candidates may get passed by because they don’t know about ATS and how to get their resume through them.
And job seekers need job boards to get a job, right?
Unfortunately, landing a job is not that simple. This job search strategy yields dismal results. Something like only 10% of jobs are landed through job boards.
Recruiters are a source for jobs, but they, too, don’t provide a great success rate, so you can’t heavily rely on them to get you a job.
That is why I recommend spending very little time on these strategies. Use job boards for research instead.
What’s a job seeker to do, to deal with ATS and the executive resume?
The lesson here is that networking is still the best way to land a good-fit job. Here’s the advice I give to my clients regarding ATS:
Network your way into your target companies, circumventing the gatekeepers and therefore ATS, for as long as you can. If a candidate makes a person-to-person connection with a hiring manager and becomes an even somewhat known entity BEFORE their resume goes into ATS, they’re more likely to sail through the ATS.
Send the people you’re networking with 3 versions of your resume:
1. A nicely formatted Word version that’s pleasing to the human eye.
2. A PDF version of #1 because formatting of Word documents may shift from one computer or device to the next when viewed and printed. A PDF will always look exactly like the original document.
3. An ATS-friendly or text version in case they’ll be forwarding your resume over to an ATS. Let them know that’s why you’re sending it. And let them know that, if they’re viewing your resume on a mobile device, this is the version to open. The formatted Word and PDF versions may not be mobile-friendly, depending upon the readers’ device.
What if you want to use job boards?
If you decide to respond to job board listings, pay close attention to the hard skills and other qualifications you see in the job descriptions. Make sure you get those things into your ATS-friendly resume.
Use the ATS-friendly version to either cut and paste your resume content into the blocks provided, or upload the document, following the instructions on the site.
Perhaps surprisingly, your ATS-friendly resume needs to be human-friendly, too. A hiring professional will review it once the system calls it up.
Your ATS-friendly resume, just like the nicely formatted version, should reinforce your personal brand. Be sure to give a feel for your personality and softer skills, along with hard skills, which translate to the all important relevant keywords and phrases needed to succeed through ATS.
Job search expert Hannah Morgan wrote a post about ATS in which she reached out to several other experts on LinkedIn. Most of them advised circumventing ATS by networking your way into target companies. But, if you’re determined to use the job boards to apply for jobs, here’s good advice from some of them:
“No headers, no footers, no tables or templates. (Yeah I know that’s going to piss people off.) Simplify in a common font using simple bullets and spacing. I can’t believe how much crap opens weirdly, and my folks are techies! Send as PDF when you can but don’t use that as an excuse to over-format. MAKE IT EASY TO READ ON A PHONE.”
“ATS is looking for keywords the company has programmed it for so those words will be in the job description. Read it carefully and be sure to sprinkle those words throughout your resume (and cover letter even) and weave them into your story.”
“It is just really important for job seekers to move away from the ‘buffet style’ style and treat every application by savoring every moment you have to customize every resume so it stands out as opposed to fitting in. Keywords are very important and in line with what is being looked for. And, transfer that confidence. Be compelling in terms of your accomplishment statements and share what will add to your career story … not what is already ‘intuitively’ recognized by employers/recruiters and often over-used with no real value.”
What does an ATS-friendly resume look like?
Too much formatting can keep your resume from making it through certain ATS. Play it safe and create a document that will sail through ANY ATS. Don’t include the following:
- Underlining and graphic lines
- Graphic boxes
- Special characters
- MS Word headers and footers
Here’s what you can, and should, include or do:
- Any characters sitting directly on your keyboard.
- A short list of relevant keywords in the Summary section at the top.
- Also use these keywords throughout the content, but don’t over do it with any one keyword or keyword phrase.
- Use a Word document.
- Don’t worry about length. The ATS doesn’t care. In fact, more content probably means more of the important keywords and phrases will be there.