Most of the executive job seekers I speak with are still either unaware of the existence of executive resume ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) or don’t know how they work. But ATS have been around for nearly 30 years.
These job seekers are mindlessly applying for jobs online and dumping their executive resumes into databases. They expect to land a job when they don’t know what happens to their resumes once they hit “upload”.
They make a misguided assumption. If they are a good fit for the job they see posted, they’ll be selected for the interview process. Simple as that.
But it isn’t that simple.
Let’s start with some basics.
What Are Resume ATS?
Applicant Tracking Systems were developed in the 1990’s to help companies comply with equal opportunity hiring and candidate contact management. They quickly became the pervasive system for hiring. In the early days ATS could also do basic resume keyword parsing and matching to job descriptions.
Before resume ATS, the hiring process was paper-heavy – sorting through and filing resumes, applications, internal memos, want ads, and all the other documentation associated with hiring.
ATS’s ability to automate resume storing and processing requirements evolved over time to focus more on applicant tracking than compliance.
How ATS has evolved
In a Forbes article, Jon Kestenbaum of Talent Tech Labs, a research firm and incubator focused on Talent Acquisition Technology, explained how ATS technology is evolving:
“The ATS was originally about compliance, and then it was about filtering and searching. It’s increasingly about identifying passive talent. This is now possible as CRM — Candidate Relationship Management — technology gets built into ATS. As a result, everything that can be tracked is now being tracked. Employers track how many times you come to the job site, how many times you read blogs, which postings you’ve read. My brother used to apply to eight jobs at one company. But he can’t do that anymore. Companies know that you’ve applied to eight jobs there and don’t take you seriously anymore.
The upshot is, you should express your interest in a company or profession or career in everything you put online. Everything you’re putting out there is being read and used to determine if you might be a fit. So engage with employers’ Facebook pages and other social media. Demonstrate an interest in the employer and use their technologies to do so. Then they’ll start reaching out to you, and maybe even targeting ads to you — solely as a result of your activity, or what you’ve put out there on the public Web. So the ATS goes from being a gate to being a tool of engagement.”
How Do ATS Work?
Recruiters and companies configure their ATS based on the jobs they’re trying to fill, their needs and the kinds of talent they want.
Here’s what happens when you send your resume to a recruiter, or in response to a job posting:
- 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.
- The ATS attempts to match candidates to jobs. The database sifts through the resumes and parses their content for matches to particular jobs.
- Resumes are selected if the candidate meets the requisite qualifications.
- Resumes may not be selected if they are incorrectly formatted, don’t contain enough of the right keywords, or don’t fit the bill in some other way.
Why Resumes Fail ATS
Among the problems when your candidacy is filtered through ATS:
- Job seekers uploading their resumes probably don’t know how to properly format their resumes to make it through ATS.
- Unless there’s a well-written job description, they probably don’t know what all the requisite qualifications are, that need to go into their resume.
- They probably don’t know how to get enough of the right keywords in their resumes without “keyword packing” or “keyword stuffing”, which can flag them as spam.
- With some 200 different ATS in use today, there is no standardization for applicants to rely on and follow. Specifications that works with one ATS may not work with another.
According to Career Thought Leaders’ Marie Zimenoff,
Content and formatting errors can keep an applicant from rising to the top of the list. These errors include the following:
Keywords (probably the most important aspect of ATS)
ATS can be set to source one keyword (e.g., Admin Assistant) or search for multiple terms or combination of terms (e.g., Administrative Assistant AND payroll AND data entry AND Excel). Use keywords in context and be careful not to stuff keywords. Adding your use of the relevant skills you included may increase the document score.
Recruiters are advised to use the Boolean “AND” operator to search for candidates who have both the required and desired skills, along with a specific area denoted by zip codes.
Header or footer
Not every ATS can read information in a header or footer. This may not cause your resume to be rejected automatically, but it makes it a little more difficult for people to locate your contact info. It’s best to just type that info directly into the document.
Text boxes and graphics
The information within text boxes and graphics disappears within the ATS, so it is not scanned, scored and ranked like the rest of the content.
Most ATS can only read San Serif and almost never third-party installed fonts (like Disney) because they are not supported by Microsoft. The common denominators are Calibri, Helvetica, Verdana, and Arial.
A resume might disappear because it was uploaded in PDF, HTML, Open Office, or Apple Pages rather than Word. Play to the common denominator. Use WORD.
Not filling out all the questions in the job application can really block you in the system. Not following the directions is more likely the problem than the actual resume itself.
But there is a distinction. Despite the above reasons for resume rejections, Marie’s bottom-line advice:
“Most candidates are eliminated from the hiring process because they do not clearly meet requirements (especially years of experience), have a gap on their resume, do not follow directions, or incorrectly answer a “knock-out question,” not because of formatting.”
More reasons to use job boards sparingly
Want more ammunition for NOT responding to job postings . . . either on aggregated job boards like Monster and Indeed or on the actual companies’ websites?
Marc Miller of Career Pivot explains what it can mean when a company posts a job:
- They already have the candidate they want and the only way for the candidate to get into the system is for them to post the position and let him/her apply. Once they have applied the position is taken down.
- There is a candidate selected and corporate rules dictate they post the position for a defined period.
- The company posts positions so they can collect resumes for the future.
- The company started to interview for the position, decided to go in another direction and never took the position down.
- Positions are entered into an applicant tracking system (ATS) which are displayed externally on the company website. There is no one responsible to look at the ATS and therefore, resumes just stack up.
More issues with ATS that are out of your control
Let’s say you responded to a legitimate job posting (the company is actually sourcing candidates). And you’ve optimized your resume with the keywords you saw in the job posting. Don’t assume that the company has an optimally functioning hiring process in place, using their ATS.
According to Marc, there are two things you don’t know:
- Whether keywords were ever entered into the ATS or the person working the keyboard knew what they were doing.
- Whether the junior recruiter who is doing the screening knows enough about the position to be able to identify a viable candidate.
What Should You Do About ATS?
With so many negatives stacked against you when your resume goes through ATS, why not do all you can to avoid it, or at least make it less important to your candidacy.
The ATS dilemma is one of the big reasons to avoid spending a lot of time responding to job board postings as the way to get the attention of your target employers, get interviews and land a job.
A much more productive way to spend your time is networking your way into the “hidden” jobs at the companies you’re targeting.
Gear up your networking efforts. Get known by the companies you want to work for so that you’re not one of the many strangers applying for jobs.
If you’re at least somewhat known by employers, you’re more likely to get into the interviewing process.
Think networking to referral to hire. It’s the best way to land an executive job.
Your resume may still land in the company’s ATS, but you’ll already be in the game.
What’s Coming Next with Resume ATS?
Blockchain has worked its way into the recruitment world as a tool for candidate assessment and due diligence in verifying the claims applicants make on their resumes.
In a Forbes article, big data expert Bernard Marr reported on APPII’s launch of what it calls the “world’s first blockchain career verification platform”:
“APPII’s platform allows candidates to create Intelligent Profiles – recording details of professional achievement or educational certification on the distributed ledger, where it can be verified and then permanently recorded.
It then allows organizations such as businesses or educational institutions to verify the “assertions” that candidates make during applications. By recording on a candidate’s profile that an assertion has been verified, there is no need for it to be checked again in the future.
It also uses facial recognition technology to verify the identity of candidates, by asking them to take a picture using the mobile app and comparing it to a photograph on official identification documents such as passports.”