5 Tips you can use to get past an ATS
When applying for jobs, you might find a job that you’re perfectly qualified for. You fill out the online application and hit APPLY. You feel confident you’ll get a call for an interview. However, the call never comes. What happened?
Your application probably never made it past the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
What is an Applicant Tracking System?
An ATS is a software system that scans and filters applications or resumes to help recruiters determine which applicants fit a position. A recruiter defines a set of keywords based on the job description for that job, and then the ATS filters through and ranks submitted applications based on how many keyword matches it finds in each.
The ones with the most keywords end up on the desk of the recruiter for a closer review (and a possible phone call to schedule an interview). The applications that don’t have keywords will drop to the bottom of the pile. In most cases, a human will not get far enough down the list of applications to even see these applications. Which is why it's so important that you optimize your application or resume so it gets past the ATS and into the hands of a human.
And how do you do that? Let’s take a look at tips that will help you out.
How do I get my application or resume past an ATS?
Tip 1: Keywords are the key
Think about how you search for something online: You include words or phrases related to what you’re searching for. This is how the ATS narrows an applicant pool — by searching for relevant keywords and phrases.
The recruiter decides which keywords to search for and include whatever skills, qualifications, or qualities most important to the job that’s posted. How do you figure out which keywords to include?
Look for the skills that come up more than once in a job description, paying particular attention to keywords mentioned near the top of the job requirements and job duties. For example, if you’re looking for a job as a hotel restaurant manager, the ATS will search for terms like “hospitality,” “hotel restaurant,” and “restaurant manager.”
More helpful tips about keywords
- If a job listing includes a specific keyword or phrase, like “active CPR certification” for example, use that word or phrase exactly without modifying it. Remember that these terms are what the system uses to separate your resume from hundreds of others, so be exact!
- While you want to hit all the keywords in your application or resumes, don’t overdo it by repeating the same keywords too many times. If you do this too often (the maximum is 4 times), the ATS will pick up on it and toss your resume to the “no” pile.
Tip 2: Tie keywords to your accomplishments
You may be thinking, “If I’m using the same keywords as other applicants, what’s going to make me stand out in the crowd?” This is where your achievements come in. Once you get past the ATS, an actual human will read your application or resume — and this is where you can shine. Tie the keywords to a specific accomplishment.
Here’s an example using a customer service job description:
Customer Service Representative needed
Our growing retail company is looking for a skilled problem-solver to join our team as a Customer Service Representative. We need an enthusiastic self-starter who can greet customers upon arrival and make them feel comfortable; field customer-service issues and offer quick and accurate assistance to customers; and maintain a safe, organized environment throughout the store.
Sample keywords from this job description and how you can use them:
- Problem-solving: "In a previous position, my strong problem-solving skills came in handy when helping an upset customer. I offered an alternate solution to her problem, and she was grateful for my help."
- Self-starter: “I consider myself a self-starter when it comes to my work. In one instance, I took time outside of my day-to-day duties to develop and arrange a seasonal merchandise display.”
- Organized: “As manager of the jewelry counter, I maintain a clean and organized workspace so customers can focus on our merchandise.”
- Enthusiastic: “I’ve been recognized as an enthusiastic team player by upper management.”
Tip 3: Keep things simple and standard
ATS systems love standard, easy-to-read resumes. Microsoft Word documents (in .doc or .docx format) are the most ATS friendly document to use, however PDFs are also readable by most systems and will preserve your formatting the best.
Additionally, use standard formatting and leave off any charts, images, designs, or bullet points. Studies have shown that Times New Roman and Arial are the most reliable fonts for getting past ATS. (The font size doesn’t matter as much, but it’s a good idea to stick to 10 or 12 point font.)
Tip 4: Spell out abbreviations
An ATS may not understand all abbreviations if they’re not programmed in by the recruiter. So, play it safe: If you use popular industry acronyms, make sure to spell out the words in parentheses after the acronym to make sure your application or resume gets pulled and ranked appropriately.
Examples of common abbreviations, spelled out:
- CRM - Customer Relationship Management
- POS - Point of Sale
- ATD - Applied Technology Diploma
Tip 5: Always check your spelling
True, the ATS probably won’t notice a misspelled word, but the recruiter reading your application or resume certainly will. Not only do typos leave a bad impression, but most hiring managers will immediately eliminate your application if they see one.
Studies show that 43% of hiring managers will stop considering an applicant because of spelling errors. And, if possible, ask a friend or family member to review your application or resume for any errors you may have missed. This is because it shows a lack of attention to detail that most hiring managers are keen to avoid.
The job market is more competitive than ever now with COVID-19 furloughs and layoffs, so knowing how to work your way through ATS can help you beat the bots, get your information into the hiring manager’s hands, and on your way to a new job.
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