You feel crushed — you think some hiring manager on the other end actually read through the entirety of your résumé and concluded that you weren’t qualified for the job. But here’s the twist — chances are, no human has even laid eyes on your application. The truth? You were probably rejected by résumé reading robot called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Welcome to the 21st century. Large and even medium sized firms are using ATS to deal with the hundreds, if not thousands of applicants who are applying to the same positions every day. This résumé reading software allows these companies to automate, streamline, and manage the hiring process.
Why are companies allowing robots to make human resource decisions?
It’s all about speed.
Going through résumés to screen applicants is tedious work. But the ATS speeds up this process by identifying candidates whose résumés contain key experiences and skill sets that match the qualifications employers are seeking.
According to a popular study conducted by search services provider Preptel, as many as 75% of the candidates don’t make it past the ATS screening. It may seem brutal, but this screening process does the job of whittling down a cumbersome applicant pool into just a handful of applicants that the human hiring managers can review more closely.
What does this mean for you?
Here’s the takeaway for living in the age of résumé reading robots — a well-crafted, ATS friendly résumé is absolutely critical to a successful job hunt.
Qualified candidates that fail to make an ATS friendly résumé will get rejected, period. After combing the web and consulting some of our in-house experts at Resume Genius, we zero in on the 4 most common reasons why résumés of even the most qualified candidates fail to pass screening.
Reason #1: The ATS can’t actually process your résumé
Warning: The ATS will fail to read your artistic additions to your résumé. Although a human hiring manager might appreciate a little flair, the résumé robot will simply incinerate your résumé without a second thought.
It would be a shame for your résumé to get screen out because the ATS is unable to read it. Basic rule of thumb: keep your fonts and formatting simple.
Sometimes the ATS will use a built-in optical character recognition (OCR) software to processes your digital résumé. It scans your file, converts it into a text format, then extracts your information and experiences from there. While the ATS is getting better at reading PDF files, it’s still safer to feed the system a Word or Text file.
Do away with any adjusted spacing, newsletter formatting, lines. Go with the clean, standard fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman. Scrap inventive layouts, graphics, or artifacts that affect the readability of your résumé.
Reason #2: The ATS doesn’t recognize the headings you used
Applicant Tracking System software is built to sort your experiences based on the résumé’s section headings. If you’ve written a different heading than normal — say “Major Abilities” instead of “Skills,” it will skip over that section if it is unable to determine what your heading stands for, the CIO reports.
People like to get creative with headings, thinking that it will help their résumé stand out. Unfortunately, unconventional headings can actually hurt it.
Help the software do its job. Use the standard headings “Work Experience”, “Skills”, “Publications” so you don’t stand the risk of the résumé bot placing your qualifications under the wrong categories, or misreading your headings altogether.
Reason #3: Your résumé lacks targeted keywords
By now, you’ve formatted your résumé properly, and used normal headings. Here’s the meat of how an ATS actually reads your résumé. It’s looking for targeted keywords.
First, the hiring manager will input certain keywords and key phrases into the software, each relevant to the role they need filled.
For example, an software company hiring manager might use these keywords:
Next, the ATS software will read through each résumé, and determine whether the it has enough keywords and key phrases to pass through the screening. If the percentage is high enough, your résumé will successfully be reviewed by an actual human.
Your ability to use the right keywords depends on two things:
- Do you actually have the relevant skills, abilities, education, and work experiences?
- If you do have all or some from #1, doing good research and giving your résumé a hard look-over will get you through the ATS
How to select keywords
The best place to begin is to read the hiring manager’s very own job description. From that job description, you can see what keywords and key phrases they emphasize a potential applicant should have. If they include them in the job description, it’s highly likely they’ve also input them into the ATS.
The image below contains a real example of a librarian job description, and the image next to it reflects what we believe are important keywords a librarian applicant should include on their résumés:
GREEN HIGHLIGHT: Keywords that are CRITICAL to getting past the ATS.
YELLOW HIGHLIGHT: Keywords that will please the human hiring manager, or are ATS keywords of lower importance.
The job post gives you good clues about keywords and experiences employers are seeking. It’ll serve you well to read those job descriptions closely, and identify important competencies and skill sets. Place emphasis on these matched experiences in your résumé.
It’s also helpful include both specific and general keywords in the mix. ATS uses all of these keywords into certain job functions. For your previous position as “team leader”, include job-specific buzzwords such as “coordinate”, “manage”, but having the general keyword “project coordinator”, “project manager” will help to strengthen your résumé.
Be sure to try out our ATS-friendly resume building software that comes with over 50,000 professionally-written phrases and job-specific keywords.
Reason #4: Your résumé has too many nonspecific keywords
Some have suggested “hacking” the résumé bot by submitting two or three-page long résumés that exhaust all keywords that are relevant to the job. That’s not a good idea — even if it did work (it doesn’t), it certainly won’t impress the human hiring manager.
According to a report from The Ladders, ATS software ranks your candidacy based on how specifically your résumé matches keywords and phrases in a job description. Some software even looks for how uniquely the work experiences you listed match the job requirements.
Here’s the rub — you can’t stuff your résumé with an exhaustive list of experiences and hope to game the system into thinking you’re a perfect match. Having off-target keywords can score your résumé down on relevancy.
Use the instruction from #3 to research relevant keywords and ensure that your résumé is concise and targeted. To the greatest extent possible, your résumé should uniquely match the requirements in the job description.
To sum it up: the bots are getting better at contextualizing résumés, and recruiters are always aiming to interview candidates whose experiences adhere the most closely to positions they’re seeking to fill. Therefore, having targeted, job-specific keywords throughout your résumé is more important than ever.
Reason #5: Your résumé lacks industry and company jargon or abbreviations
Experts suggest that adopting industry jargon or even including a company’s corporate lingo within your résumé is a smart choice. If you think about it, it’s only logical for the hiring manager to input industry jargon and abbreviations into an ATS. Therefore, you will need to optimize your résumé to include these terms wherever possible.
Fortunately, this is very simple to do.
Weave relevant jargon and terminology into your résumé, and spell out the abbreviations and acronyms
DO NOT ever simply include an acronym or abbreviation by itself on a résumé. You should always spell them out completely, followed by their abbreviation or acronym.
Acronyms with Spelled out Examples
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent with 10+ years of experience.
- Optimized and purchased Pay Per Click (PPC) ads for a major software company
- Maintained plant operation’s perfect record of zero Operation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recordables
To sum it up: a résumé with clean formatting and clear, targeted language gets you through ATS screening. Once you land that interview, however, it would be advisable to have a more descriptive and eye-pleasing version of your résumé ready for your human recruiters.