There’s never been a better time to apply for a new job. Following a pandemic-induced shock to the U.S. economy and near-record highs of unemployment, job openings and wages have soared in recent months, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, one hurdle is preventing many candidates from landing their dream job: applicant tracking systems (or ATS). Research from resume writing service TopResume found that 43 percent of job applicants have submitted resumes that were not compatible with ATS software. Nearly 99% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems to scan resumes and streamline the recruiting process, and smaller companies are adopting the software as well, Jobscan reports.
“Everyone uses some type of applicant tracking system,” career coach Stacey Perkins tells CNBC Make It. “Knowing how to work with these systems is critical.”
These easy resume tweaks will help you beat the bots:
Keep the format simple.
“If you don’t submit your resume in the right format, it’ll disappear into a black hole,” Perkins says.
Applicant tracking systems tend to scan resumes from left to right, she explains. So if an applicant submits a resume with vertical columns, half of the information might not get read. Perkins suggests sticking to a traditional format with horizontal headings and bullet points.
Always double check your resume file format, too. Most online applications specify which formats they accept (e.g., PDF, DOC, HTML). But if it’s unclear, submit your resume as a Microsoft Word document, which nearly all resume scanning software will recognize, Perkins advises.
Finally, keep acronyms off of your resume, as some systems will not understand what the letters stand for. Instead, Perkins says job candidates should spell terms out and keep technical jargon minimal.
RCS Tip: Streamlining your resume for ATS can interfere with things like design, flow and readability. Consider creating multiple versions of your resume, so that you have a more simple, straight-to-the-point version for ATS and a separate, more descriptive and appealing resume for human review.
Always include keywords.
As the senior vice president of product development at Oracle, Nagaraj Nadendla helps design some of the most widely used applicant tracking systems and talent acquisition software in the world.
Hiring managers often tell him that their systems are overwhelmed with resumes that hardly match the job description — so to stand out, carefully review the posting and edit your resume accordingly.
Pay special attention to experience level, location and skills companies are asking for. “If a job description specifies 10 years of experience and you only have five, you’ll quickly get moved to the bottom of the pile,” Nadendla says.
Applicant tracking systems may also disqualify an applicant based on their location if the posting lists a city and the candidate is remote or not authorized to work in the United States.
Nadendla has seen a lot of job candidates apply to a large batch of jobs without much thought, which is a fast track to rejection. “Be choosy, research the company and market your resume appropriately,” he advises.
Applicant tracking systems look for relevant skills on a candidate’s resume, so incorporate at least three to five keywords from the posting in your work experience and skills sections. You can also use tools like Skillsyncer or Jobscan to identify missing keywords in your resume.
Above all, be honest. “Nobody is an expert in everything,” Nadendla says. “Be earnest and precise in what you’re good at.”
RCS Tip: Modify your resume to reflect the description of each job you apply for as each job posting may contain different keywords that a prospective employer’s ATS is likely using to prioritize candidates.
Ask for help.
If all else fails, don’t leave fate up to the bots — send a direct email to the hiring manager or company’s HR department.
“Job applicants think it’s the software that’s doing something to automatically reject them, but the software doesn’t do anything an organization doesn’t want,” Nadendla explains. “They control the settings, how and when a candidate gets rejected.”
Find out who the decision maker is and send your resume along with a brief note confirming that you’re submitting it in the correct format. That small step can help you get the job.
“You might be the best candidate out there,” Perkins says. “But if you submit a resume in a crazy or incorrect format, your application will not be read by anyone.”
RCS Tip: Test your resume with an AI. You can upload your resume and the description of the job you’re applying for to an automated resume checker like Jobscan. They will determine how well it matches the job description, to help you optimize it for each prospective employer’s ATS.
Source: Morgan Smith, CNBC Make It