Applicant Tracking System (ATS)—A Friend or a Foe? (Part One)
“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
By Pierre G. Daunic, PhD – A Senior Writer for Career-Resumes.com
As you may recall, the mirror in this famous Disney classic always told the Queen that she was the fairest, until one day the mirror responded that Snow White was now the fairest.
In a sense, the fairy tale Queen’s mirror is today’s Applicant Tracking System. Just as with the mirror, an ATS’s job is to impartially select the very best applicant for a job. And in many ways, it does exactly that … and in other ways, it doesn’t.
My purpose here is to outline both the good and bad points about ATS and show how you, the jobseeker, armed with this knowledge, can increase your chances of getting a job interview.
What is an Applicant Tracking System?
Today large and small companies use Applicant Tracking Systems software to scan, store, organize, and sort information on prospective employees from what could be thousands of email or mail-in job applications – all at a much lower cost than before. They can then, relying heavily on job-related keywords, format standards, and other benchmarks, produce a prioritized list of those candidates whose profiles are most related to the job openings they are trying to fill. Only then will human eyes decide which candidates are indeed the best to interview.
How well does an ATS work?
Very well … up to a point. It is certainly cost-effective and thus has become a key component of many Human Resource Information Systems for companies and agency recruiters who would otherwise be overwhelmed by countless submittals. But its effectiveness depends on the quality of the parameters it sets for each position search and the quality of the resumes it receives. If the keywords and parameters it sets are too stringent or incorrect, the pool of candidates will be proportionally smaller and perhaps of poorer quality.
In a way, companies and recruiters don’t care. Even if up to 75% were automatically deleted from consideration because they didn’t meet the company’s parameters, seekers of talent would still have 25% or more to peruse. And they, of course, can change their parameters if not satisfied with their results.
The Problem for Jobseekers
All very well and good for the companies and recruiters, but what about the jobseeker who is ignorant of ATS and/or how it works? If the jobseeker doesn’t understand the importance of keywords or formatting, such a jobseeker will be at a severe disadvantage when competing against those who do understand ATS. Here’s an example:
The Jobseeker’s Responsibility
Jack didn’t make the cut because he didn’t understand or comply with ATS practices and procedures. If you the jobseeker are to have an ATS decide that you are worthy of being interviewed, here’s what you must do:
Keywords. One of the best ways to get an Applicant Tracking System to notice your resume is to anticipate which keywords the ATS and recruiters will be trying to find. Studies have shown that recruiters choose on average only 5-6 keywords and rarely more than 9. But which keywords? An ATS filter will tell you the most likely based on the ad and then tell you how few or many you have on your resume.
Measurable Achievements. To compare well against your competition, your resume must contain numbers and numerical achievements. Bland generalizations about your accomplishments will cut down your relevancy score. You must insert numbers that either define the range of your responsibilities (e.g., the number of people you supervised or the size of the budgets you controlled) or by what dollar amount or percentage you saved or made your company money directly or indirectly.
Formatting. Most well written resumes will include appropriate keywords and measurable achievements, but too few will recognize the importance of format in avoiding low relevancy scores by an ATS. All too often they will opt for fancy layouts, unusual fonts, and artistic touches to impress readers with the creativity of the writer. Unfortunately, such excesses tend to clog up an ATS. To have the best chance of a high relevancy score, follow the “do’s and don’ts” of ATS conversions outlined in Part 2 of this article.
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Peter Newfield is President of Career-Resumes.com®, one of the premier resume writing services in the United States. He is The Resume Expert forBlueSteps.com, ExecutiveRegistry.com, NETSHARE.com, DirectEmployer.com and the former Resume Expert for Monster.com, Spencer Stuart Talent Network and the Career Center on AOL. View samples at: www.career-resumes.com