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How to Get Past 
Applicant Tracking Systems

Getting past an applicant tracking system comes down to 7 tips.

Applying online can be difficult and frustrating. It feels like putting 

your resume into a "black hole." Follow these tips to learn how to get your resume seen by real eyes and land some interviews. 

When applying for a job with a mid to large size company you need to know that 98% of Fortune 500 companies and a growing number of mid & small businesses use an applicant tracking system to help them manage the high volume of job applications they receive. Applicant tracking systems are also known as "ATS."

Applicant tracking systems are used to help hiring managers, and company recruiters save time finding skilled and qualified prospects but also help the company reduce recruiting costs since companies like Google can receive between 2 and 3 million applications a year. To help you understand, the seriousness of why you need to know how to beat an ATS, you should know…you have a higher probability that you will get into Harvard or Yale than you do getting hired from online application submissions. If you know how to configure your resume to beat the applicant tracking system and get your resume in the hands of the hiring manager your chances will go up.

It is important to know that not all applicant tracking systems are created equal; each one has its strengths, weaknesses, and settings. There are hundreds of ATS available. They range from free to millions of dollars. Oracle, Taleo, Jobvite, and Brassring are the most popular. Anytime you are applying online, even with job finder sites like Indeed or ZipRecruiter, the chances are high that your resume will face the scrutiny of an ATS.


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How an ATS Works
When attempting to beat the applicant tracking system first, you should know what it is and how it works. Mainly, an ATS collects resumes and stores them in a database. A resume is sometimes stored, in the database, for months, before a person in charge of filling the position gets a chance to review it. This is the reason you can apply today and not hear anything about the application you submitted until months later.

Once you submit an online application, the ATS scans your application and resume and cross-references your submission with the settings that the hiring manager has preconfigured in the ATS for the job you are applying for.

The ATS then applies a matching score for your submission against the requirements and puts everyone who has applied in ranked order of closest match to furthest match. Unfortunately, this means some of the best candidates can be rejected and discarded by the system before it even reaches human eyes.

It is understandably frustrating for job seekers who don't know how to configure a resume or application to essentially "beat the applicant tracking system." Sixty percent of job seekers report having received a poor candidate experience. And in my years of experience, it is because people apply for hundreds of jobs online and rarely get a response. I often hear "it is like there is a black hole." The truth is there is a black hole.

Luckily, beating the applicant tracking system, through due diligence and good resume practices, can help you land that dream job you want.

Keyword Matching is Key
Since the ATS ranks your resume based on keywords and knock-out questions, it is a good idea to tailor each resume to use the exact keywords and job title that is in the job description. Historically, applicant tracking systems have not been equipped to recognize alternative tenses or variations of keywords. (Due note this can change at any time and differs based on the complexity of the ATS.) However, because most do not recognize variations, this requires that you tailor your resume to use exact keywords based on the job description or job title for every job you apply for.

For example, if the hiring manager is looking for a project manager and they search for "project manager" the ATS will only find resumes which contain those specific keywords. Sadly, this means that resumes using keywords like "project management," "managed projects" or "project managed" will either not show up in their search or will get automatically discarded before making it into the pool of viewable applicants.

Word of caution, beating the system and cheating the system are two very different things. Adding keyword matches in a white font to rank higher in the ATS can be easily spotted by a hiring manager with a simple highlight of your resume. Cheating will look tacky and is sure to give the impression you are a cheater. You don't want your first and consequentially your last interaction with an employer to be as a cheater, do you?

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Formatting is Important
We often find ourselves trying to highlight our creativity or making our resume stand out by adding logos, pictures, and symbols but these embellishments make it harder for an ATS to scan your resume. Keep all those fancy items for the printed resume you bring with you on your interview. The best practice when creating a resume for online submission is to KISS, Keep It, Super Simple. There are several suggestions below:
• Use standard fonts like Arial or Calibri.
• Include the basic heading sections like Professional Experience, Education, and Skills. Don't change the titles of the sections to something creative.
• Don't add an Objective section, instead add a Professional Summary section. Professional summaries are a great place to add keywords from the job description.
• Submit your resume in a Word doc format rather than PDF to make sure the ATS won't overlook or skim over sections.
• Left align your resume to prevent the ATS from parsing content incorrectly or out of order.
• It may seem obvious, but always use spell-check
• Make sure to include personal Information like name, phone number, and email on your resume.

Avoid Acronyms
Remember, applicant tracking systems are nothing more than coded software, and while a human may understand the meaning or intent of the acronym or professional jargon an ATS may incorrectly categorize them resulting in a rejection of your resume. Always spell out the abbreviation for companies and associations, products, brands, skills, or certifications followed by the shortened version in parenthesis to avoid any miscommunication or confusion.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M)
International Business Machines (IBM)

Applicant tracking systems are a crucial part of the hiring process for most companies. Job seekers who become familiar with how to beat the applicant tracking system will have the pleasure of outranking other applicants thus putting themselves in a better position to get interviews and job offers. Best of luck with your job search! Reach out if you have any questions. 


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