Online Applications: Beat the Bots

posted in: Job Seekers | 0

When you’re applying for a job, how much are you thinking about who will be reading your resume? You’re probably mainly thinking about whether or not you have the right qualifications for the job. But even if you are thinking about the hiring manager who might read it, you may not be thinking about the first set of “eyes” that will be looking at your resume.

Most online job applications today use something called an Application Tracking System (ATS). An ATS is a computer program that scans your application and resume to automatically sorts it into the pile that will make it to the hiring manager’s desk or the pile that will end up in the digital junk box.

So, what can you do to get your resume past the ATS? By going back to basics and focusing on the fundamentals of good resume writing, you can give yourself the best chance of beating the bot.

Keep it Simple

ATSs are designed to break up your resume into recognizable chunks of information so that they can analyze and categorize your information. Although these systems can be advanced, they are not so sophisticated that they can easily interpret complex page layouts. If you want to make sure that what you’re saying in your resume is understood by an ATS, your best bet is to keep your layout simple.

While there are some jobs (like graphic designers) where a well-designed, creatively-structured resume may impress the hiring manager, for most jobs, your resume is about conveying information about your education and experience. Try to avoid fancy layouts that might look nice on paper but could be difficult for the ATS to properly interpret.

Here’s a test: try copying and pasting your entire resume into a word-processing program that does not allow any formatting, like notepad. Doing this will strip out the layout and formatting in your text. If your resume is not easily-readable when it is in plain text, there is a good chance that the ATS will have difficulty interpreting your resume. Keep your resume layout simple and clean and the ATS will be able to understand what you’re trying to say.

Keywords and Headings

While you’re keeping the layout of your resume as clear as possible, make sure you’re including the correct and appropriate keywords and headings. ATSs rely on keywords to develop the criteria they use for judging your resume. They aren’t actually reading the words you’ve written so much as comparing those words to a predefined list of keywords. Having those keywords in your resume can help you make sure you make it into the next round.

You won’t know exactly what keywords the ATS is searching for, but it’s a pretty safe guess that some key headings like “Education” and “Experience” will be in there. These headings may be used by the ATS to help break your resume up. Make sure if you’re using sections in your resume that the headings are appropriate and that they are clearly distinguishable from the rest of the text.

Custom Tailoring

While you can’t know exactly what keywords the ATS will be using, one way that you can give yourself the best chance of making a keyword match is by reviewing the original job posting and making tailor-made adjustments to your resume to better match the language in the posting. ATSs will often use the exact posting to generate the success criteria they use when reviewing resumes. The original posting is your best guide to what the ATS (and employer) want to see in your resume.

Take a look at the original job posting and ask some of these questions:

  • Are there any words that get repeated throughout?
  • Are they any words or ideas that appear towards the top of the description that seem especially important?
  • Are there any qualifications that come up in that you have but have not mentioned in your current resume?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to take a few minutes and edit your current resume to include the words or phrases that are missing in your resume.

If you take this extra step, keep in mind, that you don’t want to shoehorn anything in that does not fit naturally into your resume. And you don’t want to lie. The purpose of this exercise is not the fool the ATS and the employer, it’s to make sure you’re highlighting the qualities and experience that you have that are most relevant.

Taking a few minutes to tailor your resume is a good idea whether you’re applying online or in person. It will better highlight the skills that are relevant to the job and some keen-eyed hiring managers may even recognize that you’ve gone the extra mile.

The ATS will often be the first hurdle you have to overcome when applying for a job. But at the end of the day, a hiring manager will be the one to decide whether you’re hired or not. If you take the time to make sure you’re covering some resume-writing fundamentals, you’ll be giving yourself the best shot possible at landing an interview.

Need help with your resume? Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your resume.