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An introduction to ATS
With over 75% of recruiters and employers now using recruitment software to select and manage applicants throughout the recruitment process, it’s crucial that your resume appeals to both humans and the “machines”. You may have heard people talking about ATS, which is an acronym for applicant tracking systems. These are the overarching technology platforms used by organizations to manage their recruitment process, but it’s the resume parsing and matching modules that we need to concern ourselves with.
ATS have the ability to match applicant’s resumes to the job description and ‘parse’ the data in your resume into the ATS. Your resume needs to contain the right information so that the ATS judges you a good match for the role, and it needs to be in a format that the ATS can easily read and parse, so when the data is transferred into the ATS, the information is transferred to the correct fields.
Free resume assessments
There are a number of automated resume assessments available to job seekers that claim to judge how ATS-optimized your resume is. Be aware that only true way to ‘score’ a resume, as far as ATS optimization is concerned, is to measure it against a job description or run it through a proper ATS.
It is possible for a resume scanner to look for obvious omissions or errors, but if you take advantage of a so-called ATS scanner tool, be aware that receiving a score without a benchmark is flawed logic i.e., if your score is say 57%, ask yourself the question “57% of what?”.
There are some resume assessment tools that allow you to upload a resume and job description and these provide a much more useful yardstick. There are some useful resume assessment tools that provide hints and tips, just be aware that as far as ATS optimization is concerned, some are more of a clever sales pitch than a tool with any scientific foundations.
Key resume optimization tactics
Aside from the effectiveness of various resume assessment tools, the logic of optimizing your resume for recruitment software is still a good one. Here are some quick wins to make sure your resume appeals to both humans and the machines.
- The type of document you use for your resume matters and Microsoft Word has historically been safer than PDF. Although many newer ATS are able to read PDF, some of the older technologies struggled with this format. Arguably, PDF is better for those ATS that are able to read PDF documents, so look out for any instructions when making your application.
- When structuring your resume, the traditional chronological format works best. Display your roles in reverse chronological order and avoid features such as sidebars and funky layouts as they simply confuse the parsing technology.
- Graphics such as logos are not advised and headers, footers and tables can cause issues. ATS cannot deal with fancy formatting and they may affect your resumes appearance once it has been parsed by recruitment software.
- Headings are also important! Firstly, make sure your resume has headings, and secondly, make sure they are commonly used ones. Having a ‘Work History Synopsis’ may sound cool, but the resume bots won’t have the faintest idea what on earth that section is. ‘Professional Experience’ on the other hand, is a much more optimized heading that matches what the software is programmed to find.
- If you have an unusual job title, it may be a good idea to change it to a more well-known version. ATS are not programmed to find every possible variation of a job title, so commonly used titles are much more effective. If you are concerned about how a recruiter or potential employer might feel about changing your job title, you could use the more commonly used variant and add your actual job title alongside in brackets e.g., Head of Finance (Lead Accounting Officer).
- Having your job title, or at least how you professionally describe yourself, after your name, is a great tactic to signpost your resume and help the bots figure out what you are.
- Keywords are crucial as the ATS algorithm is looking for a match between the keywords on your resume and the keywords on the job description. Having a Key Skills section, where you list between 12 and 18 of your top skills is a great way to do this, and don’t forget to change these for each role you apply for.
- The general content of your resume is also crucial, making sure the descriptions of your positions are aligned with the requirements listed on the job description.
- Accomplishments are arguably the most important element of a resume as far as a recruiter / employer is concerned, but some ATS are clever enough to look for $, % and other statistical indicators that you have succeeded in your role. Make sure your resume is at least 30% focused on outcomes, and this can have a positive impact on beating the ATS bots and getting the attention of the recruitment decision makers.
- Fonts can play a small role in your resume’s readability, so play it safe and stick to common serif or sans serif fonts such as Arial and Calibri.
- When using acronyms, it’s important to ascertain how likely it is that a recruiter will be searching on the abbreviation or the long form version. For example, SEO is a commonly used acronym but if you were to hedge your bets, you would also type it out in full i.e., search engine optimization. If in doubt use both.
If you are interested in having a free evaluation of your resume, including elements that affect ATS optimization, please send your resume to us at CVIA Careers on firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting JCWCFP for a priority service.
Matt Craven is Managing Director of The CV Interview Advisors