Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems
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Like it or not, in today’s job market, it’s likely an applicant tracking system (ATS) will read your resume before a human ever sees it.

Employees use this software system to handle a variety of recruitment needs, including the uploading and screening of resumes. And if you’ve ever applied for a job through an online system, you have likely submitted your resume through an ATS.

How do you get your resume past the screening process and read by a human? Start by tailoring it to each specific job you apply for, says Tim Mayer, director of talent acquisition at Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. in Minneapolis. “Do not send in a one-size-fits-all resume for each job and expect to pass the ATS customized criteria for that job,” says Mayer.

How to get past the ATS screening process
The bottom line is this: To get through the ATS and have your resume read by an actual person, your resume, cover letter, and application must show you are a match for the specific job. Each ATS – and for each job – can be customized for specific criteria important to that specific job.

What’s important for one job with a company may differ for another job. For example, the key criteria for one job could be based on education (MBA candidates only, for example), technology skills (especially for hard to fill IT positions), or experience. Successful applicants tailor their resume, cover letter, and application to best fit that criteria.

“There is no silver bullet in terms of raising your resume to the top aside from meeting the qualifications,” says Patrick Foss, President of Think Talent Human Capital Partners.

“The old game of placing as many keywords in your resume worked on the technology of 15 years ago, but now recruiters get so many resumes they tend to rely on the screening tools and even job-related assessments,” says Foss.

How to tailor your resume to a specific job
How do you do tailor your resume for each job? Start by spending some time reviewing the job description for keywords, skills, and themes and include them prominently in your resume. But don’t just create a bulleted list of keyword accomplishments, such as an area of expertise, and key word-stuff your resume. Instead, list keywords, backed up with proof of accomplishment and concrete examples of successes.

Be prepared to spend as much time as needed to complete the application process. Follow the instructions closely. Mistakes are costly.

“If there are questions as part of completing the ATS process, ensure you read them accurately before responding,” says Mayer. “It can be easy to misread, and thus respond incorrectly, to a knockout question as you move quickly through an application.”

Here’s an example of how to highlight project management, sales and process implementation successes from Kevin Donlin, author of 51 Ways to Find a Job Fast – Guaranteed!

First, here’s what not to write. These nonspecific achievements prove nothing:

  • Managed numerous projects to success.
  • Provided sales and customer service to house accounts.
  • Wrote reports and correspondence for busy executives.

Now, here’s what to write. These specific achievements prove your skills:

  • As project manager, managed 100% of 27 projects to successful completion in 2014, finishing an average of 10 days early on budgets ranging up to $256,850.
  • Top sales achiever: Increased sales $456,000 in one year by managing and penetrating 34 house accounts.
  • Process implementation: Saved $52,000 after writing 3 employee manuals that standardized operations.

The ability to tailor and match your resume to the specifics listed in the job description is especially important for job seekers changing careers or transferring skills to a new industry.

“A resume for a print advertising salesperson, no matter how great the performance history, is not likely to impress a recruiter or hiring manager in the medical device, biotechnology, software, and many other industries,” says Rick Deare (, president of Bloomington-based Deare Search Partners and someone who literally receives hundreds of resumes daily.

And even if you aren’t in IT, you need to include a Technology Skills section highlighting all programs you have used, focusing on the past five to 10 years and, more specifically, on the skills requested in the job description.

If the job description asks for a cover letter, include it. If it includes a request for salary requirements, add it.

“It is better to address any salary disconnect here before both parties spend unneeded time and effort only to find out that it won’t work late in the process,” says Mayer.

Importance of Employee Referral in an ATS
And finally, if you know someone at the company and can get a referral, do so. Many ATS systems have the ability to flag an application that is submitted with a referral and send it right to the next step where it will be viewed by a human.

“Many recruiters and managers will tell you the employee referral is the best source for finding people, the premise being you will not refer someone you wouldn’t want to work next to,” says Foss. “Most applicant tracking systems have the ability to flag referrals for recruiter review,” says Foss.  “By being referred you now have the submission and an internal person to inquire as to the status.”

Stay positive. Even if you don’t get through the ATS, your resume could still get noticed by an actual recruiter.

“Believe it or not, there are recruiters who read every single resume submitted,” says Foss. “The biggest thing is clearly communicating your qualifications and/or why you are the best fit for the job.”

Need help with your resume? You can dramatically improve the chances of making it to the “To Call” list by working resume writer services of CareerToolboxUSA.


Beth Kelzer
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