February 1, 2021

How to Write a Resume That Beats the Applicant Tracking System

Over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS). Many organizations, especially those that need to make a lot of hires in a short period of time, also use an ATS to stitch all of the components of their hiring processes together.

When it’s time to hire, HR teams can spend hours organizing applications, scanning them, evaluating them, and sending emails to every candidate who qualifies for the next level.

On the other hand, with an ATS, companies can source candidates, manage them as they go through the various stages of the evaluation process, schedule interviews, manage communication, gather interview feedback, hand out offer letters, and manage a talent pipeline — all through one platform. An ATS also allows recruiters to automate certain regularly performed actions and can help them navigate between candidates, tasks, and jobs in one place. It is a one-stop software that saves time and improves the hiring process — a blessing for recruiters.

But what does all of this mean for the candidates who are submitting their resumes to organizations that use ATSs? How does an ATS affect your application, if at all?

There are a lot of discussions about how ATSs accept and reject applications. Is it true that your resume may never reach the recruiter if it goes through an ATS?

Yes and no. The truth is it depends on how an ATS is designed, how recruiters have customized their ATSs to screen applications, and what a recruiter’s style of screening is. Some recruiters read every resume that lands on their desk, and some don’t. In short, if your resume is getting rejected, it isn’t the fault of the ATS, but due to the recruiters and how they have set their ATSs up.

Key Points to Help You Create an ATS-Friendly Resume

Here are a few things you need to remember as you put together your resume for that dream job of yours:

1. Basic Qualifications: This may be the most important factor of all when it comes to ensuring your resume is short-listed by the ATS. Most ATSs parse data from resumes, pull that data, scan it for specific keywords, and pass those that meet the right criteria onto the recruiters.

Read the job description of the role you’re applying for carefully. First, ensure you meet the basic qualifications listed in the description. Apply only if you meet the basic qualifications or minimum requirements for a particular role.

One cannot blame the ATS if it rejects a candidate who is an accountant but applying for a mid-level sales job.  That said, this doesn’t really apply to candidates looking to switch careers or who have transferable skills.

2. Keywords: We all have a basic idea of how a Google search works. An ATS does something similar but on a smaller scale. Just the way your eyes would skim through a document, an ATS scans your resume to pick up keywords. The ATS does this to check whether your profile is a suitable match for the position the company is looking to fill.

The recruiters can set the specific keywords they want the ATS to look for. The software will scan your resume and assign a match percentage based on how many of those keywords set by the recruiters appear in your resume. These keywords usually include things like job titles, qualifications, skills, certifications, languages spoken, and licenses held (legally required for certain jobs).

3. Choice of Words: You read the job description carefully to assess whether you meet the role’s minimum requirements. Now, reread it (trust me — no harm in that). Now, close your eyes and think about how good a fit you are for this particular job. One way to be objective is to list the job’s basic qualifications and preferred skills under one column, and then list your own skills, achievements, and experience in another column. How well do the two columns align?

Now, use similar language as the job description to describe your skills, experience, and achievements in your resume. Don’t just rephrase the job description and add it to your resume! Instead, focus on showcasing your achievements and hard/soft skills while using the keywords that appear in the job description.

Use numbers and data to drive home the point that you have used your skills to achieve specific outcomes. Do not keep repeating keywords or stuff them into your resume.

Generic words such as “intelligent” and “hardworking” are best left out of your resume.

Be sure to use the same terminology in your resume as in the job description. For instance, do not use “spreadsheets” if the description contains the term “Excel.” Also, ensure you’re using standardized subheadings (such as “work history,” “education,” and “professional experience”) in your resume. It’s best to limit your creativity here — which brings us to the next point.

4. Formatting: A fancy resume is unlikely to serve any purpose unless you’re in a creative field or are handing your resume to a hiring manager without passing through an ATS first. Do away with tables, boxes, images, graphics, logos, headers, and footers. And no fancy, hard-to-read fonts, sizes, or colors!

Remember, most ATSs are programmed to read from left to right and top to bottom. Any breaks in the format may get the software reading the text on your resume incorrectly!

5. Spelling and Grammar: This may seem basic, but a resume with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes will throw the ATS off track, causing it to reject you. A human can give you the benefit of the doubt and might ignore those errors, but the ATS has no clue what you’re talking about unless the keywords are an exact match.

Do multiple rounds of proofreading for spelling and grammar. You could even ask your friends for help — especially those who are real sticklers.

Another tip would be to use a mix of full terms and acronyms, where possible. This gives the ATS options, and that’s the best way to get your keywords recognized.

A few additional points to bear in mind:

• For each job application, your resume needs to be customized. Don’t attach the same resume to every application!

• Do not go overboard in applying for different roles in the same company. Choose the one best suited for you. An ATS will easily recognize multiple applications from the same person. Applying for a couple of similar roles (or diverse roles, if your skills accommodate the divergence) within the same company can be okay. If you end up applying for every single opening at a company, you’ll raise eyebrows. One, which position are you actually interested in? Two, do you even know what your skill set is? You sure don’t want to be seen that way.

• Check whether you need to submit your resume in a particular file type. If not, the most common types accepted are .doc and .pdf formats.

• Keep your resume simple. Easy to scan and read.

• Ensure all the relevant sections are included in your resume and your keywords match the job description.

• Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your application will get rejected. It could be due to various reasons. Try reaching out to the recruiters or someone within the organization. Show them how enthusiastic you are about the role and check whether they have a referral program.

Recruiters, what did you think of these tips? Are there any other factors candidates should bear in mind when creating ATS-friendly resumes? Please do let us know!

To the recruiters reading this article, we hope you’re happy with the applicant tracking system you’re using. We would love to know why you like your current ATS and which other features you’d like added to it. Regardless of the status of your relationship with your ATS, we also urge you to check out Freshteam. It is user-friendly, intuitive, and just the kind of recruiting assistant you need! (Try out our 21-day free trial!)

This article by Freshteam is built on the original article that first appeared on the Freshteam blog.

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Freshteam, a part of the Freshworks product portfolio, is a smart HR software that helps with handling recruiting, onboarding, time off, and employee information, all in one place. It is intuitive, easy to use, and affordable: a perfect fit for growing businesses. Freshteam helps attract top talent from multiple channels, as well as interview, track, hire, and onboard them with ease through its numerous features that are designed to aid HR managers at every step of the recruitment process.
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