How to beat an Applicant Tracking System

Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS or an applicant tracking system. A lot of organizations, especially those with rapidly increasing hiring needs within a short period of time, are also adopting the use of an ATS to stitch all of their hiring processes together.

When it’s the season to hire, HR teams spend hours organising applications, scanning them, evaluating them, and sending mails to every candidate who has qualified to the next level. 

With an ATS, companies can source candidates, manage them as they go through the various stages of the evaluation process, schedule interviews, manage communication with them, gather interview feedback, hand out offer letters and manage a talent pipeline. 

It allows recruiters to automate certain regularly performed actions and can help them to navigate between candidates, tasks and jobs from one place. It is a one-stop software to help save time and improve the hiring process – a blessing for recruiters.

But, what does this mean to the candidates who are submitting their resumes or applications to organizations that use an ATS? How will this affect your application or does it affect it at all? 

There are a lot of debates and discussions about the acceptance and rejections of applications by applicant tracking systems. So, is it true that your resume/application actually may not reach the recruiter? 

Yes and no. The truth is it actually depends on how an ATS is designed, how recruiters have customized their ATS to screen applications and what a recruiter’s style of screening is. There are some that read each and every resume that land on their desk and there are some that don’t. So, in short, if your resume is getting rejected, it isn’t due to an ATS but due to the recruiters and the settings enabled on the ATS they are using. 

Key points to remember to create your “ATS-friendly” resume

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

1. Basic qualifications: Perhaps, this is the most important thing factor to keep in mind to ensure your resume is shortlisted by an ATS. This is because most such softwares parse data from resumes, pull them and file them under different categories, scan them using specific keywords and pass a few of them to the recruiters.

So, read the job description (JD) of the role you’re applying for carefully. First, ensure you meet the basic qualifications listed in the JD. apply only if you meet the basic qualifications or minimum requirements for a particular role.

One cannot blame the ATS if it rejects candidates who are accountants but applying for a mid-level sales job. However, this doesn’t really apply to candidates looking to switch careers or have transferable skills for a job in a different function.

2. Keywords: So, 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 would scan your resume and pick up keywords. This is to check if your profile is a suitable match for the position a company is looking to fill. 

The recruiters can set the keywords they want to look for and enter those in the ATS. The software will scan your resume and assign a match percentage based on the keywords set by the recruiters and those you have entered in your resume. These keywords usually include the current job title, qualifications, skills, certifications, languages spoken and licences held (legally required for certain jobs). 

3. Choice of words and language: You read the JD carefully to assess if you meet the minimum requirements for a particular role. Now, re-read it (trust me, no harm in that). Now, close your eyes and think about how good a fit you are for that particular job. One way to be objective is to list down the basic qualifications and preferred skills/experience under one column and your skills, achievements and experience next to that.

Now, use a similar language (as in the JD) to describe your skills, experience and achievements in your resume but (please) do not rephrase the JD and include it in your resume. Instead, focus on showcasing your achievements and hard/soft skills. Use numbers and data to drive home the point that you have used your skills to get particular outcomes. Do not keep repeating those keywords or stuff them into your resume. 

Generic phrases such as “intelligent, hardworking” are best left out of your resume.

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

4. Formatting: A fancy resume is unlikely to serve any purpose unless you’re into a creative field and are likely to hand over your resume to your interviewers without passing an ATS first. 

Do away with tables, boxes, images, graphics, any other form of media, logos, headers and footers. Yes, and no fancy, hard-to-read fonts/font sizes and colors. Remember, most ATSs are programmed to read from left to right and top to bottom; so any breaks may get the software to read the text on your resume wrong. 

5. Spelling and grammar: This may seem basic but a resume with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes will throw the ATS off track and it will just reject your resume. A human can give you the benefit of doubt and might ignore those errors but for an ATS, the keywords aren’t a match and it has no clue of what you’re talking about.

So, do multiple rounds of spelling and grammar checks. You could perhaps ask your (grammar Nazi) friends for help. 

Another tip would be do not use acronyms. Do not just use full forms too. Use both! You’re giving the ATS options and that’s the best way to go about it.

A few additional points to bear in mind:

  • For each job application, your resume needs to be customized. No circling the same resume for all applications!
  • Do not go overboard in applying for different job roles in the same company. Choose the ones best suited for you. An ATS will easily recognize multiple applications by the same person. Going for similar job roles and diverse roles (if and only your skills accommodate the divergence) within the same company is cool. If you end up applying for every single job posting by a company, it will raise two questions. One, which position are you actually interested in? Two, are you aware of what your skill sets are? You sure don’t want to be seen that way.
  • Check if you’re being asked to submit your resume in a particular file type. If not, the most common types submitted are in the doc and pdf formats.
  • Keep your resume simple. Easy to scan and read. 
  • Ensure all the relevant sections are included in your resume to match the JD.
  • Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your application may get rejected. It could be due to various reasons. Try and reach out to the recruiters or someone within the organization. Show them how enthusiastic you are about the role and don’t forget to check if they have referral programs.

We hope you found these pointers useful. Are there any other factors one needs to bear in mind to create an ATS-friendly resume? Please do let us know in the comments section below!