Sending a hiring manager a printed resume is as outdated as writing a check at the grocery store. The job search is fully digital — and if you’re wondering if there’s a human on the other end of your submission, there probably isn’t. That’s because many companies use applicant tracking systems, also known as ATS.
An ATS is a software system that helps companies track candidates, including sorting through resumes to find applicants who most closely fit the position. Rather than having to organize emails and attachments, the resumes are all stored in a central database where the recruiter can search for keywords relating to skills, past positions and other relevant criteria.
According to some estimates, more than 90 percent of large companies use an application tracking system to automate their hiring process, and the practice is becoming pervasive in smaller firms as well. It might lead you to worry that you’ll get screened out before you ever get the chance to prove what a great job you can do.
Here’s what you should do to make your application shine in the new world.
USE A CLEAN, SIMPLE LAYOUT
Many ATS programs can’t read images or tables so avoid any fancy elements. Instead, stick to written text and choose an easy-to-read typeface like Arial, Times New Roman or even the old-fashioned Courier. Avoid underlining or bolding and use bullets (the round dot is best).
FORGET THE FLUFFY WORDING AND LAYOUT
Do you call yourself a “Sales Ninja” instead of “Vice President of Sales?” For an ATS (well, and really for any application), ditch the cutesy titles and go with plain language. Use common section headers, like “Experience” or “Work Experience,” rather than “My Awesomeness.” Use words the hiring manager or HR might search.
Avoid jargon specific to your place of employment, like “TPS reports,” although universally accepted industry buzzwords are fine. With acronyms, spell out the word and then use the acronym as well, in case the system is looking for one or the other.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR RESUME
Systems are looking for very specific words, and there’s a not-so-secret formula to knowing what they are: In most cases they are likely right in the posting.
It’s a good idea to adapt your resume to mirror the words the company has highlighted in its job description. So, for example, even if you typically call yourself an “adviser,” use the term “consultant” if that’s what’s in the description.
Don’t be shy about using targeted terms often, but use variations so you don’t look like you’re “key-word stuffing,” which can kick your resume out. So, if they are looking for a “consultant,” use that word and then also its derivatives, such as “consulted” “consulting” and “consultative.”
Pro tip: Chances are good everyone else is going to upload a file called “resume,” so make yours stand out with your name and desired title.
FIND A REAL PERSON
Sometimes it’s best to use the strategy that has helped candidates land jobs for decades — good old-fashioned networking.
In addition to sending your resume through the ATS (you want to show that you can follow directions after all!), see if you can find out the name of the person who may be ultimately responsible for the hiring and reach out to them personally. It can’t hurt — and may help — to get a pithy cover letter and your resume in front of an actual person.
To help up your chances of forging a connection, check them out on LinkedIn and see if you know someone who knows them or who works at the company — that extra personal touch can be the perfect complement to an ATS-optimized resume.