So you’ve responded to an online job ad by filling out an online application or submitting your resume. You hit the submit button and that was the end of it. Weeks have passed and you haven’t heard back from the employer. What happened?
Almost 75% of resumes sent are never read by a human. Instead, employers both large and small are using applicant tracking software to scan the information from your resume and extract key words to be mapped out into a database called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Using these key words, the system will assign you a score based on how well you match the job requirements and your application will be ranked and sorted along with all the other applications. Only the candidates with the highest scores will move on to the next stage of the selection process.
So how can you improve your resume’s score and make it past the ATS? Here are a few tips:
1. Use language from the job description. Carefully read the job posting and identify key terms such as required skills, industry terms, and even buzzwords and jargon that are used most frequently in the description. Incorporate these words into your resume when possible – these are the words the ATS is looking for. A Career Summary at the top of the resume is a great place to use words that match the required qualifications, experience, skills, and expertise laid out in the job posting.
2. Highlight your skills, and be specific. Most employers use their ATS to search for specialized or technical skills. Make sure your resume includes any special skills you’ve attained, the names of computer programs you know how to use, specific competencies, and other abilities. Spell words out, only using abbreviations and acronyms that are industry standard.
3. Get rid of irrelevant information. Only include information about your past positions that demonstrates that you have the skills and qualifications relevant to the job you are applying for. Irrelevant filler information just ends up as a waste of space. It is more effective to tailor your application to the employer’s needs and flesh out sections that demonstrate your qualifications. Every job ad will contain different key words and phrases, so tailor your resume to each opportunity.
4. Don’t use images, including graphs. Often job seekers mistakenly believe that images will catch the employer’s attention, but even if this were true they wouldn’t catch the attention of an ATS. The fact is that applicant tracking software is not able to read or understand images, so adding them is a waste of your time. If you’re attached to your infographic resume, save it for the in-person interview.
5. Don’t use any special characters or formatting, including tables. Standard bullets are fine, but other characters (such as arrows, check marks, etc.), tables, borders, shading, and other special formatting can cause issues that prevent the ATS from finding useful information in your resume. Also be careful about your choice of font – when your resume is read by a person standard, business-friendly fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, Tahoma, Courier, etc.) will be better received.
6. Watch for spelling errors. An ATS will not pick up a word if it is misspelled. To avoid mistakes use spell check, read your document backwards, or have a friend (or two) look it over. You can never be too safe. Even applications read by human eyes will likely be screened out if they contain spelling errors.
7. Put your contact information at the top. Don’t forget to include vital information such as your phone number and email address. The ATS may send an email after you’ve applied to the position with additional instructions — so check your spam folder frequently to make sure you don’t miss further communications.