If you’re on the job hunt, there’s a good chance your resume is getting pre-scanned by a company’s Applicant Tracking System, or ATS. These programs are designed to help employers sift through applications and resumes more quickly, bringing the best candidates to the top and saving the employer from needing to read through dozens – sometimes hundreds – of bad options.
Here are five tips to make sure your resume makes it through an ATS and ends up in the hiring manager’s hands.
Find the keywords
Applicant Tracking Systems use keywords to sort and organize resumes and cover letters, saving the hiring manager a lot of time. These keywords are often based on the job posting itself, so look there for clues for potential keywords, and don’t be afraid to mimic (but not directly copy) the job posting’s language.
“Make sure that you review the job description before submitting your resume – make note of the required and ‘nice to have’ skills on the job description then highlight the key words that are associated to those skills and make sure that they are used exactly on your resume when describing your experience,” says Geoff Webb, a leader with Aon Hewitt’s global RPO team. “An ATS is a computer system and in most cases does not know that J2EE is also a part of Java.”
Avoid packing all the keywords exclusively into your mission statement or cover letter. Rather, use them throughout your resume to help the ATS register the significance of your previous experience.
“Make sure to use the appropriate key words within each of the relevant job(s) that you have on your resume,” addss Webb. “The usual ATS is not only looking for keywords but it’s trying to figure out how relevant those keywords are, and if you use them in your current role and they are appropriate in the roles prior to current role then you will be ‘scored’ more highly as the machine will determine that those skills were not only present but also more highly relevant.”
Aim for simplicity
Some people like to make unique or eye-catching formatting choices with their resumes. And while this may occasionally work with some hiring managers, unusual formatting choices are a quick way to get your resume knocked out of the running if an ATS is involved.
“Keep formatting simple,” says Webb. “As much as everyone loves to be creative, most ATS systems use OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, to parse resume data, and if you are using a fancy font or design on your resume, chances are the ATS will miss those words when parsing the resume.”
When it comes to automated systems, remember that they’ll only scan what they’ve been programmed to scan for – so don’t take any abbreviations or industry jargon for granted.
“I work exclusively with accountants, so being a CPA — Certified Public Accountant — is a really big deal. Everybody thinks that having ‘CPA’ on your resume will help get past these resume systems,” says Bob Berchtold, founder of CPA Talent. “But what if the system was set up by someone in HR who isn’t familiar with accounting or finance? Sometimes they’ll set up the system to filter out anyone who doesn’t have ‘Certified Public Accountant’ on their resume, even if they have ‘CPA.’ Writing ‘Certified Public Accountant (CPA)’ covers all your bases, and helps you get your resume seen by a real person.”
Choose the right file format
One thing many job seekers don’t take into consideration when submitting resumes is the file format they’re using. This goes hand in hand with keeping document formatting simple; opening a document in a different program than the one it was formatted in can cause all sorts of problems.
“Many sites will say it is okay to upload documents in Word or PDF, but will likely open the document in a Text format,” says Danielle Beauparlant Moser, author of ”FOCUS: Creating Career & Brand Clarity.” “If a user has their contact information in the header or footer section of the document, that information is then lost when opened as a Text document. The best way to ensure that the content of your submission will be a readable format is to upload a Text/ASCII version.”
Keep it natural
While optimizing your resume to get noticed by an ATS is a great strategy, it’s possible to go overboard. “Remember that the end consumer of your document will be human,” says Beauparlant.“The fastest way to make them feel like they are being ‘played’ is to keyword-stuff your document. Match their language, but do so in context.”
Tailoring your resume for a company’s ATS is an essential step to getting your resume noticed. Check out this article for more ways to improve your resume and increase your chances of landing that open position.
Susan Ricker researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.