Job seeking is challenging and often leads to frustration. Professionals browse for the right jobs, keep an eye out for profile fits, and send in their resume expectantly but often do not receive a response, any response, from the myriad of job boards they apply to. The main reason that your resume may not be soliciting a response is because it is being read first by companies’ Application Tracking Software (ATS), which is promptly filtering your resume into oblivion before human eyes ever see it.
ATS is a software application that enables the electronic handling of applications according to a predetermined search criteria based on keywords or other qualifications. To get a response for your resume, it is important to understand that resume design is as important as resume content. In fact, for online applications, it is even more important than the content, as most times it is the ATS which will scan the application first and not the recruiter and may discard it for trivial or technical reasons.
So what can be done to ensure that the ATS picks your resume and passes it along instead of junking it? Here are some simple rules to follow that will maximize your success when dealing with the “robots”:
- Generic resumes do not work well with an ATS system. Your resume must utilize words from the job description or it will be declined immediately. This means that each time you apply for a job, you need to “tweak“ your resume to match what the job is looking for, using its terminology (even if you utilize slightly different wording at your current role).
- Avoid images, shading, graphics, special effects, arrows, and any other special characters. Stick to simple text and numbers on the resume (and you can’t go wrong with bullet points). Use of images just confuses the ATS and it may reject your resume as a result. And if you are attaching a photo of yourself, that’s a big HR no-no in the first place, as it can lead to all sorts of hiring discrimination and bias issues.
- For your resume, only use standard fonts like Arial, Georgia, Calibri, or similar that are commonly used on the web and easy to read. Use Word format, not PDF!
- Always include a carefully worded professional summary, which should also incorporate important keywords from the job description.
- Use spell check on your resume. Words that are not recognized in standard dictionaries will not be picked up by the software so proofread your resume as well. Where use of acronyms is necessary, ensure that the explanation is provided alongside to maximize search fit percentages.
- Don’t ignore designations, titles, and relevant certifications. They attract attention and are likely to be keywords in the ATS.
- Contact information should always be at the top so the recruiter knows where to reach you once the ATS has chosen your resume to be short listed. It is now common to have more than one page in a resume but it is important to ensure that the first page of the resume has all the contact details and keywords in case the second page is misplaced.