Applicant Tracking Systems

Be One with the Bots

Modern-day recruiters are flooded with resumes from candidates applying for their jobs.  Additionally, recruiters have access to countless resumes online through places like Monster and Indeed.  For this reason, similar to how you use Google to find what you’re looking for online, HR departments are relying on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to find the candidates they are looking for (using keyword searches, mostly) and to “save” promising candidates for future opportunities.

In this article, let’s take a deeper dive into the world of recruiting and the tools that they use (Applicant Tracking Systems).

Inside the World of Recruiting

Here at Peak Performers, we take the time to review every single resume that is submitted to us, even though we get over 200 job applies each week. However, many larger organizations get an even higher volume of resumes and have fewer recruiters to sift through them.  Additionally, large companies or public sector departments often have tight deadlines and must rely on their recruiters to find the best candidates very quickly.  It is estimated by that recruiters for larger organizations spend less than 6 seconds on each resume.

Imagine for a second that you are asked to find the best qualified candidate and you have a hundred resumes to review. How would you go about this herculean task?

First, we start by using keywords from the job description and matching those to what’s found in the resume–very similar to how you might find something on Google.  The results are returned to us as a “relevancy score.” Basically this means that the computer is trying to figure out how relevant a candidate is to the job we’re trying to fill.  Many recruiters might only look at the first few results (the ones on the top of the page).

Relevancy Score Picture

Ultimately, recruiters are there in order to go through the resumes and then recommend a few of the most promising candidates to their hiring managers or staffing consultants. The recruiter may not make a hiring decision but is influential in choosing who gets invited to interview.

Before you Apply!

Make sure you meet all the minimum qualifications and most of the preferred qualifications.  Submitting a resume is now easier than ever before! Have you ever tried Indeed’s One Button Apply?

But with ease of apply comes many, many irrelevant resumes or under-qualified resumes. Remember that the recruiter and the Applicant Tracking System are not trying to trick you or make it harder for you to get an interview, they’re there to help the promising resumes get noticed. Before you click apply, ask yourself:

A) do I actually want to do a job like this?

B) do I have the experience, education, and skills that is expressed in the job description?

Additionally, preferred qualifications are, as the name suggests, strongly preferred.  Are you a business analyst who has 5 years of experience? Great. The job description might prefer a background working for public sector entities and/or experience with purchasing and procurement–do you have that? If not, the recruiter may still look at your resume, but it’s very possible that they’ll find someone else who does have the preferred qualifications.

This is not meant to discourage you. By all means you should shoot for the stars; however, if you don’t possess the minimum qualifications you may well be wasting both your time and the recruiter’s.  And, believe me, as a recruiter the least favorite part of my job is sending rejection letters.

Resume Optimization in 5 Steps

highlight resume

Now that you know why it matters, I’m going to tell you how to prepare your resume in 5 steps to make you stand out.

  1. Print the job description – what I recommend to job seekers is to print the job description and read it aloud. Next, ask yourself what the recruiter is looking for and how will they find it when they have a lot of resumes to go through. Now, take a highlighter and highlight those words and phrases.  Recruiters are generally asked to find candidates based off of hard skills (tangible skills such as experience with a particular software or a unique named skill set, such as accounting) and soft skills (things like being team-oriented or being organized).
  2. Insert keywords into your resume (multiple times) – Now take those keywords and put them in your resume if they are not there already.  I recommend finding multiple places to insert them.  Typically, I find it helpful to put them in a breakaway skills section under the objective summary and build them into each work experience where you used them. Including keywords multiple times will help increase your “relevancy score” according to the computer, and it is also what the recruiter will first scan for. But remember, your goal is to optimize and present your experience as favorably as possible–not to trick the recruiter by misrepresenting your experience or stuffing your resume with keywords.
  3. Update your objective summary – Many recruiters skip right past this bit on the first read through.  That’s because it often boils down to under-qualified job seekers trying to talk their way into a job or job seekers saying everything that they say in their resume again…except in paragraphs as opposed to bullets. Use the objective summary to specifically call out this job that you’re applying for and make it a true summary of why you are the best qualified candidate for this role.  Additionally, use this section to address any concerns that a recruiter may have that might get you screened out without your providing further explanation: for example, returning to the workforce after a long work hiatus or applying for a job from a different state (here at Peak we work predominately with local candidates or those who have already moved to the area).
  4. Move pieces of your resume around – In my jobs, our clients are typically more focused on direct experience as opposed to education.  When a candidate sees that there is no education requirement and yet puts their education front and center, it simply slows down my eyeballs from getting to the part of their resume that’s relevant to the job.  Again, put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter and think what is important and then figure out how to put it on the first page or as close to it as possible.  Also, relevancy score is often affected by how close the desired keywords appear to the top of the page.
  5. Remove/minimize extra content – Many, many job seekers have a notion that they have to have a resume that is one or two pages long.  (I work primarily in within the public sector within Information Technology staffing and resumes for positions we fill tend to be much longer than this.)  However, I think where this conventional wisdom comes from is recruiters who are used to sifting through hundreds or thousands of resumes for a particular job. This means (theoretically) that the recruiter has to read less content in order to get the gist of a candidate. Having a resume that’s short and sweet is great…if it gets to the recruiter at all. More important is making sure that the resume is specifically targeted to the job using keywords, includes an appropriate objective summary, and is arranged in an order that is relevant. Where you can cut or minimize content is by removing all that extra stuff the job doesn’t call for.  Are you applying for a java developer role but you spent the last 6 months in retail while you went back to school? I don’t need to know about your time working retail except to know what you’ve been doing for the last six months and why you were doing it.

Side note: while it can be nice to put in hobbies or passions at the bottom of your resume (in order to make you feel more personable or start a conversation during the interview), remember that the main thing you’re trying to do is get that interview.

This Sounds Like a Lot of Work

It is. If you follow my recommendations, you will be making a trade off of quality over quantity.  However, you only need one employer to say ‘yes.’  If you take the time to find the right job…one you’re qualified for and one that you want to do…then it’s critical to make yourself look as good as possible.  Sometimes, that resume will still go into an HR black hole and you’ll never hear back; however, it’s also possible that the recruiter took notice but there were other candidates who are even more qualified. Who knows, maybe they’ll seek you out for another similar role?

If you follow my recommendations, you will be making a trade off of quality over quantity.

Bonus Points: Get Recruiters to Find You

Many jobs are not actually posted online because HR departments don’t want to have to sift through tons of resumes.  Additionally, recruiters are often tasked with “pipelining” candidates for prospective jobs, which means we go out and find people with the kinds of skills and experience relevant to the jobs we are typically asked to fill.

Wouldn’t it be nice for recruiters to find you and reach out to you before a job is even posted?

Here’s the catch: you’re not sure what a recruiter somewhere is looking for.  However, you do know what kind of job you want and what kinds of roles you’d be good in.

Go through this exercise again and imagine you’re applying for your ideal job and then post that resume on Monster and Indeed.  I bet you’ll be surprised with the results.


Post Series: Job Seeking Advice

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