At first blush, it’s easy to understand why the term Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and its definition would sound Kafkaesque — it is. There’s no other way to describe software that automatically collects, and sorts resumes with an obscure algorithm.

There’s even the possibility that your resume may never even reach human eyes as the all-knowing computer may decide that yours should remain at the bottom of the pile. It doesn’t seem fair, but in this fast-paced, high-tech economy, it’s something we should have seen coming.

It’s important to realize that ATS is everywhere now, with 98 per cent of Fortune 500 firms, 66 per cent of big business, and even 35 per cent of small businesses using them to prioritize resumes. It’s also not just one ATS you have to understand — different companies use different software of varying quality. Even Indeed has its own.

Wherever you may be applying, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to deal with an ATS judging your resume’s worth before a real person even gets a chance. Here’s what you need to know:

How ATS Sorts Data

ATS collects all resumes into a database that recruiters and hiring managers can access. Your resume can sit in that database for years before ever being considered, but employers search the database using several different methods.

Of course, some employers are old-fashioned and prefer to see every application that passes through the system, but you can’t count on that. Instead, they often rely on keyword searches. If an employer is looking for a market researcher, that term would likely be the first one searched. Searches can also contain multiple terms to help an employer be as specific as they desire.

If you can predict the keywords for which they’ll likely be searching, you stand a better chance of at least being noticed. Some ATS, however, have a feature that automatically recommends certain selected resumes based on how closely they match the job description.

Format Matters

Whatever you know about current resume formats, it’d be wise to employ it now. What you learned in school probably isn’t applicable anymore. A lot of applicant tracking systems don’t even look at your resume. Instead, they turn the file into a digital document and sort out the information, so it’s easily searchable.

If it’s not formatted correctly, keywords can get lost or distorted, and other details might just be ignored. Some ATS have gotten more intelligent about doing this, but it’s still a major problem.

How to Beat the System

You’ve probably already been given a few ideas above that can help you tailor your resume to beat ATS, but there’s much more you need to do:

  • Change your resume to suit each specific job application.
  • Guess some of the keywords they’ll be searching. Use the job description for ideas.
  • Stick to a chronological format.
  • Avoid columns and tables — they’ll only confuse the ATS.
  • Keep to standard headings. It’s not the time to get creative and call the “Work Experience” section “Jobs I Had.” For the most part, reserve your personality for the interview.

ATS systems seem to benefit the employer more than the job seeker, but there are ways to turn it in your favour.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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