If you’ve ever gotten career advice from a professional resume writer, career counselor, or through your own research about optimizing your resume, chances are you have heard about applicant tracking systems (ATS) and how they can derail your job search efforts. You’ve heard that companies screen candidates through these systems, and if your resume is not ATS friendly, it will never be read by a human audience.
This is true.
If you’re looking for top tips on how to rig all 193 ATS currently on the market, you’re not going to get that here. I’m here to tell you to take a deep breath and forget (a little) about ATS and redirect that energy elsewhere—namely to building a robust network.
How important ATS systems are will depend upon how you conduct your job search.
While it is true that employers and recruitment firms use ATS to filter candidates, according to ExecuJobs, job ads and recruiters together account for just 7.5% of the jobs actually filled. So just how important were ATS for the other 92.5% of the positions filled? My guess is that ATS played a very minor role in those cases.
Consider the following scenario: You’ve worked hard to ensure that your resume is ATS friendly—using the plainest formatting possible, just to be safe, and frontloading the resume with keywords—and have applied for a job posted online. The resume made it through the system as was even shortlisted. However, in the meantime, another candidate—we’ll call her Networked Jane—was personally recommended to the hiring decision maker by a trusted contact or by someone internally. Networked Jane’s resume bypassed the ATS altogether and was placed on top of yours in the stack. In fact, Networked Jane was immediately called in for an interview before any of the other applicants because there was element of “vouch-worthiness” attached to her candidacy.
Now—let me be clear—Networked Jane still needed a stellar resume relaying her strategically defined brand, her unique value, and her ability to resolve organizational challenges as related to the job. Her resume still needed to contain compellingly written success stories that invited the interview questions she most wanted to answer. It still needed to transmit that she was an insider in her field and that she spoke the language of her industry (keywords!). However, Networked Jane did not need to fret over her resume’s ATS-friendliness.
In sum, if you are primarily conducting your search by responding to job ads, via web platforms, or via recruiters (where just 7.5% of hiring actually happens), then, yes, worry about ATS. Indeed, you will have a very slim chance of success if you don’t. If you intend to use job search methods that are a better use of your time anyway—such as reaching out to your network to relay your goals and ask for help in further expanding your network—your resume’s ATS-friendliness is but a minor concern.