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World of Resume Crafting: Beating the Applicant Tracking System

 

Cyborg reads resumeIf Video Killed the Radio Star, then Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) killed human resources. Yes, it is a sad state of affairs when a database is the judge and jury of your knowledge, skills, and experience. Forget World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. Getting your resume past an ATS and into the hands of a human is the ultimate game of strategy. Succeed, and you’ll rank a five-star general.

More than 15 years have passed since I began educating clients and even colleagues on the defection of “human” from “resources.” Oh, the irony. If I only had a dollar for every chuckle. It wasn’t until Liz Ryan got candid with How Technology Killed Recruiting that I realized how rich I could have been.

Resume strategy discussions take up the majority of coaching time. Most understand that keyword content is king. Few know that phrases, resume format, parsing, and software customizations are equally important. This explains why 75 percent of resumes don’t make the cut. Think Pareto Principle.

The ATS Game

Contrary to popular belief, an ATS doesn’t scan a resume. Like an axe chopping a tree, it parses and converts a resume into a free-form structure and stores it in a database. When an applicant uses a fancy Word format, it “chokes the system” and sends the resume to the black hole. But if a person uses a keyword- and phrase-rich resume that looks like it was typed on a Smith Corona, the system can seamlessly rank and profile it. An oxymoron at best.

According to research company Bersin by Deloitte, most ATS platforms use the same parsing software. For this reason, it is futile to ask a recruiter what type of system they use. Upgrading to a modern ATS system is expensive, so applicants must prepare a resume for old and new technology.

It gets trickier. Advanced parsing software can now translate keyword semantics. Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, a maker of resume-parsing software, explains that keywords are weighed in context of the whole resume. Welcome to the world of Big Data!

  • Cheat code: Convert your Word resume to a text version. The content in this plain (and ugly) format can be copied and pasted into the proper areas of the online application.

Keywords, Phrases, & Rank

Not only does an ATS look for keywords and phrases in the current job description, but all job descriptions the company ever published. Unique and relevant keywords and phrases, as well as weighted fields (such as a referrals and sources) determine a resume’s ranking. The higher, the better. An “A” is around 80 percent.

High rankings do not guarantee interviews. Roles that generate significant interest may cause the recruiter to only review the top 10 to 20 percent. Even at this point, most recruiters are not reading the candidate’s resume, but a profile summary.

  • Cheat code: Carefully read the job description to identify keywords and phrases unique to the role and industry.

Networking & Referrals

Networking helps almost 80 percent of job seekers land a new role. Such a staggering figure gives a whole new meaning to Klout scores and how they are being used as part of an interviewing process.

But as technology continues to better connect our world, the hiring paradigm will change.

Although your best friend may be the chief marketing officer at XYZ, Inc., don’t be surprised if he asks you to apply online. Why? Risk mitigation.

The age of social media has given birth to a new breed of vigilantes, and companies are playing offense. To avoid friends and family-plan hiring scandals, companies insist that all applicants follow one hiring process.

  • Cheat code: Companies tend to assign higher point values to an application with an employee referral. Not only will you rank higher, but that “Klout” is more likely to find your resume in the hands of a recruiter. Work with the system rather than against it.

The above strategies may help win a battle, but they fall short of winning the war. Tracking applicants is not the same as hiring them.

Avoiding a Toshiba scandal entails hiring people with character, potential, and an internal fire to make things possible. Artificial intelligence may come close to superhuman, but it lacks the soul to be Pro Humanitate (for humanity).