What You Absolutely Need to Know About Applicant /Keyword Tracking Systems

As a résumé writer, I encounter people from all walks of life in virtually all levels of employment from entry level to CEO. It’s continuously amazing to me to see how many people aren’t tuned into what’s going on in terms of the human resource side of the hiring process. And what you don’t know can truly hurt you!

Many companies have resorted to applicant tracking systems (ATS) which is an efficiency measure put into place to enable the HR manager or hiring director to separate qualified applicants from those that are not.

To wit: the first round of the screening process isn’t all about finding the ‘good’ candidates…

…It’s all about weeding out the poor candidates, and people who just plain don’t qualify!

Applicant tracking systems might be viewed as evil by some, especially when you hear about the situation where one of my clients spent about 5 hours carefully inputting her résumé into an online application form. Yes, you read that right, FIVE (5) hours. In her situation, there were a number of supplemental questions that were asked online as well as the actual work history part of her résumé.

Guess how long it took her to get notified that she was rejected for the position? (Which she was very much qualified for, by the way.)

Six seconds.

Yep. That’s right, sports fans. She got a kick-back message from the ATS saying, “We’re sorry, but you didn’t meet the minimum qualifications.”

Talk about ‘no fair!’

But when she turned to having a professional writer produce her résumé, I could clearly see what the likely cause was of her problem. Her résumé truly had no keywords in it. There was no clear ‘density’ to her career field, which would mean that the ATS probably scanned it zippity quick, came up with nothing, and tossed her application quickly aside.

Understanding what the employer wants and what the ATS is looking for is half the battle of producing an effective résumé. Here are four tips to help you better navigate the system to get your résumé in the pile to be screened by a real, live human being:

1) Focus / theme your résumé. Try to concentrate your résumé towards a particular job title. Having a theme will help you concentrate and build up a critical mass of keywords that are likely scanning targets that an ATS is searching for in your document. Got a mish-mash of jobs that have some common theme of transferrable skill sets? Great. Concentrate them.

2) Do your homework. In order to find the right keywords, you’ll need to look beyond just the position that is currently open at one particular company. Some job descriptions are thorough while others are not. Look up similar positions, and identify the pattern of keywords that are common, and those will be your top ones to use in your résumé under a section called “Career Expertise.”

3) Sprinkle keywords throughout your résumé. Using the words in describing your work under each job record will also garner more ‘hits’ on the ATS.

4) Be honest. Don’t just start spreading words around willy-nilly just to get more hits. Some people have craftily started putting keywords at the top of their résumé… in white font so they remain hidden from the human eye, but the programmer who put together the ATS is already one step ahead of you… in some cases, these hidden keyword bundles can automatically disqualify an applicant because the software caught this deceptive act of trying to get a higher ranking.

Understanding how ATS work and what to do to address the employer’s needs are precisely what you need to do to graduate to the next level of the screening process and really shine!