Tag Archives: ATS

4 reasons why the applicant tracking system is ineffective

My wife has an ongoing argument with Amazon’s Alexa. “Alexa, play WBUR.”

“I don’t understand your question.”

“No, Alexa….Play WBUR….Alexa, play WBUR.”

“Playing a station from Boise Idaho.”

“Argh.”

alexa

As I watch this interaction, it demonstrates how technology and humans don’t always jive. This transaction between my wife reminds me of how the applicant tracking system (ATS)—of which there are hundreds—doesn’t work for the following reasons.

People are only human

No matter how hard I try, some job seekers don’t send résumés tailored to specific jobs. Instead they send generic résumés to every job, exclaiming in aspiration, “Why don’t I get interviews? I’ve sent hundreds of résumés and gotten no interviews; not even a phone interview.”

For years I’ve been preaching to job seekers that keywords are the trick with the ATS. I tell them that they can identify keywords from the job postings by using software as simple as http://www.tagxedo.com or http://www.wordle.net to create word clouds, and then do the same to compare their résumés to job postings. Or they can use a more scientific method using http://www.jobscan.com.

Take the time to dissect the job post to understand the required major requirements and skills. Modify your Branding Headline, Performance Profile, Experience section, essentially everything to fit the job post.

The ATS is not human

The ATS can’t do human; it doesn’t know you as a person who has so much more to offer than the requirements for the job at hand. It is designed to do one thing: parse résumés for keywords. Only if your résumé contains the keywords—and density of them—will it be delivered to the hiring authorities who will read it.

Learn more about the ATS by reading 8 things you need to know about applicant tracking systems.

The ATS is so exact in the keywords for which it searches; there is no room for error. It doesn’t  digest the following bold words in this sentence written by a job seeker: “Demonstrate organizational skills by coordinating events that garnered 98% participation from municipality constituents.

It recognizes the following words in bold from a job posting: “Must coordinate events for functions that attract an extremely high percent of participants. Candidates must be extremely organized

Here is where the job candidate fails in matching the three keywords.

  1. coordinating doesn’t equal coordinate.
  2. participation doesn’t equal participants.
  3. Organizational doesn’t equal organized.

The ATS promotes a failing system

The ATS is brilliant because it eliminates as many as 75% of hundreds of résumés submitted for one job. This makes hiring authorities’ lives more manageable and keeps them sane. Most large, and many midsize, companies use applicant tracking systems. One source rates the top 99 applicant tracking systems.

For years we’ve realized that the hiring process is deficient in various ways. When human meets machine, the process fails. You submit your application through an ATS, which does a great job of rating your résumé among others (remember keywords).

However, if your résumé doesn’t meet the ATS’s criteria, you’re out of luck for that job. what the ATS can’t determine is perhaps the most important aspect of a candidate’s potential, emotional intelligence (EQ). The ATS focuses strictly on the skills stated on your résumé, it does not sit across from you in an interview.

The ATS also delivers unqualified people to interviews. This might be attributed to career developers, such as myself, who advise job seekers on how to get by the ATS. (Surely not all people who can play the ATS game are unqualified.) The ones who are unaware of mechanics of the ATS, are being passed by for less qualified people.

The ATS perpetuates job boards

Job boards are chum line. If you’ve ever gone deep-sea fishing, you know what it means to use chum line. Scraps like squid, clams, fish parts, and basically anything that would attract large fish are thrown overboard. The bait attracts any fish who happen to be near the surface.

Hiring authorities reason that they might not get the perfect candidate, but there are job seekers out there who are qualified enough. In other words, what they don’t see, they won’t miss. This thinking is human nature, but it is also faulty.

The ATS allows employers to accept more résumés, convinced the most qualified candidates will be presented to them. Further, the résumés that don’t pass the ATS the first time will be stored for future perusal. Hiring authorities will have a trove a future candidates to look at. This is of no solace to job seekers who need a job now.

The job board’s success rate ranges from 2%-10%. The marriage between it and the ATS is a perfect union.


Friend or foe, the ATS is no better than Alexa. My wife eventually taught the machine to find the radio station she desired, but it took some teaching and frustration. Will the ATS be smarter? Will it be more human? More intuitive? If Alexa is any indication, there might be hope.

Photo: Flickr.com, Victor Gonzalez Couso

Advertisements

Keywords are important to have on your résumé

Dumping Ground

But don’t make it a dumping ground for keywords.

I don’t believe a résumé’s greatest attribute is its layout. Don’t get me wrong, how your résumé is structured matters a great deal; but content is by far the most important component.

Included in the content must be keywords and key phrases (KWs & KPs) that are related to the job for which you’re applying. They must be evident throughout your entire résumé.

We’re all aware that large-and mid-sized companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) which allows them to easily pluck the candidates, who possess the most KWs & KPs, from an unearthly pile of résumés.

Harried HR and internal recruiters type in necessary KWs & KPs, and the résumés that contain a majority of them are the first—if not the only—ones seen. It’s estimated that ATSs eliminated 75% of all résumés submitted for jobs.

While content is important—and having the necessary KWs & KPs is essential—where they’re placed is just as important.

Some assert that merely listing them in a section at the top of your résumé (this is where the Professional Profile lies) is the most effective way to get your résumé to float to the top of the employers’ list.

This is where I draw the line between playing the system at the expense of strategic layout.

The Professional Profile is a section of your résumé that needs to demonstrate your outstanding job-related and transferable skills, not be comprised of as many KWs & KPs you can muster up.

It must be written extremely well, providing compelling reasons why you should be brought in for an interview. Keep in mind the following objectives:

  1. You must prioritize your statements, matching the requirements of the position and other similar positions, not just all the KWs & KPs you capture from a job posting.
  2. The Professional Profile is a brief outline of what’s to follow in the body of your résumé. Anything you assert in this section must be proven henceforth.
  3. Consider using WOW statements or accomplishment statements. You’ll state other accomplishments in the body. This will certainly grab the employer’s attention.
  4. Do not offend the employer with empty claims of greatness by throwing adjectives around. Instead focus on action, e.g., (I) Direct teams of marketing and sales professionals to reach sales projections; exceeded goals by more than 85% in the past two years.
  5. Don’t write a novel. Your Professional Profile should not be longer than five or six lines. This may even be too long.

There is a better place for the key words and phrases. Where the KWs & KPs should be listed is in a Core Competency or Technical Skill sections below the Professional Profile. In this section you can empty the can and list the relevant KWs & KPs you’d like. However, don’t simply dump them there.

Martin Yate, author of the Knock em Dead series, writes in How keywords create a customer-centric résumé, “A Professional Skills section should list all the skills (keywords) required to execute the responsibilities of the job. It should come right after a Target Job Title and a Performance Summary at the top of your resume because the ATS programs that help recruiters search databases reward both the presence of keywords and the placement of keywords – those keywords found near the top of a document are seen to make that doc potentially more relevant to the user.”

The ATS will detect all the keywords and phrases throughout your entire résumé. Many recruiters encourages not only listing the job-related KWs & KPs; they recommend repeating wherever possible.

Density of KWs & KPs will also determine where your résumé lands in the pile. This means employing them in the Experience and Educations sections. Be sure you use the headers “Experience” and “Education,” as that’s what the ATS recognizes.

Another way job seekers try to to game the system is to write their keyword and phrases in white font at the end of your résumé. This trick is as old as the hills, and most ATSs can detect them and reject you.

Let’s not be too obvious about our intent. Simply write a résumé that shows you have all the skills and include KWs & KPs throughout your résumé.

The 5 steps recruiters use to select the best résumés

18921009695_a3d7685229_zThis year my son wanted a Christmas tree, despite the fact he’s allergic to them. I was game. Besides, we know this great tree farm that isn’t well known by other Christmas tree buyers.

(You may skip this story and go right to the 5 steps recruiters use to select the best resume to present to hiring managers, if you’d like.)

My family and I arrived at the tree farm and were surprised by the sparse group of people eager to find their Christmas tree.

Looking up the hill I saw nothing but rows and rows of Christmas trees and a few people, some with dogs, walking through rows of those trees. No one was in a hurry. Why should they be in a hurry?

You might think I was excited to see such an abundance of trees, which at a glance all looked the same. You are correct; I was thrilled to find the perfect tree to take home to our living room.

However, as I got closer to the trees up on the hill, I noticed that they weren’t all perfect. In fact, some of them were pretty bleak with their pine needles turning brown, their branches missing here and there, they were scrawny. In other words, this was going to take work.

What I began to think about was how this mass selection of Christmas trees resembled the mass selection of résumés recruiters get for one job. How they have to sift through all those résumés in order to select the ones to submit to hiring managers (HM). Here are the five steps they must take.

First, reduce the number of résumés to be read

By now you’ve heard about the applicant tracking system (ATS) and understand its purpose, to eliminate as many résumés to read as possible. Simply stated, it screens résumés for keywords and phrases. Those without the proper keywords don’t make the cut.

To give you an idea of the sheer number of applicant for each job: according to Jobvite.com, nearly 100 résumés are submitted for professional positions and 150 for other entry level.

The ATS effectively eliminates 75% of résumés submitted for a position, but even reading 25 résumés can be a burden. (Read 10 reasons recruiters and hiring managers dread reading résumés.)

Second, read the 25 out of 100 résumés chosen by the ATS

Even after the résumés have made it through the ATS, recruiters will take approximately six to ten seconds to read each one to determine if it’s worth a second view.

Recruiters’ job is to look for résumés to disqualify from consideration, rather than qualify them for consideration. It’s a process of elimination. Résumés that make the cut are placed in the “must read” pile.

Third, read the résumés in the “must read” pile

A closer look tells recruiters if the résumés have what it takes based on:

  • Readability: the résumés contain short paragraphs, with no more than three or four lines. Important points are bulleted. Important text is highlighted in bold to stand out from the rest of the text.
  • Accomplishments stand out: they are measurable with numbers, dollars, and percentages. Executive résumés, according to Laura Smith-Proulx are quantified.
  • Shorter is better—two pages—but I’ve spoken with recruiters who will read three- even four-page résumés. The more pages, the easier the ATS to see you, my dear.
  • Demographics: Determine if the applicants’ demographics fit the role. Does he live close enough to the company? Does his work history show too much or enough years of experience? What size companies has the applicant worked at?

Fourth, determine which two, three, or four résumés to submit to the hiring manager

The recruiter’s reputation is riding on the best candidates to submit to the HM, so the résumés must impress him. He must be sold on the candidates’ accomplishments, which must be relevant.

For example, although a candidate has outstanding accomplishments as an individual contributor—increased revenue 80% by generating business in uncharted territory—but the job calls for a person with management experience, he probably isn’t a good fit.

Personality fit is also key in the recruiter’s decision. But how does the recruiter see candidates’ personality in a résumé? It’s not an easy task for the job seeker to accomplish, but a résumé that demonstrates a human voice without use of fluff and cliches is preferred.

The use of personal pronouns is typically frowned upon, but when used sparingly can emphasize the job seeker’s skills and accomplishments. By sparingly I mean used only in the Performance Profile section.

Fifth, defend the recruiter’s choice to the hiring manager

A well written résumé should not be difficult to defend. After all, it has passed the ATS, the six-second glance, a more extensive review, has presented relevant accomplishments, and has given the recruiter a sense of the job seeker’s personality…as best it can.

But the résumé is a document that can’t reveal as much as the interviews conducted by the recruiter, HR, and the hiring manager. This is a the first step in the process, albeit a very important step. The recruiter must sound convincing when she presents her decision to the HM, perhaps second guessing the choices she’s made. Let the interviews begin.

Back to the story: The Christmas tree our family chose was one of the best in our family’s history. It was the ideal height and width. It only shed a few pine needles. But my wife wondered aloud if the short needles would be as good as the longer needles.

To me, it was a Christmas tree that we selected together. Was it perfect? No, but what is?