Do You Keep Applying For Jobs But Never Hear Anything Back?
8 Things You Need To Know About Applicant Tracking Systems
(Or How To Get Your Resume Into A Recruiter’s Hands).
We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard “I keep applying for jobs but never hear anything back.” It’s a common problem, and there is a reason it may be happening to you, that you may not have ever even heard about, until now.
Many job applications and resumes must first survive the Applicant Tracking System before a real person even looks at them. Even then, a gatekeeper screener may make a split-second decision about whether to chuck your resume into the discard pile or continue reading it.
Read on to find out how to get your resume through the initial computer screening processes and found within Applicant Tracking Systems, so that it can then go on to the real human beings who will call you for interviews.
1. What Is an Applicant Tracking System?
An Applicant Tracking System is a type of software application that handles the recruitment process, namely by sorting through thousands of resumes, to determine which ones are the best fit for the positions for which they were submitted. An Applicant Tracking System processing your resume is not so different from a recruiter glancing at your resume for ten seconds, as both are looking for certain criteria for inclusion. Whereas human recruiters are often looking for grounds for automatic rejection, such as spelling errors or lack of relevant skills. Applicant Tracking Systems operate by running keyword searches and checking that qualifications and other pre-determined criteria are met by a candidate before it decides whether to score (or rank) the resume high enough to warrant a real person reading it. Yes – it really is a case of computer says “NO” when it comes to job applications and resumes.
There are over 200 different types of Applicant Tracking Systems in the market today, used by around 80% of employers in Australia* – so that’s a lot of people possibly missing out on having their lovely resumes read by a real person – and quite possibly missing out of job opportunities because of a rookie mistake or because you’ve been given bad advice, or worse still, no advice at all about ATS (which is often the case because so few job applicants – and a lot of resume writers – don’t even know about them).
*Typically, ATS is used by those employers with over 100 employees.
2. Why Do Employers Use Applicant Tracking Systems?
Stop for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter. They’ve posted a job on Seek or LinkedIn, and everyone who thinks they have a vague chance of getting a look in presses ‘send’ and off their job application goes.
All of a sudden, a recruiter has hundreds of CVs in front of them, a limited time frame to get through all of them, and a ‘Yes’, pile, a ‘No’ pile and a ‘Maybe’ pile to sort them into. Recruitment is a really expensive and time-consuming process. Once upon a time, a recruiter would advertise a job and get maybe 30 – 50 applicants tops. The internet has changed that, with jobs often attracting well over 500 applicants for a single vacant position.
At CV Saviour we’ve had first-hand experience of this. A recent vacancy we were recruiting for attracted over 600 applicants. If we spent 10 minutes reading every resume, we would have spent over 100 hours (or nearly 3 weeks full-time equivalent working hours) reading every resume. If we paid one person $20 an hour to read all those resumes, we’ve spent thousands on recruitment before we’ve even started the shortlisting process. As it turned out, for that particular posting, 90% of applicants did not even bother following the instructions in the advertisement, and only 3 had the absolute minimum requirements for the job, so why the remaining 597 sent an application in is beyond us, but hopefully you can understand why ATSs have become so critical to the recruitment process.
Applicant Tracking Systems help employers save time and paper and help them stay organised. Without them, recruiters would have to spend much more time filing and shredding papers or moving and deleting emails. With Applicant Tracking Systems, there is no risk of an employer accidentally deleting the email containing the resume of the applicant the company wants to hire. Applicant Tracking Systems were first used by large corporations that receive thousands of applications, but smaller businesses are now also using them. Just as employers use software applications to keep track of relevant information on their customers, such as Amazon’s customer orders, and Amazon remembers your address and your previous orders, what stage you are in your purchase lifecycle, using similar software to organise information on prospective employees also makes sense.
It’s no secret that recruiters can spend less than 6 seconds scanning a CV before deciding on whether to move on to the next one, or not, so that’s where ATS can step in.
3. How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?
Applicant Tracking Systems process resumes submitted by applicants and sometimes even use social media to actively recruit prospective employees. They can also draw information about you from your social media profiles, so a prospective employer can get a much fuller picture of who you are (and if you’re a good cultural fit for their organisation, well before they even make a decision about whether your resume should be read by a real person). When you submit your resume through an Applicant Tracking System, the ATS stores your resume and an entry in the database. The recruiter then searches for keywords chosen as qualities for a particular job opening or requisition. If your resume contains the keywords the employer wants, then the Applicant Tracking System will rank you higher in search results. The keyword searches by recruiters include skills and experiences specific to the particular job opening. The employer can even command the ATS to search the company’s entire database of resumes to look for candidates with certain qualifications, which means that even if you submitted your resume 6 months previously but never got a response, the company may have kept it on file in its database, and the ATS might identify you as a good candidate for a different position that opened up long after you originally submitted your resume.
4. What About Social Media?
Just as professional networking has always been an important part of the job seeking process, social media plays an increasingly important role. The prevailing sentiment is that having a social media presence helps more than it hurts when it comes to looking for a job, and most job seekers already understand the importance of presenting a professional image on social media. Of course, when it comes to attracting ATS, it is more than just a matter of not posting pictures of your drunken exploits on Facebook. There is social recruiting software that crawls the web for specific keywords and the best way for it to notice you on social media is to have a profile on social media in the first place. Furthermore, you should include basic details about your education, work experience, and skills / keywords you excel at. This is generally sufficient to let the social recruiting software find you. A LinkedIn profile that is fully SEO optimised is a great place to start.
5. Search Engine Optimisation
The process by which job candidates tailor their resumes to get them noticed by ATS is similar to the process of search engine optimisation. Search engine optimisation is the process by which creators of web content tailor their web pages to make search engines notice them first and therefore to rank higher on the list of search results. When it comes to written text, matching keywords is an important part of how search engine optimisation works; if your website contains the words the user typed into the search engine, then it will appear in the search results. Thus, the best way to get an Applicant Tracking System to notice your resume is to anticipate which keywords the ATS and recruiters will be trying to find to increase your interview chances.
6. Research is Key
You may have heard the piece of advice that you should tailor your resume specifically for each job application you submit, and we actively encourage this as standard practice. Whether this means making major or minor changes to your existing resume, your resume should answer the call presented in the particular job ad. Every employer is looking for certain qualifications, skills, qualities or criteria. Whether you are networking face-to-face or trying to optimise for keywords, you should find out as much as possible about the organisation to which you are applying. If current employees of the company have social media profiles (especially LinkedIn), read their profiles and see if you have similar qualifications or keywords and check to see if you would fit in with them as colleagues. You may wish to contact your potential colleagues, just as you might do if there were no ATS involved. That way, when you do make it to the phone interview and face-to-face interview stage, you will already know some people at your future workplace.
7. No Fluff
When recruiters search for keywords in Applicant Tracking Systems, they are usually looking for certain concrete skills in your resume. If you are applying for a job as the manager of a hotel restaurant, for example, a recruiter may search for phrases such as “restaurant manager” and “hotel restaurant” or for the word “hospitality” in the education section of your resume. Recruiters will probably not look for words and phrases like “outgoing” and “team player”. One of the main purposes of the ATS is to ease recruiters’ search process for the candidates whose resumes are the most closely in line with the particular job for which it is reviewing applications. The ATS’ decision about how high your resume ranks among other candidates is based heavily on keywords, whereas the recruiters bases his or her decision not only on mental keywords but also, despite his or her best efforts to the contrary, on at least a little bit of arbitrary human judgment.
8. Applicant Tracking Systems: Friend or Foe?
Applicant Tracking Systems make the recruitment process much more streamlined for recruiters, making the time it takes before a manager or human resources employee contacts applicants who seem like good candidates for the job much shorter. For most jobs, it is not possible for the hiring process to be entirely automated. If you think your best qualities only show once you meet your potential employers face to face, you will still have that chance if you can rank high in the ATS. Researching jobs and optimising your resume with keywords before you apply to them and applying to the ones for which you meet the requirements is the best way to get interviews, whether the first stage of recruiting involves a person or a machine reading a large number of resumes.
Be very careful about the layout and design of your resume.
Not all Applicant Tracking Systems can read .docx, PDF, RTF, and JPG formats, and many fonts cannot be read, so it may not get through the parsing software for applications submitted online if the employer is using ATS.
Acronyms: When used in CVs, acronyms can be confusing for the human reader and ATS. Furthermore, one acronym in one sector might mean something else altogether in another industry. Spell things out in full, and use the acronym afterwards e.g.: Training and Development (T&D).
Logos: Don’t use logos on your resume – this can be a problem for ATS because some cannot read logos or extract data from them.
Photos: Just as logos can cause problems for ATS, so too can photos. As a rule of thumb, don’t include a photo (we advise it’s kept for LinkedIn unless you’re a model or an actor, and it’s asked for).
Headers, Footers, Text Boxes and Tables: Headers / footers and text boxes and tables are often used to assist with formatting. While that is a great way to ensure content is presented neatly, some Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) cannot extract information from them, so any submissions for roles posted online or to employers who use ATS could be compromised. What happens is that the field that the ATS is attempting to populate will appear blank at the recipient’s end (not great if your contact details are in a header or footer!) and even worse if your entire document is in a text box. Don’t use them, and instead use hard set tabs to format your document, or submit a plain text or ASCII format version of your resume.
Gaps in your career chronology: Some ATS programs will penalise resumes that do now have all periods of time accounted for, so if you have periods of unemployment or time away from the paid workforce, it should be accounted for to prevent your resume being ranked poorly.
Typeface: Small aspects like typeface can really improve the readability of a CV and the overall impression you create. At a minimum, the font used must be universal so it can be read by every ATS program (i.e. fonts that are installed on every computer irrespective of manufacturer). Using a font that isn’t universal, risks how your neatly formatted document will appear at the recipients end if they don’t have the same font installed. Research performed by Dr Jim Bright (Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and columnist on careers in the Sydney Morning Herald) has proved that fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and others tend to be favoured over fonts such as new times roman, as they are easy to read for high volume readers. To learn more about what fonts you should use in a resume, click here. And to learn about font size for a resume, click here.
Don’t let the computer say NO.
updated February 2021