Applicant Tracking Systems

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

Modern-day recruiters are flooded with resumes from candidates applying for their jobs.  Additionally, recruiters have access to countless resumes online through places like Monster and Indeed.  For this reason, similar to how you use Google to find what you’re looking for online, HR departments are relying on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to find the candidates they are looking for (using keyword searches, mostly) and to “save” promising candidates for future opportunities.

In this article, let’s take a deeper dive into the world of recruiting and the tools that they use (Applicant Tracking Systems).

Why it Matters

Many larger organizations get an even higher volume of resumes and have fewer recruiters to sift through them.  Additionally, large companies or public sector departments often have tight deadlines and must rely on their recruiters to find the best candidates very quickly.  It is estimated that recruiters for larger organizations spend less than 6 seconds on each resume.

Imagine for a second that you are asked to find the best qualified candidate and you have a hundred resumes to review. How would you go about this task?

First, we start by using keywords from the job description and matching those to what’s found in the resume–very similar to how you might find something on Google.  The results are returned to us as a “relevancy score.” Basically this means that the computer is trying to figure out how relevant a candidate is to the job we’re trying to fill.  Many recruiters might only look at the first few results (the ones on the top of the page).

Ultimately, recruiters are there in order to go through the resumes and then recommend a few of the most promising candidates to their hiring managers. The recruiter may not make a hiring decision but is influential in choosing who gets invited to interview.

Resume Optimization in 5 Steps

Now that you know why it matters, I’m going to tell you how to prepare your resume in 5 steps to make you stand out.

1) Print the job description

What I recommend to job seekers is to print the job description and read it aloud. Next, ask yourself what the recruiter is looking for and how will they find it when they have a lot of resumes to go through. Now, take a highlighter and highlight those words and phrases.  Recruiters are generally asked to find candidates based off of hard skills (tangible skills such as experience with a particular software or a unique named skill set, such as accounting) and soft skills (things like being team-oriented or being organized).

2) Insert keywords into your resume (multiple times)

Now take those keywords and put them in your resume if they are not there already.  I recommend finding multiple places to insert them.  Typically, I find it helpful to put them in a breakaway skills section under the objective summary and build them into each work experience where you used them. Including keywords multiple times will help increase your “relevancy score” according to the computer, and it is also what the recruiter will first scan for. But remember, your goal is to optimize and present your experience as favorably as possible–not to trick the recruiter by misrepresenting your experience or stuffing your resume with keywords.

3) Update your objective summary

Many recruiters skip right past this bit on the first read through.  That’s because it often boils down to under-qualified job seekers trying to talk their way into a job or job seekers saying everything that they say in their resume again…except in paragraphs as opposed to bullets. Use the objective summary to specifically call out this job that you’re applying for and make it a true summary of why you are the best qualified candidate for this role.  Additionally, use this section to address any concerns that a recruiter may have that might get you screened out without your providing further explanation: for example, returning to the workforce after a long work hiatus or applying for a job from a different state (here at Peak we work predominately with local candidates or those who have already moved to the area).

4) Move pieces of your resume around

In my jobs, our clients are typically more focused on direct experience as opposed to education.  When a candidate sees that there is no education requirement and yet puts their education front and center, it simply slows down my eyeballs from getting to the part of their resume that’s relevant to the job.  Again, put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter and think what is important and then figure out how to put it on the first page or as close to it as possible.  Also, relevancy score is often affected by how close the desired keywords appear to the top of the page.

5) Remove/minimize extra content

Many, many job seekers have a notion that they have to have a resume that is one or two pages long.  (I work primarily in within the public sector within Information Technology staffing and resumes for positions we fill tend to be much longer than this.)  However, I think where this conventional wisdom comes from is recruiters who are used to sifting through hundreds or thousands of resumes for a particular job. This means (theoretically) that the recruiter has to read less content in order to get the gist of a candidate. Having a resume that’s short and sweet is great…if it gets to the recruiter at all. More important is making sure that the resume is specifically targeted to the job using keywords, includes an appropriate objective summary, and is arranged in an order that is relevant. Where you can cut or minimize content is by removing all that extra stuff the job doesn’t call for.  Are you applying for a java developer role but you spent the last 6 months in retail while you went back to school? I don’t need to know about your time working retail except to know what you’ve been doing for the last six months and why you were doing it.

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Hi, I'm Myles.

Thanks for reading our blog! I’m the outside recruiter for Peak Performers and also work in business development. Subscribe to get more articles about jobseeking in Austin and utilizing recruiting services as a public sector agency. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more frequent posts and industry insights!