Why this robot might be reading your resume!

The fact that applying for a job is an incredibly stressful experience is something I think we can all agree on. No matter which industry you work in, whether you have been applying for jobs for years or it’s your first time, no one gets much enjoyment from having to spend hours creating a standout resume and cover letter. Which is why it’s so depressing to realise that even with the perfect resume you may not get past the first stage. Why? Let me introduce you to that invisible member of the recruitment panel, the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Before I go into too much detail, a disclaimer – not all job applications will go through an ATS. However, with a rise in on-line applications and a drop in the cost of such software, the use of an ATS by employers is becoming more and more common. With this in mind it is probably best to assume your application will be put through an ATS and to prepare your documents accordingly.

What is an ATS and how does it work?

In simple terms an ATS is a software system that is used by employers to process job applications and to manage the hiring process. It’s basically a robot that scans applications for key words and phrases identified by the employer, and then ranks those applications based on a combination of the amount of times those key words/phrases appear and the length of the applicant’s relevant experience. Only those applications that rank highest will be passed on for review by a staff member.

Flaws of an ATS and how these can affect your application

Like anything computerised, an ATS looks for exact matches and doesn’t have the human ability to identify “like for like”. For example, an employer might have identified “collaboration” as a key word but if you have used the term “team work” instead, the system will not recognise that as a match. Now, we both know that collaboration and team work are pretty much the same thing but unfortunately the ATS does not. Thus, the system can miss suitable candidates who have simply used different terminology to that which the ATS has been told to look for.

Additionally, the first thing an ATS will do prior to scanning your resume is to remove all formatting. This can cause issues if, for example, you have used a table. Rather than reading the information contained within that table from left to right, an ATS reads it vertically. This can cause the context of the information to be misinterpreted (e.g. rather than reading your qualification as “Bachelor of Engineering” the ATS might read it as “Deakin University”) or worse, lost completely.

How to make sure your application gets through to be seen by a human

As we have seen, an ATS does not read documents in the same way you and I do and thus can miss information if it is not presented in a specific way.

To ensure your documents match their formatting requirements make sure you stick to the following:

  • Save your documents using Microsoft Word – avoid PDF, RTF and JPG documents as ATS’ have difficulty reading these correctly
  • Use fonts such as Arial, Georgia, Courier or Tahoma, and always use black text. Avoid underlining lowercase words as this can impact on the legibility of some letters (such as j, y and g)
  • Don’t include headers, footers, tables, graphics, borders, symbols or shading as these will confuse the algorithms used by ATS’s to extract information
  • Stick with straightforward section titles such as Summary, Skills, Work Experience, Education and References which are easy for ATS’s to recognise
  • Include key words/phrases and qualifications which are relevant to the role. Make sure you use them in the exact same way they appear in the job ad and/or position description (if applicable) – e.g. if the wording in the job ad is “experienced in Occupational Health and Safety”, don’t write “have experience in OH&S”
  • Triple check your spelling and have a trusted friend or family member also check. If key words are incorrectly spelt then the ATS won’t be able to pick them up
  • ATS’s always look for your previous employer’s details first so when listing your work experience start with the employer’s name, then your position title and then the dates you worked in that role:
    • Barwon Health
    • Porter
    • 2012-2015

Following the above tips will help ensure your resume stands the best chance of making it through to be seen by an actual human. However, don’t forget that you do actually need to meet the requirements of the position. Peppering your application with key words might get you past the ATS but they need to be backed up by evidence of experience if you want that interview.

Written by our resident resume queen, Christina Matthews. Book an appointment with Christina for help with your job application or sign up for Christina’s resume workshop.

Would you make a warm call?

Last week when I shared my blog post ‘So you think the only way to apply for a job is online?’ on my personal Facebook site I was really just showing off that I am a real blogger now!!

However, I found it very interesting the number of people who commented and who actually read my post! I was surprised to see that many of my friends were in this same situation, and I hadn’t realised.

I had been surprised when I heard the story from my beauty therapist, and at the time thought this to be an unusual situation, but it turns out it may not be as unusual after all.

A Canadian friend of mine is a lawyer and looking for work in Australia. In her words, ‘I was busting my ass applying and interviewing for online jobs. But I ended up cold calling a law firm and just got a full time job!’ (Well done, Kora!)

So, I thought it timely to share some tips about how to make the perfect cold call.

You may be able to score yourself a job by making random phone calls, however your chance of success will be higher if you take a more targeted approach, a warm call!

Do your research

Choose companies that mirror your values and are places you genuinely want to work. You’ll have an easier time talking to someone if you can show a real interest in their company. Spend some time on the company’s website and also on any social media sites to get a good understanding of who they are and what you have to offer them.

Try to find the right person to talk to

Again, research is the key here. Try to find a shared connection that could make an introduction. If not, find out who is the best person to speak to. If you can get past reception to the person with the power to make a hiring decision, you’ll give yourself a better chance of a job opportunity.

Practice

It’s a great idea to have a practice, especially if you are not confident on the phone. What is it that you want that person to know about you? It’s helpful to write a script so that you have something to refer to if you get stuck to make sure you get your point across. There’s nothing worse than hanging up the phone and then remembering what you wanted to say!

Keep it short!

Everyone’s busy, so when you get the opportunity to talk to someone, make sure you get to the point quickly, but politely! Ask if this is a good time and if it’s not, suggest to call back at another time.

Say thank-you!!

Whether it is a successful phone call or not, make sure you are polite and thank the person for taking the time to speak to you. While there may not be an opportunity now, try to leave a lasting impression so that you will be in the person’s mind if an opportunity does come up.

Follow-up

Do what you say you are going to do. If they are busy and ask you to call back, then call back when you agreed to! We know how busy people are, so don’t be disheartened by a lack of interest or failure to return your call. Persistence can pay off, so follow up on a phone call that hasn’t been returned or a message you have left.

Yes, it takes a bit of confidence. But if you are well prepared and target your calls to companies that are a good fit for you, it can pay off. And if it ends in a job you’ll love, I think it’s worth putting yourself out there.

Written by our social media guru, Tracey Jeffery. If you’d like some help to make a warm call, make an appointment with Tracey or book in to her ‘Becoming a Standout Application’ workshop.

How choosing the wrong referee can cost you that dream job

You’ve spent hours poring over the job ad and company website, tailoring your resume to perfectly match the skills and experience required. You’ve even drafted a killer cover letter that perfectly highlights what a great match you are, not just for the role but for the organisation as well.

So, time to submit? Not quite. There is one more aspect of your application to consider. Your referees. Whether you want to list them on your resume or hold off on providing them until asked at an interview, you need to pay as much attention to selecting your referees as you do to the rest of your application. Why? Because who you choose to use as a referee can make the difference between scoring the job of your dreams and having to go back to the job search drawing board.

It’s not a numbers game

When choosing referees always go with quality over quantity. Generally speaking having two referees should be enough to satisfy most company’s internal recruitment policies, however it doesn’t hurt to have a third just in case one of your referees is out of contact. Four referees is overkill, unless specifically requested by the employer.

Always provide at least one contact number rather than an e-mail address, unless your referee is overseas and then you should provide both. Generally speaking, prospective employers will want to have a verbal conversation with a referee so they can get all the information they need in one go rather than e-mailing back and forth.

Professional over personal

While your referees do not necessarily have to be previous employers (there are several reasons why this may not be possible), they do need to be able to speak about you in a professional setting. Select referees that can provide employers with the type of information they want. They are not interested in personal references so friends, neighbours and family members are out. Have at least one referee who has managed you, in paid employment or a volunteer capacity.

If you do not have a significant work history, have owned your own business or have lost contact with previous employers the following referee alternatives could be suitable:

  • Teacher from the qualification you have just completed (particularly useful if you are applying for roles in a new field)
  • Bank manager/contractor/long-term customer if you are a small business owner
  • President of your local sporting club where you are the Secretary
  • Supervisor from a community services organisation where you volunteer
  • Friend/family member/business owner that you have done work for

Choose wisely

Before starting at the Skills and Jobs Centre I worked in student administration at a university. When I decided to follow my dream and start applying for career counselling roles I had a choice to make. One academic I had worked closely with offered to act as a referee. They had a PhD so I knew any prospective employer would be impressed by their title, however in the end I didn’t take them up on their offer. Why? Because despite knowing they would have only positive things to say about me, personal experience told me they had a terrible phone manner. They would give one word responses and come across as seriously lacking in interest.

Far better as a referee was the junior lecturer I worked with on a project who, whilst having a far less impressive job title, was talkative, engaging and able to articulate the positive traits and skills they had seen in me. The moral of the story? A more senior position title does not necessarily make for a better referee. Pick people with whom you have worked closely and who have the verbal communication skills to clearly and enthusiastically express their recommendation of you.

Getting permission

Once you have decided on who you would like to act as your referees the next step is to ask their permission. As great as you rightly think you are not everyone will have the same opinion, so never assume that just because you worked with someone they will be falling over themselves to provide a reference for you.

Word them up

If you are lucky enough to be invited to an interview you should let your referees know as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to also send them through a copy of the job ad or position description so they can get an understanding of what the role entails and prepare some responses. If you have a close relationship with them, and feel comfortable doing so, it is perfectly fine for you ask them to highlight certain skills/previous experience that is relevant to the role you are interviewing for.

A thank you costs nothing

Regardless of whether or not you are successful in getting the role, if your referees have been contacted and provided a reference for you, you should take the time to thank them. Depending on your relationship with them this may be anything from a nice e-mail or card, to a bunch of flowers or shouting them a coffee. Not only have they taken time out of their own busy schedules to help you but you never know when you might need them to be your referee again.

Written by our resident resume queen, Christina Matthews. Sign up for Christina’s resume workshop for some more great tips on job applications.

So you think the only way to apply for a job is online?

Think again!

Last night as I was getting my nails done, I was speaking to the new beauty therapist about how she came to be working at this salon. And her story was an interesting one!

Did she apply online? No.

Did she wait for an ad to go up in the paper? No.

She decided she wanted to make the move to Geelong, so she showed some initiative and started calling some salons. When she phoned this particular salon, the owner mentioned she’d just had a position become vacant and that she was actually looking for someone.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time! She started work the next week and is a perfect fit for the salon. By putting herself out there, she managed to secure a job opportunity in the perfect salon for her.

When I asked her how many places she had called, I was expecting her to say she had made lots of phone calls. However, she received this job offer on only her third phone call. She completed some research and specifically targeted salons that she was interested in and that she knew would fit well with her personality and her experience.

I was so impressed with what she had done, but wondered if this is something that I would do myself if I was in this situation. I’m not sure that I would. But this shows that it can definitely pay off.

So, as you go about your job search, consider if you should be putting yourself out there a bit more (it’s hard I know!) and cold calling some companies or businesses that you are interested in. I think it’s important to do some research into who they are and think about what you have to offer them, rather than just picking up the phone book and calling randomly.

If you can skip a lengthy online application process and substitute it for a phone call, I think it’s worth a shot!

Written by our social media guru, Tracey Jeffery. To perfect your cold calling script, make an appointment with Tracey or book in to her ‘Becoming a Standout Application’ workshop.