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
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.