ATS Optimization Strategies – How To Stop Getting Your Resume Rejected & Get More Job Interviews

Applicant Tracking System strategies to optimize your resume
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These days, job searchers from all occupations are faced with a very unique challenge that we’ve never had to deal with before. The infamous Applicant Tracking System aka The ATS.  

Before Applicant Tracking Systems rose to prominence you only had to think about impressing other people when you were on the job search. You would pick up some skills, network on evenings and weekends, and try to make a bunch of friends in an industry. Then you’d build some cool projects and put them in a portfolio. 

From there it was just a matter of sending your link around, along with a PDF of your resume. This resume was written by a human for a human.

Ah, what a simple time it was. In order to get a job in 2021, your resume now needs to pass an invisible test. 

Writing your resume for a human being to read is still a main requirement for success on the job search, but for a human to ever even see your resume and learn that you exist, you must also figure out how to skillfully weave in the right keywords and use the correct resume structure to bypass the robots.  

In this article we’ll discuss what the Applicant Tracking System is, how they work, and how to strategically write your resume, and make sure it ends up in a human’s hands.  

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Application Tracking Systems – Getting To Know Our Robot Overlords

So what is the deal with these “robots” anyway? How can you figure out what they want from your resume and how can you use that knowledge to figure out what to give them?  

Well, their objective is simple really, and very brutal

The goal of using an Applicant Tracking System is to reject the majority (around 75 to 80%) of job applicants that apply to a given job listing. 

How Does The Applicant Tracking System Work?

At a high level, an ATS works by scanning a resume for hard and soft skill keywords that match the criteria for the job listing. If they don’t find the right keywords, your resume will end up filtered into the rejection pile. They primarily do the following:

  • Match keywords and phrasing to job descriptions
  • Rank your resume against other candidates
  • Summarize your info for hiring managers to review 

Understanding The Enemy: The ATS Perspective

Now let’s take a closer look at how the ATS works and get into the science behind how these resume screening tools work. In order to figure out how to adapt your resume and beat the robots, you must think like a robot. 

If you were weeding out resumes, think about what you’d have to work with. 

You’d have the job description and selected key words and compare them to all resumes. You’d have words and frequency of words as your screening go-to. 

What Is The Applicant Tracking System Looking At?

  • Experience
  • Education
  • Projects
  • Links
  • Professional Titles
  • Summary and Detail
  • Core Skills
  • Certifications

What Is The Applicant Tracking System Looking For?

Here is a detailed list of what ATS look for:

  • Keywords
  • Frequency of keywords
  • Length, even of paragraphs, believe it or not!
  • Years of experience
  • Gaps in employment
  • Progression
  • Missed or met requirements
  • Job description matches

So now that we know what these systems are looking at and for, what should be our next move? We need a strategy to beat the ATS and get our resumes read by human beings nowadays, but you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in even deeper!

Analyzing The ATS Landscape 

The next part of developing a strategy to tailor your resume and successfully bypass the systems is to research them and do a bit of analysis of the Applicant Tracking Systems that hold the most market share.  

Take a look at this up-to-date ATS market landscape analysis.

Based on the article linked above, the top 3 systems are: 

  1. Workday
  2. Taleo
  3. Success Factors 

Now comes the fun part.  

Fire up your computer and Google away!  

For Work Day, information about how this ATS works can be found here.  

Background information on Taleo can be found here.  

For Success Factors, information can be found here

Take a few minutes to scan each article and learn about the main widely used gatekeeping systems that dominate the current job market. Jot down any notes that you can use to help you update your resume.

How To Find Out Which ATS A Company Uses? 

Of course, there are an abundance of other options out there, and while there’s no way to know for sure which ATS your resume will be scanned by, Oracle Resumes President, Dustin Polk has this great tip

“Most will be branded somewhere with the ATS vendor’s logo. If you can’t find this anywhere in their listing, mouse over the apply or submit resume buttons and check the destination URL in the bottom of your web browser. If the company is using recruiting software, the destination URL may show which one.”

Dustin Polk, President of Oracle Resume

If the ATS that is being used by the company you want to apply for is different from the list above, Google that specific ATS and find out how they work. Use everything you learn to fine-tune even further and ATS-proof your resume. 

What Can We Do To Beat The ATS?

Now that we’ve spent some time looking into the top ATS options and how they function, lets cover what we can do to beat their algorithms. 

1. Matching Your Resume’s Language

  • Job Market Analysis
  • Company Website content
  • Job Description and language used in the listing
  • LinkedIn Profiles of company employees
  • SEO tactics

Use ALL of the tools listed above to help you adjust your resume wording to have a better chance of bypassing ATS.  Take the time to evaluate each item to get a full picture of how you need to edit your resume.

2. Using Word Clouds To Optimize Your Resume

Word Clouds is also a free tool that creates an image made of words that together resemble a cloudy shape. The size of a word shows how important it is based on how often it appears in the provided text. You can use this tool to give you an indication of what keywords an ATS may be tracking.  You can access it here.  This allows you to:

  • Audit your resume
  • See how ATS may rank their keywords in a job description
  • See if what you’re saying is aligned with their job description

3. Keyword Placement On Your Resume

Keyword placement is critical. This is due to the ATS associating dates with time frames to form timelines (ex. 3 yrs Node.js) and them also being able to see context around your words (leader, manager, etc). It is important to use about 1 keyword per section, rather than using one keyword 2-4 times per section. Much like website SEO, keyword littering is never ok when writing your resume. The ATS will pick up on overuse of keywords and will kick your resume out of the runnings. 

4. Find The Right Titles For Your Resume

With the help of your Job Market Analysis, make sure to select the best job titles for your market or for the company’s job description.  What do I mean by the “best” job titles?  Well, for example, instead of “Intern”, you may want to use “Analyst Intern”.  Instead of “Web Developer”, it may be better to use “Software Engineer” based on the current job title market trend.

5. Relevant Phrasing and Words For Your Resume

Carefully looking over job descriptions will help you extract relevant phrases and words to use in your resume.  For example, using abbreviations may not be the best option if the job description does not use those abbreviations.  It is best practice to spell out words due to the ATS scanning your resume and also the recruiter’s possible lack of familiarity with the abbreviations.

6. Using Powerful Language On Your Resume

“Power Words” are vital to your resume. Using these important words will jam pack your resume with alternating phrases that help your resume stand out and offer a professional reading experience for the recruiter.  For example, instead of “made” use “developed.  Instead of “worked with” use “collaborated.”  Being confident with your phrasing is important as well.  Instead of “I think” use “I know and instead of being very general in your highlighted experiences, be more specific.

Don’t Lose Your Humanity When Fighting The Robots

Don’t think you need to totally dehumanize your resume simply to pass the ATS. Try not to generalize your resume for every job description and over analyze. Research the company and follow these outlined steps to tailor your resume to the job you are applying to. Remember that once your resume gets through the applicant tracking system, a human being will still need to read and understand your resume, eventually. 

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