by Diana Seder,
University of California, Santa Barbara and The Job Forum
The Job Forum will offer job hunters a special workshop in Jan 2022, on the topic of applicant tracking systems, and how to adapt so that your resume is not screened out.
Here a UC Career Center Director who is one of The Job Forum volunteer panel members, discusses facts and tips for job hunters to keep in mind:
Applicant tracking systems are ubiquitous and they are not going away. So, what do you need to do to beat the ATS? Well, there are a number of things you’ll want to consider.
First of all, 90%+ of companies rely almost entirely on ATS’s for choosing interviewees, even though they know that the ATS will incorrectly reject many qualified applicants. They rely on ATS’s out of necessity because they have no other way to screen through thousands of applications. Second, ATS’s are not made to find good candidates, they are made to reject candidates whose documents don’t adhere to a specific formatting or content standard. That puts candidates in a tough situation.
So, what can you do to ‘beat the ATS’? Read on.
- Graphic resumes are HIGHLY discouraged as they are almost universally rejected.
- Columns are only okay in a specific section like a skills section, but some punctuation is needed before each of the columns’ content or the words won’t parse correctly. Bullet points or some equivalent are necessary.
- Don’t include pictures! Most ATS’s automatically reject resumes with pictures/headshots in them.
- Contact info can be minimal. Email and phone number contact info is critical and city and state are fine too, but there is no need for a street address. A LinkedIn address is a nice addition, though ATS’s won’t access that information.
- Always use month and year formats for dates. ‘June, 2021’ is good, ‘Summer 2020’ will get your resume rejected without consideration.
- Include the full name of the company you worked for, especially if it’s a small company. If it’s not super clear that it is a company, then the system will flag the word as an error and the resume will likely get rejected.
- Use a specific format for degrees: Bachelor of Science, Accounting NOT Bachelor of Science in Accounting. If abbreviating degrees, use proper periods in the degree, “B.A.” instead of “BA” and “Ph.D.” instead of “PhD”.
- Include a Summary Statement when applying to a specific job but NOT when you are applying more generally. A summary statement will override the automated summary statement that the ATS will make for your resume. This is important when you are applying to a specific job and want to highlight specific points. When you don’t know exactly what job would be best for you, you are open to multiple positions at a company, or when sending your resume to a recruiting firm, exclude the summary statement because you don’t want to pigeon-hole your resume.
- The word “experience” is really important to ATS systems so include it in any section heading where you are describing work or projects you have done. So “Research Projects” is bad, but “Research Project Experience” is good. If you don’t have “experience” in the title of the category, then the ATS will put those particular experiences in an ‘other’ type of category, which almost never gets looked at when screening.
- “Performed X to do Y resulting in Z” is a good way to generally structure bullet points because ATS’s love deliverables. Include $ or % characters if possible.
- Submit PDF’s rather than Word docs because you want to make sure the formatting of your documents is consistent. But, where and how your PDF is made is also important. The PDF should be exported from a word processor rather than a design platform. If it’s made from Photoshop or any other design software or a scan, it will just look like an image to an ATS and be promptly rejected. Also, to prevent degradation of your document as it is passed around systems, resave your document weekly.
- Keep your document size to around 2MB. Most applicants only get 10MB total for all of their documents in an application that will go through an ATS.
- Always upload your documents as separate files. Separate your resume and cover letter into two different docs. When documents are combined into one PDF, it will throw the ATS off and it will likely reject the whole application.
ATS’s are far from perfect in identifying qualified candidates for jobs; rather they are designed to manage hundreds (thousands!) of applications quickly to help recruiters get through piles of paper. The steps outlined above are intended to help increase the chances that your resume won’t be one that is thrown out due to minor formatting idiosyncrasies before you have the opportunity to talk with an employer. ATS’s are here to stay, and hopefully this information will help you build a resume to withstand this challenge.