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The Real Reason Your Online Job Application Never Gets Seen by HR

By Guest Writer

Updated March 26, 2021 Updated March 26, 2021

Guest post: Sia Mohajer

The easier online job applications are, the harder it is for employers to give your résumé the proper amount of attention. Competitive jobs receive hundreds – sometimes even thousands of applicants, and most hiring managers have no way of analyzing them all.

So many have turned to an applicant tracking system, or “ATS.” An applicant tracking system is a database that collects all submitted résumés. This database can then either be searched manually, or be programmed to determine the best applicants using an algorithm set up by the company.

Beating the applicant tracking system

Most large companies and many popular organizations use applicant tracking systems to analyze submitted online job applications. It saves them time, and it allows them to search from that database in the future if a new position opens up.

In some ways, these systems are actually advantageous for job seekers, because they can identify great résumé without any employer bias, and open up job opportunities in the future. But in other ways they can add to the difficulty, because computers are not people, and they can’t always understand information that isn’t clearly defined for them.

That is why you’ll want to create a résumé that is designed to beat the ATS.

Job seekers often spend more time thinking about the best résumé template, rather than thinking about how to write a résumé for an applicant tracking system, yet it is critical that you spend time perfecting a résumé for these databases. If you want to beat the ATS, consider the following:

Use keywords and phrases

The most important strategy to beating the ATS is to use keywords and key phrases. For example, if an employer wants someone with SQL experience, they’ll likely program the ATS to rate those that have “SQL” in their résumé higher. If you have that experience, but your résumé does not have the words SQL in it, you will not get the job.

The best place to find these keywords and phrases is to look at the job description. Often the employer will tell you what they need, and you can then add those terms to your résumé if you have that experience. You can also review the job advertisements of competitors and similar jobs, all of whom will have similar requirements.

Use all versions of a keyword

In addition to choosing the right keywords, you should also make sure you remember to use more than one version of the keyword. This is especially important with acronyms.

For example, if you used an acronym (for example, SEO), use the spelled-out version as well (search engine optimization). The ATS may not know that SEO and search engine optimization are the same thing, so if the system is only programmed to read one of those keywords, your résumé will not be found.

Leave out the fancy stuff

Confusing templates, unusual section headings (for example “Job and Volunteer Experience” instead of something simple, like “Work Experience), and any strange symbols or formatting issues can all cause problems for some applicant tracking systems. There is some evidence that the ATS can’t handle accent marks as well, so be careful about names with accents.

You should still make sure you have a great template, because a human may still view your job application someday. But otherwise keep everything simple so that these programs can easily read your résumé.

Add a skills/professional summary section

It’s often hard to find space to add all the keywords you want. That is why it may be a good idea to skip the objective statement and add a professional summary section, as well as a brief skills section. These are places you can plug keywords that don’t fit neatly in your job history.

Write for people, too

Above all else, don’t forget to also write with people in mind. If you succeed in creating a résumé that is flagged for review by the ATS, eventually human eyes will see it, and you will still need it to have an attractive template, truthful information, and excellent grammar.

Applicant tracking systems have changed company recruitment dramatically, and that means your résumé needs to adapt. But if you identify keywords correctly and create a resume that is ATS-ready, you are going to have a better chance of getting the job than your competitors.

Sia Mohajer
Sia Mohajer is a HR manager at Online Resume Builders, where he helps young professionals and college grads. You can find out more by viewing his profile on LinkedIn.

This article was originally published in August 2016 . It was last updated in March 2021

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