by Bryan Lindenberger
- Most large companies screen applicant resumes with advanced, algorithm-based software systems before human eyes ever see them.
- These Automated Tracking Systems filter potential applicants based on desired criteria for the position with most resumes going no further in the process.
- Resumes formatted simply and customized with keywords to match each individual job call have a higher chance of getting past ATS and moving to a recruiter or hiring manager.
Are you searching for your next career? Chances are good that the first “hiring manager” to see your resume won’t be a human at all, but rather an Applicant Tracking System or ATS.
Use of these machine learning systems to sort resumes has grown enormously over the past few years. According to a 2018 report by Jobscan, 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies now use ATS while two-thirds of large companies overall use these systems.
What is ATS?
Any time you submit a job application online, or attach a resume file to upload or email to a prospective employer, the hiring department may use an ATS system to scan your resume. With hundreds or even thousands of applicants, the system saves time and resources by intelligently sorting unqualified applicants from those chosen for a potential interview.
Dr. Ana Stanescu, assistant professor of computer science at the University of West Georgia, has researched algorithm development for such complex, machine learning systems. She says that tailoring your resume to each specific job call is more important than ever.
“These systems look for keywords on a resume to ensure the applicant matches the desired qualifications,” Stanescu explains. “But picking out keywords is not all they do. The systems also use big data to learn from the history of past hires.”
For instance, large companies may use ATS to analyze the resumes of their most successful employees, seeking similar backgrounds or interests among current applicants. Biases such as age, race, or gender preference can be mitigated since the system sorts candidates long before human contact.
In this way, ATS serves as a highly effective gate-keeper who never has a bad day and never needs a coffee break. Your job as an applicant is to get past this gatekeeper, and that requires taking certain steps to ensure your resume is ATS-friendly.
Dr. Duane Yoder, associate professor of computer science at UWG, recommends keeping your resume simple and organized so that the system can read it. The days of fancy templates and showing off graphic design skills on your resume are largely gone in favor of consistent use of headings, bullet points, standard fonts and no graphics.
While it may seem tempting to save time and play the numbers game by firing duplicate resumes to multiple employers, ATS will likely weed such generic resumes out faster than you can hit the “SEND” button.
“Every company can customize the distinct words and phrases they want their ATS to key in on,” Yoder says.
He advises that very generic sections such as “Career Goals” or “Career Objectives” should be avoided in favor of more specific skillsets you add based on the specific language of the job call.
“Listing skills such as ‘excellent team player’ or ‘great communication skills’ generally won’t mean much to an ATS,” Yoder says. “These are skills that you can present or that will come across in your interview, but you have to get there first.”
Building a resume that gets you noticed for that first interview is a big part of what career services at UWG is trained to help you do.
Ian Houston, career development specialist at UWG, has hands-on experience of what employers are looking for in a resume.
“We continually work with employers to find out what they want in an applicant resume,” Houston says.
He recommends customizing each resume based on the prospective employer and job call in order to make it past the ATS screening, and the terminology sought for can be very specific based on company culture.
“Their job call may ask for ‘customer relations’ while you have ‘customer service’ on your resume,” Houston explains. “Those terms may seem like the same idea in principle, but the company has made a distinction. You want to match their language precisely or your resume may be passed over by the ATS algorithm.”
As an additional challenge, companies don’t necessarily mention every keyword or phrase their ATS software is programmed to seek, so you want to investigate the company carefully.
“If you are applying for a director position, the job call won’t necessarily list the full scope of the position,” Houston says. “This is one reason why it is important to thoroughly understand and research the position before applying.”
Like Yoder in computer science, Houston suggests avoiding nonspecific sections in your resume such as “Career Goals.” Rather, he advises an opening section such as “Career Profile” or “Executive Summary.”
“This section serves as a miniature cover letter where you showcase skills that may not be listed in your experiences,” Houston says. “It’s the first thing a manager will see after it’s gone through ATS, and you need to capture their attention immediately. It’s a good place to feature your soft or transferable skills whereas the body of the resume focuses on specific, technical skills.”
Career services at UWG does more than help with resumes. They provide job and internship services, mock interviews, job fair assistance, graduate school preparation and UWG alumni career assistance.