If you’ve ever submitted a job application online, you might have wondered where your resume really went—and who even saw it. In today’s world, it’s likely that an HR manager saw it at some point (if you’ve been contacted), but it’s more likely that a machine saw it first.
Susan Vitale is the Chief Marketing Officer at iCIMS, which is one of the many ATS software companies in the U.S. She says the main function of an ATS is to filter candidates based on the hiring manager’s needs. “Each employer will create specific screening questions and will decide which keywords to search for depending on the position,” Vitale says. “The ATS is usually a configurable software that is simply used as a tool, but the employer and their recruiters are driving the hiring process.”
Even though each ATS is different and there’s no definitive set of rules to go by, thereare some things you can do to take more control over how effectively your application is processed.
1. Call it what it is.
2. Stay true to your expertise.
While you should definitely be using your industry’s vocabulary on your resume, you need not plant a bunch of buzzwords everywhere in hopes of an ATS picking them out. Vitale says overusing keywords is a common mistake applicants make, and it could come off as misleading to an employer. It’s definitely smart to use words from the job description, but copying and pasting them into your resume probably isn’t. Remember: your resume will eventually be seen by a person, so use the right words, but use them strategically and authentically.
Vitale also encourages applicants to be careful about what and how many positions they apply for. “Applicants should keep in mind that their entire profile within the ATS will be seen by the employer, so applying for several positions with different expertise and experience levels at the same organization is a red flag,” she adds.
3. Don’t feel like you need to be fancy.
In fact, getting fancy with your resume can sometimes cost you. Some ATS softwares use resume parsing, which means that when you submit your application, an ATS extracts the data from your resume and then presents it to the hiring manager in a standardized format. Though this technology is getting more sophisticated, it’s still a good idea to write your resume with language a computer can easily understand. In some cases, once an ATS spits out your resume, all the hiring manager will see is unformatted, totally plain, not-fancy text anyway.
According to Rui Miguel Forte, a data scientist at Workable, stuff to avoid on your resume includes: borders, headers and footers, color, having more than one font and font size, graphics, tables and columns, and funky character spacing. He says it’s also generally better to submit your resume in a “.doc” or “.docx” format rather than a PDF. But if you do use a PDF, be sure to export it from a word processor.
4. Consider having two different versions of your resume.
If you’re in a creative field, this might work out especially well for you. A hiring manager looking for a graphic designer, for example, will probably expect her resume to display her skill. Have one version that you put through online applications, and another, more stylized one to send directly to hiring managers or take with you to networking events.