But Wait, There’s More! How to Beat the ATS and Get a Human Review!
Job search has always been a challenging task. Advances in recruiting technology have made it easier to identify opportunities but also include tools that make connecting with those opportunities more difficult. Toss in the impact of a global pandemic on the labor market, and the trend towards remote work, and suddenly you are facing a sea of competition. Your resume continues to be your principal initial marketing document but trust us, you need to know every resume trick in the book, and maybe come up with some that haven’t been written yet, to defeat technology designed to weed you out and to make you stand out from the crowd.
To do that, you need to know how the screening process works, but more importantly, you need to rethink how you approach crafting a resume to ensure it will grab the attention of the hiring manager. We hope you will try some or all of the resume tricks we have listed, but above all, we hope you adopt a strong marketing approach when building your resume.
Your Resume Is Not About You
That may seem counterintuitive but if you approach this project as an exercise in marketing, it’s true. Your resume is about the needs and interests of the Hiring Manager. Keep in mind the old direct marketing adage “everybody’s favorite radio station is WII.FM or What’s In It For Me.” Your resume must convincingly answer that question and present compelling evidence of how your product (you) benefits the Hiring Manager.
So, how do you do that? You are not Facebook or Google; you don’t even know his or her name much less which hot buttons to push. If you cannot focus on the Hiring Manager, then focus on the company and that is not difficult:
- If the job posting mentions who the position reports to (Manager Internal Audits, Production Manager, etc.) call the company switchboard and ask for a name. If you get it, search LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for their account. You will be rewarded with a cornucopia of useful information.
- Review the company’s website paying particular attention to About Us, Product/Service, and Why Us tabs. You will get an idea of the company’s culture and values; what they believe they excel at and the “voice” they use in public-facing communications. Search Facebook and LinkedIn for their profiles. From the information, you gather from these sources you will be able to craft content that demonstrates how you can contribute to the company’s success.
We will get into content creation in a bit but right now we just want to stress the importance of knowing as much as you can about your “prospect.”
The Process and the Evil Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
- By the time you see the job post it probably will have been through two or more iterations. The hiring manager initiates the request and sends HR a message outlining the job title, duties, experience level desired, educational training, and specific skills needed. HR will take the request and rewrite and format it to fit a posting template. They will add keywords, and based on their knowledge of the position may add soft skills like communicator, self-starter, leadership, etc.
Pay careful attention to the keywords used in the post. They may be listed separately, or you may have to extract them from the text. Either way, these are the keywords you want to ensure are included in your resume as they are the keywords that the ATS will key on.
Many people think that an Applicant Tracking System is a tool recruiters use to find the best-qualified candidates for a position. In fact, it is designed to weed out the least qualified applicants. An ATS is not particularly smart. It’s basically looking for data matches. A recruiter can set it to sort for experience, skills, and education and it searches the resume for matching text. That is why it is essential you include all the keywords that are listed in the posting.
Once you have cleared this hurdle, you start communicating with a human and that is where the action is.
Tricks for Resume Formatting and Content Creation
Generally speaking, your resume should be concise, clean, and easy to read. And when we say easy to read we mean not only engaging content but plenty of white space. The hiring manager will be reading dozens of resumes. Go easy on his or her eyes and provide adequate white space between sections and short, engaging, scannable subsection titles.
Do not dress up the document with multiple type styles, underlines, unnecessary bolding, and other “enhancements.” For starters, the ATS:
- Can’t see images
- Can’t read text blocks
- Reads right to left meaning if you use columns they probably will not be read accurately
- Ignores bolding and underlining.
The risk of using other than a straight letter format is the ATS missing an important keyword.
Formatting Your Story
Formatting should be simple, scannable, and interesting:
- Contact, Name with a professional email address (not firstname.lastname@example.org) and phone number
- Tease. No title at all. Think of this as a movie trailer targeted to what you have learned about the hiring manager’s needs. For example, a copywriter applying to a Managing Editor of an automotive website who wants more page views and newsletter subscriptions to drive advertising revenue might say “If you are looking for informative, engaging automotive content designed to rank well and crafted to influence a reader’s behavior, then we should work together. An experienced automotive writer with an entrepreneurial bent and strong SEO skills seeks opportunity with a progressive, results-driven organization.”
- In A Word. This is a list of keywords. It is not meant for human consumption but it can’t hurt to have them right upfront. The keywords come from the posting plus those that were not mentioned but probably important such as relevant enterprise systems and collaborating technology.
- Employment Achievements. This is your chronological employment history. Make certain your job titles are correct and easy to understand. For example, if you are a waitress but the national chain restaurant insists you are a customer satisfaction specialist, just say waitress. Keep descriptions to 2 or 3 active voice sentences,
- Education Achievements. Dates, school(s), degree(s), and any relevant academic achievements (contests, published studies, etc.)
- Learn More At: This is a marketing piece, right? This is the close you want. List links to your business Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. This is where they can get to know you better and see your smiling face. Just be certain your online brand is consistent with your resume.
Content is King
This is the hardest part to master because normal people do not talk like direct marketers. You need to brag but you also need to back up the brag. Data sells. The more data you can include, the more a hiring manager can relate and the more credible you become.
There’s a technique for writing aggressive job history content. It is simple but takes practice to sound confident and natural. Your sentence should start with an active verb, followed by a task and ending with a result. You can mix it up and go active verb, result, task. Using active verbs like directed, initiated, led, rescued, reorganized all set a tone. And when you back it up with “increased sales 28%,” “decreased shopping cart abandonment 42% resulting in a net gain of 21% in revenue” you describe a person who measurably contributes to the task.
For help with converting soft skills to active keywords check out Innovo’s blog.
Make your content concise, compelling, and confident and use bullet points rather than blocks of text where possible.
Keep your customer (the hiring manager) in mind at all times and speak to his or her needs and your odds of getting an interview are significantly improved. After all, who wouldn’t hire a superhero like you!