Even though it’s not the best way to reach all of the most qualified candidates, many companies now use an application tracking system (ATS) to filter through the masses of resumes they receive. Not all job applicants are SEO experts, and many occupations these days don’t require those types of skills, but thinking like a search engine optimizer is necessary to get a job online via an job board.
The resume is the document that every ATS examines most closely, so an un-optimized cover letter doesn’t necessarily rule a good resume out of consideration. An optimized cover letter certainly wouldn’t hurt your case, but it limits your ability to actually stand out with a creative representation of your qualifications.
Optimizing Your Resume For ATS
Don’t try to outsmart the ATS system (like some SEO experts do when they attempt to work around Google). There are many types of files that most ATS’s won’t recognize, and they work best when your resume has a clear format.
Unfortunately, being creative with your resume format will probably get it ignored, not praised. Be clear with labeling your sections, list each company above the corresponding job title, and use the most popular words from the job posting to determine how you phrase your accomplishments.
Should You Optimize Your Cover Letter For ATS?
There are not many differences between a successful cover letter submitted online and a hard copy mailed or brought to a potential employer. Both are descriptive, original documents, and they show how you are the best candidate for the job based on the skills and experience you have from your previous employers. Getting your cover letter read online requires similar characteristics to getting one on paper seen by the hiring manager.
Put the reader first, not the machine. If your cover letter is engaging and easy to read, it will be shared with more people that have input into your potential hire. Be concise. If you can swing it, try telling a story that includes things that are easy to visualize, like the 10% increase in sales you drove for your last company when you solved a common customer problem.
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