Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve been looking for work for seven months and recently learned about applicant tracking systems that companies use to automatically screen candidates. I’m guessing this is why I have applied to nearly 100 jobs but have yet to get even one phone call. Is there a way to revamp my resume and applications to game the system? – Aaron
DALE: Let’s start with your premise that your problem is automated screening. I doubt it. More likely, the problem lies in where and how you’re applying. Companies use ATS because they get thousands of applications, which means that any one applicant is a very long shot.
If you’d ever sat and watched a human applicant screener at work, spending just seconds on each application, you’d understand the bigger issue: People apply because they think, “I could do that job”; however, the screener is asking more exact questions, like “Has this person actually done this job?” and, if so, “Does he or she meet all the other specific preferences/requirements of the hiring managers?”
Then, once the screening is done – whether it’s done by a person or a computer seeking to emulate the decision-making process of a person – the result probably is going to be too many applicants to contact and interview. Thus, even if you’re qualified, you still might get left out, often depending on the quirks of the hiring manager, not the ATS.
J.T.: The solution is to stop applying online. Instead, when you see a job that suits you, network like crazy till you find someone at the company to speak to, and ask him or her to pass your resume directly to the hiring manager. You will drastically increase your chances.
Meanwhile, if you must apply online, here are two tips: (1) Do not skip questions – the ATS will consider any blanks to be missing information and will score that against you. (2) Try to use key words from the job description to describe yourself in the online resume and any other questions you’re asked during the application process – the ATS uses key words to scan your information for matches.
Even so, remember this: If you take your job search offline and network instead, you’ll find the process of meeting fellow professionals more interesting and more productive.
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