Sometimes it feels like there are two job markets out there: one where companies can’t find skilled candidates, and another where qualified applicants apply and never hear a peep. Something’s broken, and a big culprit is the multiplicity of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) that many companies use to handle online job applicants. But good news: there are ways to up your chances of success.
We got a bunch of great comments on last week’s post. “Beatscape” pointed out, “Unfortunately for job seekers, it’s an employer’s job market and they are taking advantage of it. Salaries are being compressed and workers are being asked to work long hours with very lofty expectations.” Jason P. made some great points too, among them “companies have a vast laundry list of requirements that effectively rule out the vast majority of candidates [such as rejecting] an otherwise qualified candidate because they only worked with version 9.x … and they want experience with 10.x.” It’s a sucky environment, and companies are being insanely choosy, often because, (suggests Jason) companies “don’t know what they really want” or “don’t plan to hire anyone”. Unfortunately, the dreaded ATS only makes it worse. There’s a fallacy (as in online dating) that there’s “one perfect match” out there, and if I just specify the perfect person, I’ll get only a couple of (perfect) applicants to choose from. That’s wrong in so many ways, I can’t even get started.
At the end of the day, despite their flaws, ATSs are here to stay. In most cases, you need to just realize that applying through a faceless system stacks the odds heavily against you, and you’d be better off networking your way to a job. But let’s face it, a lot of times you’re stuck: you see a job you think you’d be great for, at a company that you’d love to work for … but big companies in particular often claim they only consider online applicants. So if you’re faced with applying online, here are four techniques for outsmarting the machines:
1. Use a Word or plain text doc. Never use a PDF to submit your resume into an ATS. ATS’s don’t handle PDFs well (take it from me, as someone who sees how they look at the other end). The data can come through garbled and the ATS may put your information into the wrong fields — making it darn near impossible to “get found” through a simple search. “But,” cry the creatives, “how will I demonstrate my prowess?” You should have your work on a website: that’s where your graphics and beautiful text design should reside.
2. Google-ize yourself. Think like an SEO geek. Use keywords in the body of your resume that you think a recruiter will use to find you when they do a resume search in their ATS (rather than the quirkily charming and clever phrases you like to use to describe yourself). Usually companies are very specific about their needs in the job description. Take note: you may be required to customize your resume to fit the needs of that one job. So focus on the jobs you think you can actually land. Then spend time customizing your resume for them — the payoffs can be huge. (Hint: this is a good idea when you’re working through a recruiter or a direct contact too.) There have been countless times when a hiring manager has said to me upon reading a resume, “Wow, it’s clear that my job should be next on this candidate’s resume.” That response is what you’re shooting for when you update your resume.
3. Know the window. When a candidate applies to a job within 3 seconds of a job being posted, in-house recruiters will usually pass. Too fast is generally bad. Instead, they will monitor their applicants to specific jobs really closely in the first 1-3 days after posting — hoping to bag 8-10 quality candidates in that window. Remember, the goal here is to hire quickly. Once they get their first qualified candidates in, they won’t go back to the applicant tracking system to elevate new ones unless the earlier candidates don’t prevail. Net-net: if you come in after this initial window the chances that you will get seen (and interviewed) are very slim. It’s not about the in-house recruiters being jerks, it’s about their being time-starved.
4. Use your contacts. About 5 minutes after you submit your resume into the applicant tracking system, check LinkedIn to see if you have a contact at that company that can be your advocate. (Better yet, do this ahead of time as part of your organized plan of attack on your targeted companies.) Have them send a quick note to HR to go and pull the needle (your resume) from the haystack of other resumes piling into the system. It’s your best shot if an ATS is thrust upon you.
(Let’s keep the discussion rolling … if you have ideas for making it through an ATS, please share in the comments!)
It’s rough out there, and technology has proven to be a double-edged sword: it makes it easy to sift through tons of garbage, but it also makes it easy to create more garbage. And it gives a false sense that there’s a way to find that “one perfect match”. But follow the tips above, and you’ll be ahead of the pack. Just please, find other ways to diversify your search and up your odds: strengthen your network, try to eke out freelance gigs that you can parlay, customize those resumes. We’ve been saying it since Day One in 2000: technology can only do so much, it’s people that matter.