News Article

CV Tips - Changes To The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Can Block Your Resume From Being Seen

Posted 16th December 2021 • Written by Robin Ryan on •

Times are changing thanks to more AI being used by employers. However, I continue to get emails and calls from job hunters who receive no response when they apply for jobs online. Last week Joanne was so frustrated and said, “I’ve sent in 80 applications for a manager-level role. I’m not getting any response from employers. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?” I looked at her resume and saw several problems. She didn’t know how the Applicant Tracking System was eliminating her resume, and because of that, it never reached the employer's eyes.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) is on the rise in the employer’s HR hiring process. Good news for the employer, but it may be bad news for you. A recent Accenture report from Harvard Business School suggests that applicant tracking systems (ATS) used by hiring managers are now blocking more candidates from jobs who are qualified to perform that role. But, of course, the electronic bots that perform the initial screening are to blame.

This issue may result in your resume being regularly overlooked by the ATS resume-sorting programs. This was the issue with Joanne’s resume. AI does the initial search with very strict filers to sort people out of the running. Then it searches your resume for keywords, comparing them to that specific job opening’s description. If you don’t have the correct keywords, you are automatically rejected. With so many employers using the ATS for hiring, some job hunters have a significant issue.

How Does This Work?

Your resume is missing the one thing employer want to see: keywords. Using an inadequate format with tables, columns, text boxes, or creative designs would cause your rejection, as most systems can’t read these. You may not have the college degree they want or specific certification like a PMP or AWS Cloud. These would cause immediate rejection though you likely will not get any notice or response from the system saying so.

Some Solutions To This Problem

Matt Warzel, President of MJW Careers, who has eight years as a recruiter, offered some insight and advice.

“This applicant tracking system is not going away. It makes the hiring process easier for the employer, and EEOC compliance easier too. It’s here to stay and getting more sophisticated every day.” Warzel offers this advice:

Don’t try to outthink the robots. HR is using this tool and AI to help them sort through often hundreds of resumes more quickly. Be direct and digest the skills and experience asked for in the job description. Then, ensure you describe your own experience that illustrates you have that essential experience or skill. Be sure to define any accomplishment related to using that skill.   

Recognize ATS is a gatekeeper. The job hunter is often scared of the ATS system and mystified about how it works. One new sophisticated change in the ATS searches is it is a gatekeeper due to the increased use of AI. No longer is the system just a database storage system (think giant file cabinet). Both keywords and formats must be correct. When designing the resume format, think plain Jane, noncreative style highlighting your skills and accomplishments.

Carefully analyze the job description. Highlight what you have done and add these tasks into your resume ensuring you customize it by noting your achievements. For example, they want project management experience, and so you state: Served as a project manager handling multimillion-dollar full-cycle projects on time and within budget. Next, hit your hard skills mentioning operational and technical abilities. Don’t just list these under technical skills. Add these to hard skills so that they are pragmatic and relevant to the resume. Don’t just sprinkle them throughout, hoping that will work. It won’t.

Use a clean format. Don’t use the things that ATS rejects. No text boxes, columns, tables, graphics, photos, and header and footers. Also, submit using a Word file. Recruiters report that it’s most effective to use a WORD file for the ATS. The PDF format can get distorted.

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