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If you are searching for a job, you may feel as though you are banging your head against a brick wall. At the very least, there’s a good chance you think your CV disappears into the abyss, that you are wasting your time, or at the very minimum, feel as if you are spending too much time practicing your typing skills and memorizing your work history.
Well, you’re not alone, do a quick search for getting an interview, and you will see a listing of articles, blogs, and forums addressing today’s job application market. From concerns about whether CVs are read by humans, to the economy, to the age-old argument of experience versus education, it all adds up to a frustrating, confusing, and often, overwhelming experience for applicants.
Digital killed the resume Star
So why does it feel more difficult than ever before to just land a job interview, let alone a job? Well, outside of the fact that it is unlikely generations today will see the type of job security seen in the past, an ever-changing economy, and a fast-changing job market where today’s jobs are tomorrow’s history, at the core of applying, is the use of ‘Applicant Tracking Systems’ or ATS.
So whereas before, a printed copy (using whatever file format to create it) was enough to often get the resume at least looked at, now, the job seeker must take into account file type, keywords, and text boxes all while trying to keep the CV attractive for human eyes if one should be so lucky as to get that far.
ATS – WTF?
An ATS is a tool that recruiters use to collect and sort through the many resumes a company receives. As technology and online applications have made it easier and (somewhat) less time-consuming than hand-delivering CVs, it has also created a challenge for recruiters to sort through ‘stacks’ of CVs for qualified applicants. The goal is to ‘build’ a digital file of the applicant so the information can be filed, searched, and ranked to help make the applicant pool more manageable to identify the top candidates.
Though they make life for recruiters easier, they create new challenges for job seekers. The technology often lacks sophistication and doesn’t always filter CVs effectively, meaning that even if someone is qualified, there is still a chance they will ‘fall through the cracks.’ The systems often require specific file types and the use of images, text boxes, and other formatting specs.
Despite the challenges that applicants face, applicant tracking systems are here to stay, with recent ATS usage rates in Fortune 500 companies at 98%, large companies at 66%, and even at 35% of small organizations!
Beating the Bots
On average, a corporate job receives 250 applications, and of those, only 4 – 6 will be contacted. It is estimated that over 70-75% of submitted resumes are rejected either because the qualifications don’t match the requirements, poor formatting (that the ATS cannot read), or the incompatible format or file type.
But despite this, there are a lot of positives to ATS, such as the ability to apply for many jobs online from the comfort of your home (and maybe pyjamas, because, sure why not?!). As the system is also based on algorithms, it also makes creating a plan to address a bit easier without the uncertainty of not knowing the hiring manager or recruiter. With a few key changes in your job search process, beating the bots will be a bit easier!
This is so important. A few ways you can do this is to take the job posting and paste it into a word-cloud generate, such as TagCrowd, and look at what words appear most frequently. Use these keywords in your CV, but only if they apply to your skills and experience.
But also make sure that you don’t go overboard – the ATS might like it, but once it reaches a recruiter, they’ll be able to see through your strategy.
Another tip is to make sure to both spell out the title and provide an acronym, e.g. Bachelors of Computer Science (BSc).
Do Your Homework
Make sure to research the company you are applying for to make sure your resume is tailored to their brand and communication style. It is also a good idea to adapt your resume to the company’s history, trends, and vision.
Incorporate a Skills Section
Provide a summary of relevant skills and qualifications (this also doubles up the word search while also looking professional to a human reader). These skills should be connected to the job you are applying for. Remember, generic CVs are the first to be tossed, so make sure to tailor your resume to the company and the role you are seeking.
Keep Formatting Simple
With ATS, the page size is less of an issue as most systems generate a summary of your data for decision-makers (though some will receive a copy of your actual resume so tailor to both), the use of text boxes and images is not recommended. The software is often outdated and, as such, has trouble parsing the data correctly. To help avoid your key qualifications being lost, make sure to do the following:
- Keep the formatting to a minimum
- Use a regular-sized font (11 or 12)
- Use traditional fonts such as Helvetica
- Avoid the use of tables and text boxes
- Use consistent headings and a format for work history and dates
- Don’t use headers or footers
- Use standard section names such as Experience, rather than, ‘What I’ve Done’
- Use standard job titles, especially if your title is different or unique
- Save the file as .docx if possible
- Spell-check and then, spell-check again
Content is King
Through all this, content is still critical, so you must make sure that you are specific and provide examples of tangible experience that is relevant to the posted role. Make sure you list all skills that are relevant to the position. Worked on budgets? Make sure to add this and the results of your work (but keep in mind any confidential or proprietary information).
So, No More Pretty CVs?
All this can seem pretty hopeless or even make you yearn for the days before the internet took over (oh, wait, you might regardless), but with a bit of effort to create a CV that works in today’s internet era, you can break through the matrix to get to the human recruiters and wow them with your experience and skills.
For those of you who may mourn the loss of beautifully formatted documents, my heart yearns with you, but the cover letter offers more opportunities to shine with a beautiful format and more creative license in the text. I also recommend to develop a ‘human-version’ of your CV for smaller employers, traditional application processes (increasingly rarer), and to bring to interviews.
The Bottom Line
Applicant Tracking Systems are here to stay, so remember that while tailoring your CV to the technology is essential, online applications do not take the place of networking. Remember to continue building relationships as networking is essential to longevity in business. See my blog for further tips, even if you are an introvert.
Lastly, don’t forget to check your online presence. Make sure LinkedIn matches your CV and review your personal social media for the image you present to the world. A few extra steps will help make your job search fruitful.