By Deanna Parkton
If the job search feels different than it used to be, that is because it is! With the addition of more and more technology in the hiring process, hiring practices continue to evolve and become more automated. With the advent of Applicant Tracking Systems and “Quick Apply” options, automated processes for screening candidates have become widely used. Like many things related to technology, this can bring both pro’s and con’s – positives being related to efficiency but with added challenges for job seekers.
Applicant Tracking Systems, commonly referred to as ATS, are software systems that help employers streamline the hiring process and remove resumes that do not meet the qualifications. ATS uses hiring algorithms, which are filters set by hiring managers and/or recruiters to automatically scan resumes to see if they match job requirements.
For job seekers, job searching can often feel like an uphill battle with increased competition and more obstacles to overcome. Because technology makes it so easy to apply for jobs, the number of applicants per job can sometimes reach 200+. With Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) fielding applications before a recruiter may even look at it, your application may get blocked before a pair of human eyes even reviews it.
While these tools certainly can make things more efficient for recruiters and hiring managers, and possibly even help some applicants stand out, it can make the process a bit less personal.
ATS: An Added Obstacle?
Think of the ATS as the ultimate gatekeeper. It scans resumes and can automatically reject candidates before a recruiter or HR person reviews it. If your application gets through the gate, the recruiter then decides whether they are going to choose you for a screening phone call. If you pass the screening call, you are then finally passed along to the hiring manager (the person who would be your manager if you were selected for the position).
While the ATS can help make the process more efficient on the recruiter’s end, it adds a step for possible rejection. There are times where you could be a great candidate for the role but miss an arbitrary qualification such as a particular number of years of experience or a technical skill that you could easily pick up. This can be a frustrating sticking point for some candidates.
The Good News
By understanding the challenges related to the modern job search, you can better strategize ways to get around the obstacles at play.
Play the (ATS) Game:
The ATS is most likely to push through your resume if you have targeted your resume to directly match the job description. Make sure to change your resume based on the role you are applying for. Assess the qualifications listed and see if each of them is represented on your resume. You can also direct your cover letter to match keywords listed in the job description, particularly related to soft skills listed such as being a strong team player or a results-oriented individual. Check out some common ATS tips from Indeed:
- Only apply for jobs you qualify for.
- Be selective about the jobs you apply for at one company.
- Use relevant keywords.
- Connect your keywords to unique experiences.
- Include a skills section.
- Use basic language.
- Write out acronyms.
- Submit a tailored resume for each job.
- Keep your resume simple.
- Use basic formatting.
- Submit the right type of file.
- Update your information online.
- Include referrals in your application
Using relevant keywords is the most important strategy when targeting for ATS. JobScan is a helpful resume optimization tool that provides job seekers with an instant assessment of how closely their resume is tailored for a particular job and how it can be even better optimized for an ATS.
For more tips on working with ATS:
Make a Human Connection:
One way to help leverage online your job applications is to use LinkedIn to search for a possible hiring manager for the role. Rather than relying on ATS or the recruiter to push your resume through to the hiring manager, consider going directly to the source. The hiring manager is the individual you would report to if selected for the job. Once you are in the interview process, they are the individual deciding who is hired. (There is certainly a benefit to reaching out to recruiters as well, but hiring managers are an often underutilized resource that can help you stand out in a new way!).
One reason that hiring managers are such a valuable resource is that they are closer to the job than the recruiter is. They will be managing this role, so they may see something in your application that the ATS doesn’t pick up. Hiring managers may also be more flexible on certain qualifications once they see a unique or compelling candidate. They may look at your resume and background in a more “big-picture” way than a recruiter is capable of.
While you certainly want to show respectable boundaries with the hiring manager and avoid coming off in a negative sense, a simple introductory message on LinkedIn can go a long way. The message should focus on expressing your interest in the role rather than asking for updates on the process or a status on your application. Use this as an opportunity to stand out and show off those stellar communication skills. You never know what could come out of it!
While ATS and hiring algorithms can certainly add challenges to the job search in some ways, they can also be a useful tool in helping your application stand out. As an added bonus, technology such as LinkedIn helps job seekers navigate the process in a positive way! Understand the challenges at play, but rise above them with strategic thinking and an intentional job search process. You got this.
For more ideas on how you can strategize your job search, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face job search challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.
Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.