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Write a Resume to Beat the Bots in Order to Land the Job

Filed in Education by on June 10, 2021

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Have you ever thought of how to write a resume to beat the bots? If you want to make sure your resume is compliant with an ATS, keep reading this article for tips on how to write an ATS-optimized resume.

Write a Resume to Beat the Bots in Order to Land the Job

Perhaps you’ve heard that computerized resume scanners reject applications before they even make it into human hands. And yes—at many companies that receive a high volume of applications, that’s true.

What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

An applicant tracking system — or ATS, for short — is a type of software used by recruiters and employers during the hiring process to collect, sort, scan, and rank the job applications they receive for their open positions.

The applicant tracking system was initially created for large corporations that are accustomed to dealing with several thousand inbound job applications on a weekly basis.

Today, approximately 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies rely on ATS software to help streamline their recruitment process. However, what began as a recruitment solution for large employers has turned into a commonplace tool for companies of all shapes and sizes.

Luckily, getting past the ATS is a lot easier than you might think.

But before you panic or head for a nuclear bunker, there are a few things you can do to optimize your resume to get beyond the wall of bots and into the hands of a human recruiter. We spoke to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, a resume writing service that helps you craft a winning CV.

How to Beat the Bots with Your Resume?

It would be nice to believe your submitted resume would really be read closely by a caring human resources manager or hiring manager after you painstakingly submitted it. Here are her top tips for crafting a bot-beating resume:

1. Do Apply Only to Roles You’re Qualified For

ATSs get a bad rap as the “robots” standing between you and your new job, and when you hear that Owens read only 25% of the applications she received for most postings, it might reinforce that impression.

But the reason she looked at such a small percentage of applications? Most candidates were not qualified for the job she was filling. And some were completely irrelevant.

“If I’m looking at an entry-level [accounting] position and seeing someone who is a dentist or a VP,” Owens says, it’s totally fair for the ATS to discard those.

So first and foremost, make sure you’re truly qualified for the roles you’re applying to. This doesn’t mean you have to hit every single job qualification or apply to a job only if you have the traditional background for it.

Owens says she was always “trying to cast a wide net and not exclude too many factors to pass up a candidate who might not be traditional”— career changers looking for an entry point into a new field, for example, or folks who had impressive transferable skills.

But if you don’t have the core skills needed to perform a job, you’re better off not wasting your time or a recruiter’s.

2. Don’t Apply to Tons of Jobs at the Same Company

An applicant tracking system also allows recruiters to see all the roles you’ve applied to at their company. Owens often noticed the same person applying to every single opening the company or one of its departments had.

When you do this, a recruiter can’t tell what you’re actually interested in or if you’re self-aware about your abilities.

If a company has two very similar roles open, absolutely apply to both. Or if you have a wide range of skills and interests and would be equally happy in two very different roles, then you can apply to both, though you should definitely tailor or target each resume you submit to the specific job.

But you generally shouldn’t be applying to both an entry-level position and a director-level position, or a sales position and a video-editing position.

And you definitely shouldn’t be applying to every opening a company has. That just shows you haven’t taken the time to consider what the right role for you is—and a recruiter isn’t likely to take the time to do it for you.

3. Be Specific, Not General

Generic resumes are a big no-no. Gone are the days when you could send out a dozen cookie-cutter resumes and get a callback, or as my colleague describes this job application approach, “spray and pray.”

Customize your resume to the job you are applying to. “While you shouldn’t overhaul your resume for each job application, it’s important to make minor edits each time to highlight your most relevant qualifications (and incorporate the keywords) based on each job listing,” advises Augustine.

Furthermore, as you evaluate your resume or give it the final gut check, try to remain objective, says Augustine. “Remember that you’re not writing this resume for you; you’re writing it for prospective employers.

When you’re deciding what information to include in your resume, consider if the details will help a recruiter or employer assess your qualifications for a particular role.”

4. Do Include the Right Keywords

At its core, what any applicant tracking system is programmed to do when it “reads” a resume is the same as what a person would do: It’s scanning for key pieces of information to find out whether or not you’re a match for a job opening.

“ATS algorithms aren’t that different from the human algorithms, we’re all kind of skimming for the same things,” says Jon Shields, Marketing Manager at Jobscan. So when it comes to writing a resume that can make it past an ATS, you want to make sure that key information is there and that it’s easy to find.

One of the ways the ATS narrows an applicant pool is by searching for specific keywords. It’s like a Google search on a much smaller scale.

The recruiter or hiring manager can decide which keywords to search for—usually whatever skills, qualifications, experience, or qualities are most important for performing the job. For entry-level roles, that might mean certain majors, whereas for a tech position, it might be certain coding languages.

So if you want to make it past the ATS, you’ll need to include those important keywords on your resume. Hint: Look for the hard skills that come up more than once in a posting and are mentioned near the top of the requirements and job duties.

Hard skills include types of software, methodologies, spoken languages, and other abilities that are easier to quantify. (The most important keyword could even be the job title itself!)

Depending on your industry, certain degrees and certifications might also be important keywords. Particularly in fields like nursing and teaching where state licenses are necessary, employers are going to want to know at a glance that you’re legally allowed to do the job you’re applying for.

If you’re having trouble identifying the important keywords in a job description as you craft an ATS-friendly resume, there are tools online (like Jobscan, Resume Worded’s Targeted Resume or SkillSyncer) that can help you.

Note: In some cases, an ATS scanning for keywords will only recognize and count exact matches. So if you have the correct experience, but you wrote it using language that’s different than what the system is looking for, you might not come up as one of the most qualified applicants.

For example, if you write that you’re an “LSW” but the ATS is checking for “Licensed Social Worker,” it might drop your resume. (To be safe, write out the full name, then put the abbreviation in parentheses.)

Or if you wrote that you’re “an Excel expert,” but the ATS is searching for someone who has “experience with spreadsheets,” your resume might never get to the hiring manager. When in doubt, match your phrasing to what’s in the job description, as that’s likely to be what the ATS is looking for.

5. Do Put Your Keywords in Context

Applicant tracking systems can recognize that a key skill or experience is present. But interpreting the strength and value of that experience is still for people to do. And humans want to see how you used your skills.

It’s obvious to a recruiter when you’ve just worked in a keyword because it was in the posting, without tying it to a specific personal achievement—and it doesn’t win you any points. “Instead of focusing on regurgitating a job description, focus on your accomplishments,” Owens says.

Plus, remember that you won’t be the only one adding those important keywords to your resume. “If [you’re] all using the same job descriptions and the same buzzwords, what’s going to make you stand out from the crowd?” Owens asks. Answer: your accomplishments, which are unique to you.

When describing your current and past positions, “ensure your bullet points are actually achievements and use numbers and metrics to highlight them,” says Rohan Mahtani, Founder of Resume Worded.

Instead of just telling recruiters and hiring managers that you have a skill, this will show them how you’ve used it and what the results were.

6. Do Choose the Right File Type

In the great resume file-type debate, there are only two real contenders: .docx vs .pdf. While PDFs are best at keeping your format intact overall, the .docx format is the most accurately parsed by ATSs.

So if you want to get past the ATS, use a .docx file. But also follow directions (if the listing asks for a certain file type, give it to them!) and take the posting’s word for it (if a posting says a PDF is OK, then it’s OK).

And if you’re considering using an online resume builder, first check what file type it spits out—Mahtani cautions that some online resume builders will generate your resume as an image (.jpg or .png, for example).

Pro tip: If you don’t have Microsoft Word or another program that can convert your resume to .docx or .pdf, you can use Google Docs to create your resume, then download it in either format for free.

Finally, don’t abandon good sense when it comes to applying for jobs. Are many companies and organizations perhaps too beholden to technology as they try to make decisions?

I think the argument can be made that they are, but let’s deal with reality. Just use one minute of your time to share this with your friends on social media.

CSN Team.

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