About ATS

Applying for a job online sucks - These 7 things can make it better

I regularly advise to use job boards primarily as a research tool to find out who's hiring. I also tell them applying to jobs on job boards is not the most productive use of their time. It makes people feel like they are making progress but there are more productive methods including networking to get referrals directly to hiring managers, cold calling hiring managers, using LinkedIn to find and talk to hiring managers, and more. 

But using job boards and applying blindly does work sometimes. Just understand no amount of trickery will get you past the cumbersome process of answering long questionnaires or interpreting poorly written job descriptions and application instructions. So if your'e going to do it, there are some things you can do to improve your luck and there's no trickery to it.

The key is you need to make it through ATS unscathed.

1. Don't submit a fancy resume. Keep it simple, no graphics, no fancy fonts, no fancy formatting, no fancy anything. ATS systems do not have eyes. They cannot see what humans see and will not appreciate your creativity. You can create a fancy version of your resume to hand out to humans at interviews or when networking but don't use it to apply online.

2. Focus your resume on your accomplishments, the results of your work, particularly those things that are relevant to what the hiring manager needs. Quantify your results as often as possible. Numbers attract attention.

3. Save your resume as a Word (doc) file. Also save it as a plain text file (txt). Yes, txt files are butt-ugly, but again, computers are blind. They only read digital information and they love plain text resumes. So submit your resume online as either a doc or txt file. All ATS systems can read these two. Actually ATS prefers a text file because all formatting is removed.

4. Some people will tell you to submit PDF files, arguing that they can protect the file from editing. The fact is every PDF file can be edited, protected or not. One simply needs to know how. They will also tell you ATS can read PDF files, but don't count on it. Most ATS software cannot read PDF's because they are graphical representations of documents. ATS does not like graphics.

5. Watch out for spelling and grammar errors. Most ATS will check spelling at the very least. Spell checkers are not fool proof. If you type "manger" when you meant "manager", spell checkers will not notice. They will think you meant the crib. You will probably not find all of your own errors. Get capable help proofreading.

6. Don't use document creation shortcut tools provided in word processing software. Invariably these tools will introduce graphic attributes that will cause information extraction issues for ATS. This can lead to outright rejection or non-response to your application. The tools include those that create headers, tables, text boxes, etc. Find a work-around for simplification tools, for example use tabs instead of tables. Using tabs and getting everything lined up like a nice table is a tad more work than the tools that create tables, which is why word processors provide you with the tools, but you can do it.

7. Organize your resume the way ATS wants to see it. ATS will be looking for sections of information it wants to see, for instance Skills, Experience, and Education. It's advisable not to use variations of these titles. Save the variations for the handout file of your resume. Also, if you held more than one position with a company, ATS wants to see the company name restated for each position.

As stated in the beginning, the best way to get a job is to make voice contact with the hiring manager before applying. Eventually you will probably have to apply online, but you will already have established rapport with the hiring manager. But if you insist on only applying online, these suggestions will help you become the 1 in a thousand that land a job using that approach. 

Karl Liechty is a published resume writer and job search skills coach with careers in business management, engineering and executive recruiting. He is an authority on writing ATS compatible resumes.

Visit bit.ly/1TEqj93 and send your resume to kl@hoochresumes.com for a FREE analysis Today!

Speaking of PDF resumes ...

When Applicant Tracking System software (ATS) tries to extract information from PDF files it often fails because PDFs are graphical images. ATS does not like graphics. PDF is the acronym for Portable Document Format. PDF files are not text files and not all PDFs are alike. Different types of PDFs require different computer operations.

ATS extraction software reads and extracts resume information that is in text form. Graphics, including text information located within graphics, for example Headers, Tables, and other tools, are the source of extraction issues. This is important because tools provided in word processing software makes it easy to use by using graphic boxes for the writer to insert text. People writing resumes need to be aware of the issues with word processing tools.

In the majority of job application processes today, a resume will be processed by ATS before a human ever sees it. Thus if information cannot be extracted properly from a resume it may never reach a human who can read it.

Avoiding the use of word processing tools can be difficult because any graphic associated with the tools can only be seen when the tool is open. When a tool is opened, a graphic box appears in which information is entered. The box disappears as soon as the tool is closed and only the text is appears on the viewing screen. There are always alternatives to using the tools. The alternatives are more time consuming, but far safer for files that are used to apply for jobs electronically.

Plain text documents are excellent for ATS because all formatting, including those lines and boxes that disappear, are removed from plain text files. Lacking formatting, the resulting file is not attractive to the eye, but ATS is blind and loves them because only text remains.

PDF files are excellent to use in situations where one can be sure the document will go directly to a human, not ATS. The advantage they have over Word and text files is that a PDF displays the exact same content and layout that was created no matter which operating system, device or software application it is viewed on. Time taken to make the document very attractive to humans is preserved faithfully by PDF. This makes PDFs ideal when one wants to impress a human reader.

Summarizing, a PDF file is a graphical image of a document. It is a combination of vector graphics, text, and bitmap graphics. The basic types of content in a PDF are text stored as 'content streams' (specifically not ASCII text), vector graphics for illustrations and designs that consist of shapes and lines, raster graphics for photographs and other types of image, multimedia objects in the document.

·        PDF files are a problem for ATS because they are a graphical image of a document, not a pure text document. ATS has difficulty extracting information located inside a graphic.

·        Microsoft Word or Plain Text files are universally compatible with all ATS software and are the preferred file types to use for applying online.

·        A PDF file displays the exact same content and layout no matter which operating system, device or software application it is viewed on, an advantage when viewed by a human without ATS intervention.

How to make Job Searching and ATS a Modern Day Love Affair

Many people tell me about aggressively submitting resumes and getting little or no response or interviews. In one example, Ralph (not his real name) came to me saying he had lost his job many months before and was totally frustrated with his job search. He was sending out many resumes and either being rejected or hearing nothing back. And he had revised his resume numerous times trying to fix the problem. Sounds familiar, right?

Unemployment was causing financial problems and strife within Ralph's family. His savings was dwindling, he was worried he might lose his home and he had children who were approaching college age.

Like so many other situations I have seen it was obvious he would have been much better off had he reached out to me right after he was first laid off, or even better, when he first began to see the handwriting on the wall, rather than trying to "go it alone". And it made me think about how job searching is similar in a way to dating. It often leads nowhere.

In courtship we are focused on compatibility and impressing each other. The same is true with seeking a job. As job seekers we try to create a resume that will impress the hiring manager by demonstrating how compatible we are with the job requirements. Then after submitting the resume, if ATS intercedes, usually nothing positive happens. The problem is ATS is either love at first sight or it's not going to happen! You get one chance, that's it. So we talked about his resume, how he was conducting his job search and how we could turn things around for him together.
40 Plus Pitfalls
First we talked about word processing pitfalls that cause ATS parsing issues. ATS text parsers extract information from resumes and provide a compatibility score. Only the top scorers are forwarded to HR for review. So if, for instance, there are 200 applications and only the top 10 are forwarded there is only a 5% chance HR will review your resume and 0.5% chance you will be hired. There has to be a better way to improve the odds. 

The over 40 pitfalls to be concerned about include word processing shortcuts that can build parsing issues into your resume. You might not even realize it is happening. Among the most critical shortcuts are those that allow you to write text inside graphic boxes such as borders, tables, headers, text boxes, and borders. Unfortunately most parsers cannot read information located inside graphics. So for example, if you put your name and contact information inside a header, the parser can't read it and will not know who you are or how to reach you. Therefore ATS can't respond to your application. This is a certain way to become anonymous. 

In the many changes he made to his resume over time, sometimes Ralph used headers, usually he used tables and occasionally he spiffed it up with an outside border. He didn't realize all were certain to cause ATS issues.
Ralph asked me about using columns because he had seen many resumes that were attractively laid out using them. I explained that this is another pitfall. Parsers scan information in raster fashion, across the entire page, one line at a time. So if columns are used to format information, the text in one column will be intermixed with text in the next column, one line at a time. The result reads as gibberish. So we agreed not to do that.
Ralph is a CPA and listed the certification after his name for emphasis. That's another pitfall. ATS wants to see your name, by itself, on the top line of your resume. So by putting his certification after his name, ATS may have thought CPA was his last name. We moved his certification to a personal profile located right under his contact information where it would be immediately visible. People often place a certification, a degree, or a title after their name. They become Joe CPA, Sally PHD or Ruth CEO to ATS.
Ralph had been promoted twice in one company so his resume showed 3 jobs under the name of the company, a fourth pitfall. Listing multiple positions under one company is called 'nesting'. ATS wants you to repeat the company name before each position held even if they are successive jobs in the same company. I can only assume the reason for this is that ATS may not understand what company you were working for after the first one listed. That sounds pretty dumb but it is what it is, so I don't nest jobs in any resume that will be used to apply electronically. The good news is parsers do not view a repeated company name as job-hopping. We fixed Ralph's resume by showing the same company name before each of the three positions.
Second we talked about keywords. It is important to make sure the right skill keywords are used in a resume exactly as they are found in the job description requirements. It is equally important to use them in context. ATS will determine if you understand the keywords by how you use the them in context, particularly as you describe the results of your work in the experience section. This helps to achieve a high ATS score and win interviews.
Another reason to get the key words right is to get discovered. Specific key words are used by recruiters when they search for candidates in LinkedIn or on job boards. They simply type in the right key words and see who pops up. Making your LinkedIn profile complete and using the right key words will get you discovered. We worked on Ralph's LinkedIn profile to take full advantage of this free inbound marketing tool LinkedIn provides.
Talk to the Hiring Manager Before Applying
The third thing we discussed was search tactics. The way to increase the odds of getting hired is to talk to the hiring manager before applying for a job. Doing this has a profound effect upon winning interviews and jobs. Ralph had never tried the approach and had no idea how to do it. He felt intimidated by the thought of reaching out directly to the hiring manager. After all, doesn't everyone just go through HR? The answer is no, not everyone. The most successful job seekers differentiate themselves from their competition by calling and speaking directly to hiring managers before applying. This is the most effective way to get hired. 

The skills required can be learned through coaching and lots of practice. It is very effective because it enables one to learn what is most important to the hiring manager, to provide examples of how one can help meet the hiring manager's critical needs and it provides critical information for 'tuning' a resume before applying.

Ralph and I spent considerable time discussing the many ways of finding the hiring manager's name. We discussed how to write, practice and internalize scripts for getting past the company gatekeepers and how to approach the hiring manger when he finally gets through. Ralph practiced the new skills by role playing with me. Then he tried it live. It took a lot of guts and it worked. Ralph got a great job using this approach.
Ralph has been in his new job for six months and feels like his whole world has changed. I wish all outcomes were the same. I am convinced getting competent help early and being willing to learn and practice new skills prevents an extended job search.

5 Reasons why ATS is rejecting you.

There is a lot of information about the causes of ATS rejection of job applicants. Some of it is correct and some of it is conjecture passed on with good intentions, but without an understanding of the facts. The following are the key reasons for rejection or non-response by ATS.

Qualification. Many times applicants are simply not qualified. 

Key words. Sometimes people ignore using key words exactly as written in job descriptions or fail to use them in context. 

ATS parsers. ATS parsers cannot extract text located inside graphics. Frequently resumes are created using word processing shortcuts comprised of graphics embedded into the document. Borders, headers, footers, tables, charts or text boxes that contain text are typical  examples. For instance, if a name and/or contact information is located inside a header, ATS will not know who the person is or how to contact them. If skills or other information is listed in a table, ATS will not know it is there. If a border is used, nothing will be read.

Some people use text columns to format a resume. ATS parsing software reads data across the full page, one line at a time. This jumbles columnar information into sentences that make no sense.

Most ATS software cannot read PDF files. Although some providers claim they can, what they fail to say is "converted PDF files". There are two types of PDF files, Native and Scanned, plus many variants. How are you to know which variant your file is? And how are you to know if your resume will be scrutinized by an ATS that is capable of reading PDF files?

The bottom line. For the best online application success, use keywords exactly as written in job descriptions, do not use word processing creation tools, and don't apply online with a PDF file. When applying online, use txt or doc files. And make sure you are qualified before you apply.

Is ATS gagging on your resume?

Are you like many people who do not seem to be able to get responses when applying for jobs? Have you even had their resume created by a professional resume writer and see no change in the number of responses you get?

There are only three reasons for this to happen:

1. You may not be very careful about reading the qualifications for the position. It's ok to miss one or two minor requirements, but read carefully before you apply.

2. The resume may not be written in a manner that achieves interest. Writing a resume that results in interviews take knowledge and creative talent. Getting through ATS successfully requires an understanding of what it cannot do and knowing how to avoid doing things that will make it gag.

3. ATS may be gagging on it. ATS uses data extraction software to retrieve information it is searching for. If ATS is rejecting a resume or giving it a low score, it is very likely the applicant will not receive any response. Often the problem is in the information extraction process itself. 

These are some of the most commonly used problems for ATS.

  • Your name and contact information is in a header.
  • You used a table in your resume.
  • You are using text boxes to create your resume.
  • You have put a border around your resume.
  • Your resume contains multiple columns. 

There are many other word processing tools that can cause parsing issues. The rule of thumb is avoid trying to be fancy when creating the resume file that will be used for applying to positions on job boards or company websites.

The takeaway is this:

For applying for positions online (electronically), don't use word processing tools to create the document. Word processing software tools are almost guaranteed to cause problems for ATS. Avoid being fancy.

If you want to be fancy, create a separate resume that you reserve for situations where you can physically get it into the hands of a human. I call this the For Handout Only file. Don't use it to apply for jobs electronically.

Some Resumes are Incompatible with ATS

There is a lot of information about the causes of ATS rejection and non-response to job applicants. Some of it is correct and some of it is conjecture passed on without an understanding of reality. 
The following are the realistic causes:
Sometimes people ignore the key words written in job descriptions or do not list those that they meet on their resume or use them in context. Many times applicants are simply not qualified. 
ATS parsers read text. ATS cannot read text located inside graphics. Frequently resumes are created using word processing shortcuts comprised of graphics embedded into the document. Headers, footers, tables, charts or text boxes that contain text are problematic examples. For instance, if a name and/or contact information is located inside a header, ATS will not know who the person is or how to contact them. If skills or other information is listed in a table, ATS will not know it is there.
Sometimes text columns are used to format a resume. ATS parsing software reads data across the full page, one line at a time. This jumbles columnar information into disconnected phrases that make no sense.
Not all ATS or OCR software includes a PDF to Word converter. Although some ATS providers can read PDF files, what they fail to say is "converted" PDF files. There are two types of PDF files, Native and Scanned plus, many variants. Native PDFs are generated from a Word document. These have an internal structure that can be read and interpreted by PDF converters because they contain characters that have an electronic character designation. Scanned PDFs are created by scanner and OCR software and must be converted by a PDF to Word converter. 
To be safe, use keywords exactly as written in job descriptions, do not use word processing creation tools, and don't apply online with a PDF file. Apply online with txt or doc files.

Hm-m! Why not use a resume template?

They are cheaper than paying a professional resume writer.
They are easy to use.
They are attractive to the eye.

Some templates are free, and that certainly is appealing.
         And you may get exactly what you paid for. 

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur!" - Red Adair
If you are not a good writer, good speller, know proper grammar and punctuation, or know makes a resume ATS compatible, how will a template help you?  Yes they are easier to use and they can be attractive, but they are risky to use when  applying for a job.

Almost all templates are not compatible with ATS parsing! They may not be parsed correctly … or at all.
It is true that resume templates are often attractive and easy to use. However, that attractive format may be the very reason you don’t get many responses. It may not be ATS-ready. In fact most are not. Resume templates usually include features that cause incorrect text parsing which cause rejections or non-response.

Parsing software does not have eyes, therefore does not care about beauty.
It cannot see what you and I see. It can only the ‘read’ the binary code that represents your resume. You are better off applying electronically with a text (*.txt) file which is loved by parsing software.

But if a company does not use ATS software to make their hiring process more efficient and less costly, then why not use a template?
The problem is, how do you know for sure whether they do or do not use ATS software in the front end of their hiring process? 60% of all U.S. companies use ATS. Of course it certainly is not a problem if you physically hand your resume to a human who can see.

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