Tactics for Avoiding the ATS Quagmire

March 1st, 2021

Sending out a ream of resumes to jobs you’re more than qualified for, but never hearing a peep? You might be stuck in the ATS quagmire.

An applicant tracking system streamlines the hiring process for recruiters and companies, in part by weeding out wildly unqualified candidates (so annoying to recruiters) and filtering out potentially good resumes that don’t meet the exact needs of the position. That’s great on their end, but not so great on the job seeker’s end if you don’t know how to play this game. And let’s face it, people of a certain age who have been in their current jobs for a long time aren’t skilled job seekers. Even in this market, you have to know some tricks to get into the trade.

Here are a few tactics to make sure your resume makes it through the ATS quagmire. Hint: It’s all about keywords.

Exactly match your targeted job title on your resume with the job title on the listing. Don’t have a targeted job title at the top of your resume? Get on that right now. But make sure it exactly matches the job you’re applying for. If you’ve been in the working world for more than a nanosecond, you know that the same job at different companies can have slightly (or radically) different titles. You say marketing associate, I say marketing team member. Or heaven forbid, marketing guru. The main thing is: call it whatever they call it.

Customize. This doesn’t mean fabricate, people. But it does mean carefully looking at the description of the job you’re applying for and customizing your resume to match those requirements if your experience warrants it. Oftentimes, people don’t list something intangible like good communication skills, or they’ll forget to list, say, experience working virtually with a team. Take a good, hard look at your full working life through the lens of that job description and list whatever relevant experience you can.

Precise wording. It’s all about the exact wording in that job description. If it says they want people with Word, PowerPoint and Excel proficiency, don’t say you’re experienced in Microsoft Office. Use their exact wording.

Say it early. Those customizable skills? They should be at the top of your resume. List your previous jobs, education, references, and other factors later.

A word about location. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to have a bias for local candidates, particularly for hyper-local people with shorter commute times (not fair, but studies have shown it happens). If you live within an easy commute of the job location, put the city and state on your resume under your name.

Beating the ATS quagmire at its own game will help your resume sail past those bot filters and into the hands of a real, live human … who needs to be impressed within the first six seconds of reading it. More on that later.

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