Too many people are struggling to get an interview, because they are getting screened out by a company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS).  My mission with #ProjectHelpYouGrow is to help connect job seekers to recruiters and employers who have job openings that they need to fill.  To be certain the bridge is not just to get you to the front door and say good luck.  I want to help people earn the interview, ace it and ultimately land the job, when it’s a good fit.  The article here is designed to help people who are struggling to get the interview when they apply. 

Please note that this is the second article in a series.  If you haven’t already read the first article, Demystification of the ATS, please catch it here: https://projecthelpyougrow.com/2019/07/16/demystification-of-the-ats/

Immediate Rejection

Are you getting an almost immediate rejection email from companies when you apply?  If you are, you likely are breaking a major rule.  Here’s a check list of what to do with your resume and why to help you keep from getting ousted in an ATS Screen: 

  • File format: You should be submitting .docx, .doc, .txt formats.  Many ATS systems struggle with .PDF and other image formats.  If they can’t convert the image, you appear to have submitted a blank application and won’t score high enough to warrant an interview.
  • Individual Job Customization:  Before each resume submission, job seekers need to customize their resume for the position being sought, based on the specific job description/listing. “One-size-fits-all” does not work with the ATS.
  • Artistic Style Can Hurt You: Too many people are trying to submit pretty artwork.  This isn’t 1999.  You are not being judged on looks, but on qualifications.  Your artwork confuses the system and can cause you to be bounced.  Don’t use fancy templates, borders, or shading
  • Columns:  Columns can help create a visually stunning resume that again confuses the system.  To be safe, use a singular column format (no tables, multiple columns, or text boxes)
  • Font Size:  Don’t ever use anything below a 10-point font.  I recommend 11 and higher to be safe. 
  • Font type:  Stick with the classics such as: Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana and New Times Roman.  Most systems can OCR (Optical Character Recognition) these fonts without any issues.
  • Standard Sections: stick to the classics like Summary, Work Experience, and Education. Don’t make up your own unique section titles because the ATS might not know where to put them.
  • Graphics:  Do not put any images in your resume.  Some ATS systems simply cannot handle it and it’ll knock you out automatically.
  • Misspelled words: The ATS will not recognize misspelled words
  • Acronym Definitions:  You can use them, but you need to spell out the full word at least the first time you use one too.  [i.e., Certified Public Accountant (CPA)]
  • Key Words:  Incorporates relevant, targeted keywords and phrases for the type of position being sought (Have you included specifics — i.e., “Photoshop” instead of “image-editing software”)

Keywords and Resume Rankings

When you are read on LinkedIn or any other website about resume rankings and tips to getting your score up; they’re likely referring to the score your ATS score.  The ATS system used by the company who is searching to fill the role, likely has a third party screening system in place, that is used to help filter the results of applicants who apply for consideration.  How does the scoring work and how can you help yourself? 

First you should know that the ranking is not judging you as a professional, it is simply ranking how well your resume matches the individual job listing.  The score out of 100, represents how well your resume specifically includes what the job listing has asked for.

An ATS scan is done by Artificial Intelligence.  The AI uses the formerly referenced OCR technology to read your resume, to assess and dissect it.  Once dissected, the ATS then reassembles the information into it’s own uniform segments, to help the ATS users.  Resumes are set up in many different configurations but the ATS helps those looking at them, to compare them uniformly.  This is why font type and format of the file used are so important.  The data needs to be understood and easily categorized, so the ATS puts everything into the right spots. 

The OCR process is also crucial to make sure you are getting credit for all your keywords.  In the process, the ATS identifies the words and assigns a ranking based on the EXACT matches of words.  The words it is looking for are the ones assigned by the HR professional who uploaded the job listing into their ATS program.  I know this can confuse people so let me give you some hypotheticals and I believe the visuals will clear it all up.

Example of How Words Rank

Imagine a job listing asks for candidates with the following ten skills:  Sales, Administration, Management, Cold Calling, Team Building, Forecasting, Software as a Service, Consulting, Reporting and Closing.

If you have listed the following words in your resume: Forecasting SaaS, Cold Call, Sales, Management, Closing and Reproting.  You are automatically behind, because you are missing 3 of the skill words they were looking for.  To make matters worse, you misspelled a word, you didn’t have an exact match for another word and you used an acronym where they spelled out the full word.  All of these variations cost you points, and in turn would likely bump you out of interview contention.

Here’s how the matching would work:  You’d get credit for forecasting, sales and management.  You would not get credit for repROting because it is misspelled (done here on purpose) to illustrate the point.  You also would not get credit for SaaS even though it’s the acronym for Sales as a Service, because it wasn’t an exact match.  In this case, your score would be 40% and you’d likely not get the interview.

With a quick revision of your resume, based on the job description however, you could spell reporting correctly, spell out Sales as a Service, revise cold call to Cold Calling and nearly double your score.  If you just did that, you’d be at 70% still not likely to get the interview, but obviously much better than before.  To win the interview, you likely need to add some of the other terms that likely apply to your experience if you have the 7 skills we just referenced, you likely have the others too, as all of these are synonymous software sales management.

If you have any of the other terms, specifically listed in the job description, then you should add them to your resume.  Typically, we’re looking for word terminology that is similar to what you used, but not an exact match.  If your resume says Sales and they use the term Account Manager, if your sales experience was as an Account Manager, then you should switch it or add the term “Account Manager” next to the word sales.

Knock Out Questions

What are knock out questions?  These are questions that help eliminate people who are not eligible for a position.  They usually are yes or no type questions, such as do you have a college degree?  If having a degree is a requirement of the job and you don’t have one, answering no will knock you out of consideration.  In other words, no matter how many keywords you have matched from the job description in your resume, you still will not get an interview, if you fail a knock out question.

Before you waste your time applying to a job, you should read carefully the must haves or requirement list.  If you’re not sure, sometimes you can email the recruiter or HR person who posted the job listing and ask for clarification.

Being ghosted (not hearing back from a job poster about an application) is one of the biggest pet peeves of all job seekers.  The number one reason people get ghosted is because they were eliminated by a knockout question response.

Before You Apply

Before you submit your resume and cover letter to a job listing, make sure you have read the job listing at least three times.  Make sure you’ve gone through my check list above and are following the advice I have provided. 

If you have not exhausted your free scans, utilize jobscan.co’s free scanning service.  They give you up to five scans free, where they compare your resume to the job listing you provide.  The free scan will then tabulate your estimated score.  Please note that their score only gives you an idea of how you’ll do, as each ATS system works a bit different and there are hundreds of different ATS programs out there. 

Most industry professionals will recommend you aim for an 80% or higher match before you submit your application to the company for consideration.  Why so high?  Because if you’re below an 80% match, you’re not likely to earn the interview.

How to Manually Score Your Own Resume

If you have exhausted your free scans, you can still get a feel for how you’ll do manually.  Print out the job description and read through it one time from start to finish.  Then read it again, this time pausing to highlight all the keywords you see.  After you’ve highlighted the keywords in the job listing, read your resume and search for the keyword exact matches.  Highlight only the exact matches with the same color.  Then find words that are similar but not exact and highlight those with another color ink. 

Count the exact matches.  Divide the number of matched words you highlighted on your resume, by the number of keywords you highlighted in total on the job listing.  The answer is your percentage match.

To improve your score, go back and revise the other highlighted words that were similar to the ones used by the job listing.  To get credit for the word, it has to be an exact match. 

Now look at the remaining highlighted words still missing and if any are applicable to your skills and experience, add them into your resume too.  Ultimately your resume should be comprehensive in explaining your skills and experience. 

Your final score and odds of earning an interview are easy to calculate, when you realize how you’re being assessed. Take the new total of matched words on your resume and divided it by the total number of keywords from the job listing. The answer equals your percentage match.

Advice and Warning

Advice: Please spell check your resume every single time you make a change.  Never submit a resume with misspelled words.  Not only does a misspelled word not help you with keyword match and rankings but it also calls into question your ability to write and edit important documents.

Warning: DO NOT KEYWORD STUFF YOUR RESUME!  The goal is to earn the interview and submitting your resume for consideration needs to be above board and honest.  For those who look to “beat” the system, by adding words that are not accurate, run the risk of ruining their reputation.  If you lie or cheat, you can get blacklisted, meaning no longer eligible for hire at that company.  The screening is just the first part of the hiring process.  The interview would expose your weakness if you were to cheat the process anyway.  Getting past the screen only helps if you are actually qualified for the job that’s open.

Prepare to Interview

If you follow the advice in this article, your attitude towards the ATS will likely change for the better quickly.  The ATS gets a bad wrap as many have blamed it for failing to adapt to the more competitive nature of the labor pool.  We live in a world that is smaller in many respects, because of our increased communication via technology.  If you customize your resume properly and follow the guidelines in my checklist above, presuming your qualified, you’ll likely get an interview.  Don’t go to the interview unprepared.  Stay tuned for a future blog on how to do your research and be ready to win the interview round too.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t followed me on LinkedIn yet, please do so here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ira-bowman/

From job related posts and resume tips to great videos sharing helpful business advice, I’m here to help.  Remember that you are worth more than your paycheck.  If you will be diligent and work in a smart way, you can find a great job.  There are millions of job listings here on ProjectHelpYouGrow.com so don’t forget to come and check them on a regular basis.   Thank you for reading my blog.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments.