Everybody knows what a FICO score is and how it rules your life. A good FICO score and doors open at your feet; a bad FICO score and finding a place to live or car to drive can be very, very difficult. Most job seekers are unaware of the equivalent in the HR world: ATS. Doesn’t sound all that formidable, does it? Well, in today’s HR world, Applicant Tracking Systems decide whether you get an interview or a polite rejection notice.

ATS is used by nearly all major corporations and being adopted by small businesses, too
Virtually every large employer uses one or more automated tracking systems to manage their recruitment and resume screening process. If you’re submitting a resume to Google or Target or Goldman Sachs, it’s being digitized and summarized in an ATS. It used to be that the expense and complexity of setting up ATS prevented small businesses from using them, but new Software as a Service (SaaS) ATS vendors have begun marketing their offerings to small business owners.

What a recruiter or hiring manager sees when they view your resume through an ATS
Firstly, they don’t see your resume, so all the hours put into creating the perfect presentation largely go unused. Not to say that a resume that looks good is not important (it’s vital), but at this stage of the game, its not even visible.

ATS Screenshot

Sample Screenshot of how your resume looks in an ATS

Instead, they see a snapshot of your information like the screenshot above. Think of it like a FICO score – all of your information distilled down to a single numerical score.

ATS has a very high error rate
As noted by CIO Magazine, applicant tracking systems are error prone. To work properly, they require standardization – in file formats, resume wording and resume structure. I can tell you first hand that resume wording and resume structure are not standardized – and really shouldn’t be.

ATS exists to kill a large number of applicants – fast
CIO estimates that 75% of resume submissions are rejected by automated tracking systems – just as their makers and users intend. Hiring is frequently a numbers game, and any tool that can help you take 237 applications down to 38 will find widespread use. Remember, ATS is their friend, not yours.

How to kill (or at least tame) the beast
Standardization and customization are the only surefire ways to get your resume through to a human reviewer. Following these four steps should receive a suitably high score to pass beyond ATS’ all powerful gates:

  1. Mirror keywords from the job description in your resume
  2. Create a bulleted list of keyword-heavy skills
  3. List your work experience as Company Name, Title, and then Dates Worked
  4. Upload your resume as a Word document or plain text file. PDFs are great for human readers, but ATS tend to have problems parsing the information