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How to Navigate an ATS

A robotic gatekeeper: How to navigate an ATS, getting past the robot gatekeeper

Author: Mike Scaletti

Are you familiar with the invisible wall in job hunting? It's not your lack of qualifications or experience, nor is it the tight competition. In today's digital age, it's the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), a robotic gatekeeper guarding the entry to your potential workplace.

Understanding the Digital Gatekeeper: What is an ATS?

infographic of how an ATS works
How an ATS works

Before we jump into the secret tactics to beat this game, let's understand the rules. Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS for short, are sophisticated software tools that companies use to streamline their recruitment process. Think of them as your first round of interviewers, but these interviewers scan your resume and cover letter for specific terms and data that align with the job description. If your application lacks the right elements, it's like hitting an invisible wall—it's going nowhere.

But there's no need for despair! With the right strategies, you can navigate this system effectively. Below, we've gathered key power-ups to ensure your resume and cover letter not only get noticed—they get serious consideration.

Power-Up #1: Speak Their Language—Use Relevant Keywords

Consider each job application a unique challenge in the game, each requiring a different set of skills and experiences. As such, tailoring your resume and cover letter to each application is crucial.

A magnifying glass focusing in on keywords.
Always look for the keywords

The job description is your treasure map—explore it, pull out relevant skills, experiences, and terminology, and incorporate them into your application. ATS are programmed to pick up these exact terms, so using them as they are in the job description is paramount. Remember, you're trying to speak the ATS's language here, not impress it with your rich vocabulary or use of acronyms.

Power-Up #2: Keep It Simple—Opt for Straightforward Formatting

While we all love a touch of creativity, ATS's tend to fumble when it comes to deciphering complex formats or unusual layouts. As much as possible, stick to standard formats like Word documents or straightforward text files.

Let your layout mirror the functionality of the ATS—clean, efficient, and easy to navigate. Decorative elements, while pleasing to the human eye, may confuse the digital gatekeeper. Simplicity and clarity are your allies in this battle.

Power-Up #3: Attention to Detail—Avoid Headers, Footers, and Typos

Your strategy's success hinges on the minute details—in this case, avoiding the placement of vital information in headers and footers. Some ATS systems might skip these sections, causing them to miss crucial details about your candidacy. So, ensure your name, contact information, and other critical details are safely positioned within the main body of the document.

Don't overlook the importance of proofreading either. ATSs are not forgiving when it comes to spelling and grammar mistakes. If a keyword is misspelled, the ATS might as well be blind to it.

Power-Up #4: More is More—Submit a Longer Resume

A robot reading a long resume
The robots are happy to read longer resumes

In the unique world of ATS systems, more is indeed more. Unlike a human reader, an ATS doesn't get overwhelmed by longer resumes. Therefore, while maintaining clarity and conciseness, don't shy away from providing complete information. If a detail is relevant and presents you as a more equipped candidate, include it. The extra space might just give you an extra edge.

Power-Up #5: Universal Language—Use Standard Job Titles

Unique job titles may add a dash of personality to a company's culture, but they can trip up an ATS. To avoid this, include a universally recognized job title in parentheses next to your official title. This step ensures that both the ATS and human recruiters grasp the nature of your past roles accurately.

Power-Up #6: Stand Out—Use Bullet Points and Include a Skills Section

To boost your chances of catching the ATS's 'eye', consider using bullet points rather than lengthy paragraphs. ATS's, much like human readers, find information in bullet form easier to digest and analyze.

Adding a distinct skills section to your resume could act like a keyword magnet, catching the attention of the ATS while neatly showcasing your abilities. This section gives you a chance to include all relevant skills, serving both as a keyword-rich area and as an easy reference point for recruiters.

Navigating the maze of ATS doesn't have to be a formidable task. Instead, treat it as a game—a game you're now well-equipped to win. Remember, your mission isn't just to bypass the robotic gatekeeper, but also to impress the human reader who'll assess your application next. An effective blend of ATS-friendly strategies and human-centered clarity is your pathway to making a compelling impression.

So, are you ready to conquer the ATS and scale that invisible wall? Power-ups in hand, it's your turn to play. Good luck, player—you've got this!

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