How To Keep Your Resume From The Applicant Black Hole

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By Arnie Fertig

Have you wondered what happens to your résumé when you submit it online? The "black hole" it enters is actually an applicant tracking system database. Virtually every major and midsize company, governmental organization and recruiting firm employs this kind of software to contain, manipulate and access the large volume of resumes they receive.

Robin Schlinger, owner of Robin's Resumes, recently outlined how job hunters can best avoid the landmines associated with submitting a resume online at the Career Empowerment Summit, a conference for elite professional résumé writers and career coaches organized by Career Directors International.To get your résumé read, scored highly and acted upon, she offers the following tips:

1. Divide your résumé into clear sections, and use common headers for each one. ATS software often takes cues about what to do with information within a résumé from the heading it is found under. It parses the information and puts it into the database bucket that it "thinks" is the most relevant.

Even if you have the skills, accomplishments or certifications an employer is looking for, if this information isn't located in the right section of your résumé, it likely won't be found. The result is you dramatically decrease your chances of gaining "human" consideration.

Standard headings include: Contact Information, Summary, Professional Experience, Education, Training, Certifications and Skills.

Schlinger suggests using "Professional Experience" as opposed to "Work History" or just "Experience," especially if you have been out of work a while. When handled this way, it becomes fair to include experience you have acquired volunteering when the skills and accomplishments relate to the position you are seeking. Make certain, also, that your listed skills match up exactly on your résumé and LinkedIn profile.

Throughout the résumé, use keywords and phrases you find in the job announcement wherever possible to describe your experience and successes to achieve a higher matching score.

2. Not all ATS systems are alike. There are many systems available today, from large-scale enterprise solutions utilized by corporations to desktop versions suitable for a single recruiting desk. Each imports and stores data its own way, and offers different features to end-users.

When crafting a résumé, Schlinger warns: Some ATS can only read text or Word 2003 files. Many cannot read tables or graphics, some cannot scan italic or underlined words and many will substitute funny characters for non-standard or special characters. Since some can read paper with narrow margins and crammed text while others are incapable of doing so, you should be certain to have adequate margins and use a very standard or "vanilla" font like Helvetica.

Save "pretty" formatting with lines, boxes, graphics, pictures or color for a bio or a different version of your résumé that you distribute in person.

Schlinger goes so far as to suggest that when meeting someone at a company where you want to work, provide them with the dressed-up résumé and another one that is more ATS friendly. You might even say: "Here is a copy of my résumé for you, and in case you want to include it in your company's database, here's another one that will be better suited for that purpose."

3. Myth: You can avoid the ATS black hole by networking.

Reality: While networking is an indispensable part of working your way into a company, many companies require that all résumés, no matter how they are obtained, be put into an ATS system for both compliance reasons and to prevent charges of discrimination.

4. Myth: You can avoid networking by going through the ATS.

Reality: No matter what ATS system is utilized, hiring managers like hiring people they know, or people who are directly referred to them by others they know and trust. If your timing is right, a hiring manager might identify what you offer as priorities for which they request an ATS to screen. And you can still receive preferential treatment once your application is approved through an ATS compliance function.

It is easy to feel slighted when your résumé doesn't rise to the top. And it is easy to blame the grading criteria applicant tracking systems use when you aren't hired for a job. But the reality is that ATS software treats all candidates equally. It is your job to make certain you present your qualifications in a clear format, with content that can be understood both by human beings and ATS software.

When you study the suggestions Schlinger sets forth, you can better understand the "rules of the ATS road" and employ them to your advantage.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.
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