Chris Havrilla, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Chris Havrilla, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Recently I had the fun of talking to a group of law students about applying for jobs. I love this topic because there are so many flaws in this process – and the systems connected to that process – that it is any wonder that candidates get jobs or Recruiters fill jobs. Most candidates have never heard of an ATS and don’t understand there is a system behind the forms they are filling out and their uploading a resume. They can’t begin to contemplate what that system might look like, how it works, or how it is used. Nor do we in HR/Talent Acquisition do much to help them understand – which is kinda crazy because if we taught candidates to understand and work the “system” right, it would make all of our lives much easier.

So this was my goal with these future legal eagles – teach them what an ATS was, and then why and how they need to”talk” to them. Secrets from a former Corporate Recruiter turned HR Tech geek – doesn’t get much better than this, right?!? Hmmm…We’ll see…But let’s start and see where this lesson leads us.

Yes, There is a System Back There

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is the back end of the Careers Page on most corporate websites. It allows a Recruiter to enter, track, and post jobs – as well as track candidates who apply to those jobs through the hiring process. And when you read those emails that tell you your resume was received will be reviewed and kept on file, even if you aren’t hired (I hope AT LEAST you got that much)– that is indicative of another important reason for an ATS. All resumes and candidate profiles are searchable by Recruiters for future or perhaps better suited opportunities.

What Do You Say to it?

  • Do your homework.
  • Target companies or jobs for which you are a fit and are a fit for you

Which means you have to know WHY it is a fit.

  • Treat your resume like a business proposal.

It should be customized for each job and company with that WHY in mind. You are selling your value, experience, and service – your resume (the proposal) should reflect this so you can get the interview (the meeting/call), and articulate these things and ask the right questions to ensure fit (the close).

How Do You Say it?

Study the job description, postings, company site, or research you have done and use keywords, terms, phrases, credentials, licenses, qualifications, or even company or client names you might have in common or are relevant — that stand out as applicable or important for the job or to the company — in your resume. This will help with relevancy algorithms within the ATS that may rank your resume. The Recruiter is also likely to use these terms when she searches database for potential candidates. Match the words the employer uses to describe the job as much as you honestly can.

The most important, relevant terms should be used in the top half of the first page of your resume – if not in your most recent experience (which the ATS already expects at the top part of your resume) then put together a summary or highlights section for the top with the detail outlined in the experience section beneath.

For an ATS, always have a simply-formatted, text based copy of your resume to cut/paste into the resume box. While many ATS’s allow for searching and parsing of uploaded documents, many still do not – or it may not work optimally – so make sure you are readable and searchable. Also be sure to upload a .DOC, .DOCX, or text-based .PDF (no images) – which will give the Recruiter a better one to print or send. If you must have a resume with fancy formatting and graphics don’t upload it — print and bring it in with you for interviews – but they rarely parse or load well into an ATS.

That’s it? Uh, no.

The bad news about this ATS you just sent you life history to? Most Recruiters think theirs sucks or they probably just hate using it, if they even use it at all.

Why, they asked. Oh I love these students already!! Recruiters want to fill jobs, not enter things in computers. Their reasons could include heavy workloads/lack of time, bad or inefficient process, bad or lack of knowledge of its search functionality, bad configuration, or maybe they just plain don’t want visibility into how the work. Many times they see it as a burden. I get it. But really, an ATS is a goldmine of rich data, and full of prospective candidates who have already applied or been referred, who have indicated an interest in the company, or who were actually sourced through the many channels available, indicating a Recruiter’s interest in them for their company. Candidates – trust me, you want to be in the ATS! Don’t avoid it! Recruiters – trust me, use your ATS!

Maybe the system is loved and used. Maybe not. Regardless, you have to do more than talk to this ATS. Like most candidates, these students had a litany of stories and questions about applications that were never acknowledged, calls they never received, and assessments they took for unknown reasons and without seeing results. Even if you talk to an ATS perfectly, neither these systems, nor the people using these systems, are perfect. Because of this, you cannot put all your eggs in the Post and Pray basket – that is, only talk to companies through their ATS — and then complain you can’t find a job.

Follow up. People who have mastered the art of networking still get the job most of the time. That’s right, talk to PEOPLE. Gasp.

Have a company you are interested in or a specific job for which you want to apply? Check Linkedin, search your contacts, talk to people – see if you can find out who you know that works there and explore being a referral (many companies pay their employees for referrals that are hired, so you are helping them too).

Or apply directly (using the guidelines above) if you don’t know someone – then find someone who is connected to an employee of the company and ask for help making a connection. This is so much better than shooting out your resume to people asking them to “keep their eyes and ears open.” People generally want to help but don’t know how – it is much easier when given a specific task.

Worst case, you know no one, and have no connections – search within the company on Linkedin for someone in Recruiting, Talent Acquisition, or Human Resources – and call or email them. Cite the job and a brief reason for why you’d be a fit, and ask if you can speak with a recruiter to ensure your resume was received. Or really crazy (as in, crazy easy), call the main number and ask to speak with someone in Recruiting or HR. They are going to now look you up in said ATS, and now you’ve ensured your well-spoken resume has been viewed. You will set yourself apart from the majority of candidates who never pick up the phone and are still complaining about not having interviews, much less jobs. Stand up and stand out and you will never have to worry about the infamous black hole. Now you have SPOKEN.


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