The worst part about applying to jobs is the need to complete all of those fields. It seems odd that you have to enter all that information again after uploading your perfectly crafted resume. Employers may be trying to improve this process, but the applicant tracking systems aren't helping. Here is everything you need to know about uploading your resume and how to save time in completing those online job applications.

The Role of the Applicant Tracking System

Employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to find and filter their candidates through the hiring process. Over 97% of all Fortune 500 companies and over 70% of all other companies use an ATS. Even those that don't use an official ATS are using commercial job boards like Indeed or Ziprecruiter like an ATS. So, if you are applying online to jobs then your resume is going through an ATS.

Why It Matters

The applicant tracking system is the employer's database of all the people that have applied to its open jobs. Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals actively search this database to find and communicate with the people that have applied for the jobs.

The ATS also has a number of automations that are intended to make the jobs of recruiters and talent acquisition professionals jobs easier. These automations include the automatic rejection of candidates that do not meet the requirements of the open position based on the words on their resume and candidate profile.

What does this mean? It means that the ATS are scanning your resume and candidate profile for certain information to determine if you are qualified for the job that you applied to. If this content does not appear on your resume and/or in your candidate profile, then you will not be deemed qualified for the job that you applied for. Instead, you will probably receive one of those fast responses via email or text that "although your credentials are impressive" the employer is not proceeding with your application.

The number of applications has skyrocketed. This means that the recruiter cannot spend the time in most cases to review all of the applications. So, most HR people rely on the ATS and will not even look at the applications that were automatically rejected.  Instead, they have to focus their efforts on qualified candidates. This means that the recruiter is using the fields in the ATS to search for the people that meet the requirements. Thus, candidates that show up in these searches are those that set up their candidate profiles fully and submitted ATS compliant resumes with the right information for the jobs they are pursuing.

On average, about 75% of resumes are automatically rejected by the ATS. Keep reading to find the tips on what to do and what to avoid when submitting your resume in order to land the interview and not get stuck in the ATS black hole.

What Not to Do

The following are what to avoid on your resume and in its submission if you want to get through the resume bots and land an interview.

Forgetting Keywords

The applicant tracking systems scan the words on the resume for keywords. These keywords can be pre-determined by the ATS or customized by the recruiter. Forgetting these keywords or using the wrong keywords on your resume is the fastest way to be deemed unqualified by the applicant tracking system.

Fancy Fonts

Love a pretty font? Too bad the ATS can't read these styles. The ATS is scanning the words on the page to determine if you are qualified for a job. It doesn't care what font is used, but it must be able to read the font. Using a font that is overly curvy or graphic will make it impossible for the ATS to interpret the information you are trying to convey.

Using Word or Pages

Submitting your resume in Word or Pages format can cause more problems than you realize. First, these formats contain information embedded in them about who created the files, when the file was created, how long was spent on editing the document, etc.. You probably don't want the recruiter to know this level of detail (and it is not hard to find).

Second, most companies do not use Pages (Apple's equivalent of Microsoft Word or Google Docs) widely in their operations. So, most ATS do not effectively (if at all) scan the Pages format.

Heavy Formatting

Spend a lot of time building the perfect infographic or finding the best graphics for your resume? Chances are good that the applicant tracking system scanning your resume can't read the information properly - if at all. The ATS programs are all driven by the words on the page NOT by the visuals. So, building a pretty resume will often result in one of those automated rejections when applying to jobs online.

Naming the File "Resume"

The title of the resume file can also matter. Recruiters will often download the file to their desktop and then upload it to their ATS. Their computers will simply write over the existing "Resume" files when they save the next one to their device. So, in this case, your resume will never even make it to the ATS unless the recruiter takes the time to rename the file for you.

See Resume

The online applications can take forever and seem like you are completing a lot of the same information over and over. It can be tempting to simply say "See Resume." However, many companies treat these online applications as official job applications and will not accept submissions with the "See Resume."

The fields where you enter this information can also serve as searchable fields by recruiters who review candidates to determine if they want to open the person's resume. So, if you simply say "See Resume" you can make the decision easy to reject your application.

Not Completing the Fields

Skipping over the fields in the online submission process can also kill your job application. These fields may be the official job application and be required by the company to determine if you meet their requirements or culture. Or, as noted above, the talent acquisition team may use these fields to determine if they want to review the person's resume. And, leaving these fields blank is a missed opportunity to convince the person or the system that you are a fit for the job. This is why skipping the fields in the application process is frequently a fast track to an automatic rejection.

Forgetting Your Referral Sources

Candidates with an employee referral are 4x more likely to land the job. And, in many cases, these candidates will automatically be shortlisted for an interview. Forgetting to reference your referral source in the application or asking your contact for help in the application process means that the ATS and recruiting team won't know about your connection. In that case, you probably won't get the benefit of your referral.

What to Do

Now that you know what to avoid, the following covers everything you should do when submitting your resume for those online job applications.

Select the Keywords Carefully

Pick the right keywords for your resume to ensure that you show up as qualified for the jobs that you are applying for. This means looking at the job description and using those words on your resume if appropriate. These words will determine if your resume makes it through the applicant tracking system.

Use an ATS friendly resume

Build a resume that works with the applicant tracking systems. This means no graphics or heavy formatting. It also means putting details under the professional experiences to show the systems what you did where.

And, make sure that the ATS-friendly resume will also work with the people that will skim the resume. Make sure that the people who will likely interview you can connect with your experience when they skim the resume. So, build an ATS-compliant resume that also works with the people who will make the hiring decisions.

Pick the Right Font

The font you choose will not improve your visibility with the ATS or the hiring manager. But, it can hurt your application.

Select a font for your resume that is easy to read by the ATS and the people who will skim it. Keep it basic like Arial, Calibri, Garamond, or other similar fonts. This will ensure that your resume can be read by the ATS so that your information can get into the system the right way.

Submit Your Resume the Right Way

Your resume file should be submitted in pdf format unless the instructions say otherwise. And, make sure that you name the file completely. This means putting your name on the resume file and including the job title or key talking points. Alternatively, you could include the requisition number in the name of your resume file. This would help with tracking your applications if you are pursuing multiple roles at the same company.

For example:

"John Smith - Experienced Business Development Manager"

OR

"John Smith - Business Development Manager Req ID 55555"

Reformat the Content in the Fields

The applicant tracking systems should be able to parse the contents of your resume to help pre-fill the application fields. But, even the best-built resume can't be read perfectly. So, make sure that you spend the time to reformat the content in each field so that it can be read properly by the systems or people that will review it.

This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it will show the skills that you likely are trying to communicate that you have (i.e. detailed, direct, thorough, etc.). Second, it will ensure that all of the right information is getting into the employer's systems.

To minimize the time that you spend reformatting, keep a version of your resume that is plain text. Use this version of your resume only for purposes of reformatting or completing the fields for the online applications. It will save you tons of time overall.

Use Copy/Paste

You can copy/paste the information from your resume into the fields. This can be after the resume has been parsed by the ATS. Or, you can choose to complete the online application this way without uploading your resume. Whatever way you choose, make sure that you are copying and pasting over all of the information from your resume to complete the fields.

Fully Answer the Questions

As the candidate, you don't know who uses the information or how it will be searched in the system later. In many cases, these details are used to determine if you meet the basic requirements for the job. So, the best way to show up as qualified is to input all of the information requested and to do so honestly.

You must answer all of the questions when applying to jobs online. It is definitely redundant and time-consuming, but this can be the only way to land the interview.

Make It Easy For Yourself

Take the time to think about ways that you can make completing all of those online applications easier for yourself. For example, as noted above, you could create a plain text version of your resume to use when completing those online fields.

Second, you could create a running document to keep track of all those additional job applications that are asked. You can use this to compile your answers and to reformat them for future applications. This will prevent you from repeating the same work over and over.

Third, think about the jobs that you are applying for and make sure that you are spending your time wisely. If you have applied to several jobs at the same company with no response, then the time may have come to move on. Or, if you aren't getting any response after a lot of applications, it may be worth having someone review your resume to see if there is a disconnect between your message and the jobs that you are pursuing.

Ask for Help

Most importantly, made sure that you are asking for help in your job search. This can mean asking for someone to review your resume or to get professional help in building a resume that gets through the ATS. Companies like The Contingent Plan will review your resume for free to provide insights on how your resume is actually performing.

Asking for help should also mean that you are tapping into your professional network to get referrals. This is particularly important post-pandemic with the number of online applications at its peak and employers remaining cost-conscious through the continued uncertainties.  So, the value of your network is higher than ever and you should ask for help from your connections to make the most of your job search efforts.


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