Recruiters use software electronically to read your resume -- here's how to work it to your advantage

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Let me share a true hiring story about Bill (not his real name). Bill sent a job application to a large sporting organisation for a highly skilled role. A month on he was still waiting to hear back if he had an interview.

He then ran into a mate who worked at the sporting organisation and shared his disappointment in not getting an interview. His mate was gobsmacked as Bill ticked every box and more.
Going back to the HR department to check what had happened he found that Bills application didn’t get through the ATS culling system at all.

It was never shortlisted and read by a human. Long story short, Bill had an interview and got the job. A great ending but for many others there is no happy ever after.

So let’s look at minimising this happening.

What is an ATS?

Circa 70% of online job applications go through a predictive software system . Known as an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) these programs funnel resumes to picks relevant keywords for skills and experience to align to job specifications. They are a vital tool for large volume recruitment but the quality of results vary so organisations must use them in conjunction with other hiring and human methods.

The 2 key problems with an ATS (and there are many types) is that people are mostly clueless as to how they work. So it’s critical that CV’s get past the hiring robot.

How to do that is by doing these 11 things below:

1. The CV has to be PLAIN to be scannable – no graphics, text boxes

2. No tables or company logos (yes it’s dull but that is the way it is sorry)

3. Word Format only – (or in tandem with a PDF)

4. Well-spaced out – not cramped with a clean and clear appearance

5. Ideal fonts – Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri (minimum 10.5 or 11pts)

6. Location – put in your city and state – believe it or not some ATS programs will reject a CV if a State isn’t included (i.e. Melbourne, Victoria) – no need at all for your full address

7. Clear structured section headlines (forget the fluffy ones)

8. Industry language – if you are applying for roles outside of your current sector check for industry jargon and acronyms and tweak to simple general phrases

9. Headers & footers – Keep just for a page no – never your contact details

10. Lines and large font sizes are fine and even a different dark colour on the headlines. But no fancy pants groovy fonts

11. Keywords – this is the gold of the ATS to select for a role. Make sure the job title and top 10 keywords are on the 1st page of your CV and in the Cover letter. Bespoke your CV. You don’t need to rewrite your whole CV every time but you do need to tweak it to match the ad

Next step after applying:

Bill like most sent off a job application and then just played the ‘submissive waiting game’. Wrong! A strong proactive stance is needed – especially for senior and highly skilled roles. So after 5 -7 days pick up the phone and contact the organisation. Why? Because you need to take an purposeful approach with the intent of a) raising your brand & value proposition & b) ensuring your CV has been viewed by a human and not stuck in the pit of an ATS robot.

Approaching HR or a recruiter with the “I’m just calling to check if my CV has been received” is not a good idea and rarely well received. So ramp it up with a problem solving approach to demonstrate your value and helpfulness to them. Then within that conversation you weave in questions to confirm that your application has/is being considered by a human.

If Bill’s CV had been ATS compliant and his skills and keywords were well highlighted he would have increased his chances of getting through to a human view. He would also have increased his chances for an interview by not sitting waiting and calling the company. So there are lessons of his situation to be learnt.

Going for a job is never easy, in fact it’s a pain in the backside but it can be a whole lot easier. So step up, get a professional CV and be proactive after you have applied to that robot or human.

Sue Parker is the founder of CV Dynamix, Australia’s leading humanised job search and communications strategists.

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