A client recently asked me to help her navigate an online job application because she was quite frustrated with the site’s Applicant Tracking System. I figured it was due to her technical skills and the system itself wasn’t the problem. Wow. More than an hour later we were still struggling to get her information into all the appropriate boxes, figure out if there was a spot to upload a Word or PDF document and determine if she had actually submitted her application. It was eye-opening to say the least.
Many companies have implemented Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) for employment applications. Candidate information is uploaded into a searchable database and is presented more uniformly for the employer. However, for the applicant, each system is different, requiring re-completion of the same information in multiple and different formats. The “parsing” process, by which a resume is uploaded and fields within the system database are auto-populated, is fickle and sometimes results in the need to manually fill out every data field. After painstakingly completing the data upload process, job seekers often receive only an automated reply and then hear nothing else from the company. Discouraging to say the least.
I unfortunately don’t have an easy answer to the ATS process; it can be cumbersome, but is necessary in today’s employment market. What I can offer is a few suggestions that I hope might save some time here and there.
- Create a Plain Text file format of your resume. For Microsoft Word, this means selecting Save As and choosing Plain Text as the Save As Type. This will remove all formatting from your resume. You’ll then want to “clean up” the document – fix spacing, add capital letters to differentiate sections, in general make sure everything is in the right place. For systems that remove formatting, preparing this in advance will save you from having to reformat your resume within the ATS.
- For systems that parse from an uploaded document, prepare a Plain Text version (see above) without a career summary, areas of expertise and other introductory sections. These sections can confuse the ATS system and muddle the conversion process and placement of your information.
- A minor time-saving suggestion is to have a hard copy of your resume printed out for reference, particularly while filling out dates and other details. Unless you have duplicate computer screens, it is easier to go back and forth verifying dates, job titles and the like from paper to screen.
- Some systems only have one place to upload an attachment, and don’t provide a separate place for a cover letter (or other secondary documents). If you have a letter to include (and I recommend only using a cover letter if it’s well written), save both your resume and letter into one file. The easiest way to do this is to place the cursor just before your name on your resume at the top of the page and create a page break (Control + Enter in Word on Windows). Then copy/paste your cover letter text to the blank first page. Warning: if you have a header on the second page of your resume with Name, page 2, you’ll need to modify that within the Header & Footer Design tab in Word. Select “Different First Page” and “Different Odd and Even Pages”. That will allow you to have Name, page 2 of your resume, which is really page 3 of your document. (I realize this is quite confusing; please feel free to contact me and I can walk you through it).
While completing an ATS is sometimes painstaking, it is a necessary step in the process. You’ll need diligence, savvy and above all patience; please let me know how I can help.
My best until next time,