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What is ATS (Application tracking System) & more.

ATS - Application Tracking System. A tool which has been used by everyone who has ever applied for a job, even if they dont recognise it. This is our effort:

  • to demystify ATS

  • debunk the misconceptions around ATS and

  • offer insights as to how ATS is your partner as a job applicant, not a roadblock.

Modern technology is ushering in a new age of working practices by creating a workspace in which employees are complemented, assisted and sometimes, even replaced by ever-evolving algorithms and artificial intelligence. By integrating software into workspaces, companies aim to maximize efficiency, cut costs, and reduce manpower, all at the same time.

Although a majority of such softwares work hand-in-hand with employees, intuitively providing them with crucial resources, effectively cutting down human errors and saving precious time, some softwares serve as a filter for most job applicants.

One of the best examples, which at times becomes a night-mare for job applicants, is the Applicant Tracking System, which is responsible for screening 75% of job applications before they are seen by human eyes.

NOTE : As per a CNBC article from Dec,2019, almost 80% of the job openings are filed up through networks.

What Exactly is the Applicant Tracking System?

The Applicant Tracking System is a software used by many large multinational companies and small to medium businesses alike, to aid and assist the Human Resources department, particularly in the domain of hiring and recruitment. It is primarily used to oversee the elementary stages of hiring such as resume scanning and applicant profiling, as a screen between the thousands of applicants and the HR managers.

The main role of the applicant tracking systems is to sort through the thousands of resumes sent in, and based on certain metrics, review each resume and discard all the irrelevant ones.

This helps to narrow the applicant pool to the resumes that best match the parameters, which will be sent to hiring managers for review. The hiring managers, in turn will go through only a limited amount of resumes, thereby saving their valuable time and resources.

An important point to note here is that no matter how qualified or skilled or impressive a job applicant is, if their resume isn’t green flagged by the system, it is almost certain that no real person will ever go through the resume.

This is the reason why the applicant tracking system has become a nightmare for many job applicants.

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

Applicant tracking systems read and review applicants' profiles based on certain criteria, and rejects them if they are not a match. They also perform several peripheral tasks such as ranking resumes and storing data and information.

Some of the most common features seen across all leading applicant tracking systems are-

Shortlisting only 'right' candidates - Applicant tracking software is used to create and distribute job listings across platforms to greatly increase the talent pool. However, they guard against unwanted applicants by posting a ‘knockout questionnaire’ which has to be filled when a candidate applies for a job. If they do not answer it correctly, their profile will be discarded without even having the opportunity to send the resume.

Keyword scans of resumes - The main criteria which applicant tracking software looks for in resumes are keywords. The algorithm breaks down sentences in your resume into effective keywords which can be co-related and compared to the keywords posted in the job description. The algorithm then ranks the resumes based on the number of relevant keywords present. This is why sending in generic CV for different jobs can lead to a feeling that all your applications are being rejected.

Shortlisting candidates based on qualifications - Applicant tracking software can not only comprehensively scan resumes for job-relevant keywords, but also scan resumes and filter people out based on parameters ranging from educational qualifications to skills possessed by the applicant to work experience of an applicant.

Storing resumes - When a job listing is posted, the applicant tracking software can be programmed into collecting all applicant resumes and then storing them all in a single uncluttered space. This helps companies build up a well-organized database which can be accessed anytime during or even after the hiring process. This means that recruiters can view all the previous jobs a candidate applied for, and the outcomes of those. Past applications that received negative feedback can cause current applications from those candidates to be rejected, even if the profile is a good match.

Automated applicant communications - Modern Applicant tracking systems use artificial intelligence to handle all communication with applicants. Such communication ranges between sending rejection emails if an applicant's resume doesn’t clear the screening, to automated scheduling of interviews and calls between an applicant and the recruiter.

With the advancement in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we foresee the growing importance of ATS systems in the future for the companies. With lower costs that hiring full time employees, efficiency and smarter decision making, the ATS systems will increasingly become an essential part of any company's (startup to Fortune 500) Human Resources department.

Optimizing Your Resume For ATS

The biggest positive of ATS is that in all of its essence, the applicant tracking system is an algorithm, which means that it has certain fixed key areas or programmed parameters which it will consider while ranking resumes, no matter the circumstances. Hence, if one pays attention to the key parameters and includes them within their resume, then it will be green-flagged by the system and passed on to recruiters for review almost every time.

In the points below, you shall find some comprehensive tips and insights to overcome the challenges posed by ATS and to make sure that your resume passes the infamous ‘6-second test’.

1. Resume formatting - Job applicants make a number of mistakes when it comes to the formatting of their resumes. Many job applicants tend to make fancy, decorated resumes, but the beauty of the resume makes no difference to the algorithm- fancy formatting only makes the resume harder to parse. The applicant tracking system breaks the entire document into a text-only file, which means that the entire formatting is destroyed, and certain keywords or relevant skills may get jumbled up. If you want to use a set formatting pattern, the chronological format and combination format are preferred by the applicant tracking system algorithm.

2. Pick the correct file type for your resume - It is a common practise among applicants, while uploading their resumes, to go for a .PDF file type. While these are good to preserve document formatting and design, many of the applicant tracking systems aren’t .pdf compatible, and may misinterpret .pdf content as a ‘big picture’ as it often tends to favour read-only text. On the other hand, .docx are more easily parsed by the algorithm. This is the safer bet out of the two and if a person is unsure about the format, they should always stick to .docx.

3. Read the job description extremely well - Applicant tracking software easily filters out resumes which don’t have the right qualifications or keywords and discards them. Hence, it is imperative that the applicant reads the job description and criteria before applying to maximize his/her chances of getting hired.

Example : In a finance job posting, if the requirement clearly states that only people with an M.B.A with 5+ years of experience are required; then the applicant tracking software will look out for key terms such as ‘MBA’ and ‘5 or greater than 5’ and will automatically discard resumes which don’t have these.

4. Check for grammatical as well as spelling errors - Spelling and grammatical mistakes can ruin an applicant’s chances of getting hired. If a human was reading the resume, grammatical and spelling errors would certainly not make a good impression but an applicant could be given the benefit of doubt. However, spelling mistakes can prove to be disastrous because algorithms, unlike humans, would fail to understand misspelt words, and not know what you are trying to convey. Hence, always proof-read your resume.

Example : Suppose an applicant in the ‘skills’ section writes “project mamagement” instead of “project management”. The algorithm will not understand what “mamagement” means and will discard the application.

5. Include the correct keywords - The main aim of any applicant tracking software is to scan each resume and look for essential keywords, as programmed by the recruiters, to determine whether or not an applicant is a good fit for the role. Applicants who tailor-make their resumes for each job that they apply for, predict keywords and strategically incorporate them into their resume stand a much higher chance of beating the system.

6. Usage of long term, as well as acronyms - The usage of acronyms is highly ill-advised as most applicant tracking systems don’t relate acronyms to their full form, thereby discarding such resumes even though certain criteria might be met. There are some exceptions to this - industry or domain specific abbreviations might be acceptable.

Example: Assume for a management job, the requirement is ‘Masters of Business Administration’, and an applicant writes ‘MBA’. The software might not be able to understand this, and will reject the resume. In this case, the correct way to write it would be ‘ Masters of Business Administration (MBA)’. For a finance role, a commonly used expression is ‘ROI’. Be sure to mention the full form, ‘Return on Investment’, as the algorithm might not recognize ‘ROI’.

7. Length no bar - Unlike when a human reads a resume, the applicant tracking system does not care about the length of the resume. This gives greater freedom to the individual as he can draft a much longer resume with lots of relevant keywords without the worry of making the resume short. However, the recommended length remains 1 page for freshers and young professionals and 2 pages for senior professionals (total experience in excess of 10 years).

8. Never try to cheat or trick the applicant track system - People frequently try to manipulate or cheat the algorithm to favor their resume, by writing additional skills in white text, copying the exact job description on their resume, or even saturating their resume with keywords. Though this may fool the algorithm and send your resume further, it will easily be caught when a human recruiter reviews your resume in the following rounds. Additionally, if such a candidate does get to further rounds, it becomes painfully apparent to the interviewers that one is not qualified or relevant to the profile. This can lead to immediate rejection of an applicant and even permanent blacklisting from the company for any future jobs.

9. Use the power of networking - Sometimes, no matter how optimized your resume is, the algorithm might not rate it highly or may just dismiss it. It is a good practice to always keep a human touch while your hiring process is going on. If the recruiter is part of your network and you applied through them, always send them an email or follow up with them about your situation, as sometimes it is these ways your resume might get a second review even when the algorithm hasn’t ranked it highly. Important note: if using a reference, make sure that your CV is optimized to the best of your ability. It may create an undesirable image with your reference if they receive feedback that you were not forthcoming about your skills in your CV, or had a completely unsuitable profile.

To conclude, the need of the hour for job aspirants is building a strong, optimized resume as it helps overcome the applicant tracking system, which is and will continue to be the mainstay of the hiring process.

It always helps to have a mentor, who has worked and lived in Germany for some of the best brands. For personal consultation with Arun Mahajan, book a time with him.

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