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Beat the System! Five Insider Facts about Resume Databases and How to Stand Out

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If you’ve been job-hunting in the past several years, you’ve no doubt discovered that many companies now use resume databases, otherwise known as applicant tracking systems (ATS). While most of the recruiting process requires serious prep for in-person, human interaction, it’s just as important to be prepared for the technology used by companies to organize resumes. But do you really understand ATS technology and how it works? More importantly, do you know how to design a resume that will pass muster with the ATS to get you the interview? If not, read on to get all the facts from Aerotek’s expert recruiters.

1. The Basics
“An applicant tracking system is just that — a system that tracks applicants,” explains Recruiter Lead Kate Schendel. “Companies use these systems to store and sort applications and resumes.” Ideally, says Schendel, “ATS software applications help companies stay organized and recruit the most suitable candidates for the positions they need to fill.”

2. The Black Hole
If you’re like many of us, you’ve applied to online job postings and come away with the sense that your resume has disappeared into the system, never to be seen again. Sr. Professional Recruiter Jackie Ross believes that people get this impression when they don’t receive a response after submitting their resumes.

Sr. Professional Strategic Delivery Manager Kate Keller agrees. “Many of these companies receive so many resumes that they aren’t able to respond to each candidate individually. Often, they only reach out to candidates who seem most qualified for the position. The rest receive no feedback.”

3. The Format
Pay attention to submission requirements, advises Julie A. Lewis, senior professional account recruiting manager. “If a resume is submitted in a format that cannot be searched by recruiters, it may indeed be overlooked,” Lewis says.

“Format types may vary,” says Lewis, “but most systems will indicate what formats are acceptable. Typically, doc, docx and PDF files work well.”

Likewise, skip the fancy formatting and uncommon fonts since ATS scanners may be unable to read them. Instead, make your resume, clean, concise and legible. Free online word processors, like Google Docs, can help you meet submission requirements.

4. The Skill-Set
When applicants don’t receive a response, Senior Professional Recruiter Sam Yeomans maintains it’s likely because they do not meet the job requirements.

“When you apply to a position and you’re not qualified, it can seem like you didn’t take the time to read the job description or you’re unrealistic about the opportunities available to you,” Yeomans adds.

Furthermore, says Yeomans, “Phrases such as ‘hard-working’ and ‘extremely reliable’ take up precious resume space better used for measurable qualifications. Soft skills are important, but save them for your face-to-face interview.”

5. The Game Plan
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to maximize the likelihood that your resume makes it through the ATS and gets reviewed by a real human being!

Matt Wiehe senior professional recruiter, recommends that candidates tweak their resumes before applying. “Don’t submit your master resume to every job opening,” he advises. “To avoid being passed over, your resume must match the job posting. If the job to which you’re applying requires particular skills that you have, be sure these skills are clearly listed on the resume so they can be picked up by the ATS.”

Likewise, says Ross, “It’s important to include industry-relevant key words and phrases that are used in the job description.”

But don’t go overboard with the key words, lest you make prospective employers suspicious. “Stick to those terms that are directly related to skills and work experience required for the position,” says Account Recruiting Manager Matthew Naples.

Aerotek recruiter panelists, Kate Keller, Julie A. Lewis, Matthew Naples, Jackie Ross, Kate Schendel, Matt Wiehe and Sam Yeomans contributed to this article.

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