I recently wrote a popular post about why online applications are the “black hole” of job search and at best, a very frustrating way to approach your job search. More than 75% of resumes never make it through the ATS systems to be viewed by a real, human reader.
While those are horrible odds, and proactively getting your resume directly in the hands of a person is always best, there will be times where you have to apply online. As an executive resume writer and former recruiter with extensive experience in ATS systems, here are some things you can do to optimize your resume for online use, and maximize your chances of getting through the various filters.
1. Include the “right” keywords.
Keyword optimization is vital. Recruiters enter certain parameters and requirements into the software systems, and it will be searching for those words and phrases in your resume. Use the job description in the online posting as a guide – make sure you have included some of their terminology and that you clearly meet the primary criteria.
2. But don’t overdo the keywords.
Don’t try to trick the systems by dumping large amounts of keywords into your documents. ATS technology is constantly changing and improving and laundry lists of keywords will not work. Resume-parsing technology now relies on contextualization, not just keyword matches. So have your keywords included as a part of your resume content and writing – for this reason I don’t always recommend bulleted “competencies” sections for my clients. Often times some well-worded career highlights or selected accomplishments can get the job done more effectively.
3. Be specific about your skills
Most ATS are programmed to search by very specific, specialized skills and technical abilities. Your resume needs to include all of these, and depending on your industry, might even list specific computer programs, strengths, competencies and abilities in detail.
4. Ditch graphics and images.
Charts, shading and text boxes can be powerful tools when your resume is in front of a human reader. But the ATS is built to read text only, and fancy formatting just gets in the way. This does not mean that you need to make a boring, standardized resume to use all over the place, it just means that you need a text version for use exclusively with online postings. Then you can still have a more visually appealing version to present in person, or via email.
5. Create multiple resume formats.
Go ahead and have a beautiful resume with graphics, shading and strategic bolding ready to go. But also create a text version that you can submit online – that text version will be very basic, stripped of all formatting and special characters, but will be easy for the ATS to read. Then you can save the “pretty” resume for use in the interview, or for sending directly to your contact. Don’t try to make your main resume work for both things – take the time to create different versions.
6. Customize your resume each and every time you submit it. No exceptions.
If you are going to apply to an online job posting, this is critical. The software parameters are unique to each job posting, and your resume needs to reflect those requirements. So make sure you read the job description and edit your document to reflect the necessary changes each time you use it online.
The fact remains that applying to online postings is not the best way to job search. But there are times where it is necessary, and I usually advise my clients that it’s fine to spend up to 10% of your job search time with online applications.
The use of resume-parsing technologies has definitely changed how you need to approach online job search, but knowing how to structure your resume will certainly help. You will never be able to get past all the filters, it’s just how they are set up. But if you are going to take the time to apply, this will give you the best chance possible.