Congratulations! You just wrote a brand-spanking new resume for yourself and you are ready to hit the pavement with it. Your accomplishments are there in big, bold statements, your shining personality marketed in perfect language, your professional history detailed in perfect precision. You are confident that anyone reading this spectacular document will fall all over themselves to hire you on the spot. You have eagerly submitted it on countless online application platforms and you are now just waiting for that phone to start ringing off the hook.

…and waiting…

So what’s the problem? There could be a million reasons you haven’t yet gotten a bite (and likely all of them are keeping you up at night), but chances are your exceptional, standout resume might be dangling idly in cyberspace, hiding in a database with thousands of other resumes that haven’t passed today’s modern recruitment “test” – the ATS.

What is an Applicant Tracking System? In short, it is a software application that assists recruiters in the daunting process of weeding out candidates by identifying key words and criteria appearing in a resume and filtering results accordingly. Many organizations use this software not only for data mining, but for managing and building relationships in the recruitment process, similar to CRM.

So why does this matter when building a resume? It’s simple – if human eyes aren’t the first to view your document, you need to know what is going to get you through this first obstacle in the application process. Above aesthetics and organization comes the need for relevant vocabulary and information, and visibility of that information in your document. In other words, if a recruiter wants a candidate to be “organized”, with specialties in “data processing” and “human resource management”, and a “MBA”, this information better be tractable in your resume.

Similar to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Resume Optimization ensures that relevant keywords appear and aren’t hidden within text boxes, charts or graphics. A carefully optimized resume will have keywords strategically used throughout the document, without “keyword stuffing”, and will focus the language in the most representative way so that meaning is maximized. Consider these few ways you can optimize your resume:

  1. Use your target ad – Job advertisements usually list important criteria that the ATS will be programmed to detect. If a job ad has a list of key areas or skills, make sure they are in your resume.
  2. Keep it clean – Fancy graphics and charts can look great to some eyes, but they can often hide the crucial content when translated into ATS-friendly text. Let the words speak for themselves and avoid too many fancy visuals.
  3. Tweak your job title – When listing your history, job titles can be an opportunity to show your experience. Altering the job title from “Project Coordinator” to “Project Manager” may seem sneaky, but if it doesn’t cross any ethical boundaries and is still representative of the work you did, fine tuning the title can give you more visibility when applying to a position of the same name. Also, you can use the headline of your resume to give yourself an overall professional title that shows your direct qualification.
  4. Have an “Areas of Expertise” section – Including a list of specialties or skills is an opportunity to highlight keywords and make them easily identifiable to ATS scanners.
  5. Don’t overstuff – While including keywords is important, stuffing your document with them is a red flag not only to ATS, but also the human recruiter that will eventually read your resume. Write your document with human eyes in mind, just as you would an article, allowing the language to be as natural as possible.
  6. Consider keyword placement – Yes, it’s a lot more enjoyable to read a document that uses synonyms and variety in language, but for an ATS variations can be a sensitive issue. If you wrote under one job title that you “consulted”, but in another you “advised”, the ATS might consider your consultant experience only in the first position. Repetition isn’t always a bad thing, so try to keep things balanced and representative.

ATS Optimization is an art, and although it isn’t the only factor to consider when developing a killer resume, it is becoming more and more valuable. Need more assistance? Contact us today with your needs.

Career Compositions

Career Compositions is a team of Certified Resume Strategists and writers offering expertise in personal branding and marketing documents for career professionals across Canada.

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