Unfortunately for many job seekers, more often than not they are unaware of how electronic communications can affect their job search. It is estimated that more than half of all resumes submitted electronically are rejected, no matter how well qualified a candidate may be for the job. If a candidate thinks that an electronic resume submitted to a company that has posted a position is reviewed by a decision maker, the candidate would be correct, except more often than not that decision maker is a software program instead of a person. The program looks for key words, phrases, and acronyms that will determine whether the resume will ever be in front of human eyes. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are the default tool for deciding which resumes proceed and which ones are eliminated well before a hiring manager ever talks to anyone. Additionally, even when a resume does contain enough of those key words, phrases, and acronyms in the right place within the document, it is usually just the portions of the resume that have that specific content that are presented to human decision makers, not the entire document.
Candidates who try to sound too formal or who use too many less common phrases to describe something simple often eliminate themselves as a result of their clever choice of words. For example, a candidate may have an outstanding skill set and excellent experience for a particular job, but if that a candidate uses "Scholastic Achievements" rather than "Education" to list and describe their formal training, the ATS may very well ignore that entire section. Or, if "Work Experience" is discarded in favor of "Employment History," the ATS may ignore the information in that section. Any ATS program can be set up to either look for or ignore whatever the user want to use as screening criteria, including the overuse of any term.
Does this type of system sometimes eliminate candidates who would be/could be outstanding hires? Absolutely it does, but the hope and expectation of the users is that the system will select the top five or ten (or whatever number they choose) resumes and that a worthy applicant, or two, or three will surface from that process, and that from that number an excellent candidate will emerge. The additional benefit to the reviewer is that the process is much faster than anything a person could accomplish.
If you are writing your own resume, be aware of how it may be evaluated. Do your research and learn as much as you can about what the company is seeking and do not try to use a different name for something than what the company uses. Often the job description and/or job requirements provided by the company will give you much of what you need to know. One of the main reasons that an Applicant Tracking System is used in the first place is to save time. When a company lists specific skills, certifications, education, or experience as requirements, they will usually get at least seven or eight resumes that do not meet those requirements for every one that does. Those resumes take as much time to read as do those that do meet the standards in place. The applicants who send in the resumes that do not qualify do so with the attitude of having nothing to lose, so why not try? A good ATS will weed out the time wasters.
If you are working through a recruiter, the ATS is usually irrelevant. The recruiter is the one who does the vetting. However, if you are submitting a resume to an electronic collection box, you can be assured that what you submit will be screened by an ATS. If you are thinking of using a professional resume writer, be sure to inquire about that writer's familiarity with ATS systems for the particular job/industry you are pursuing. Familiarity and competence in one or two industries does not automatically imply the same expertise in others. The best writers know the key terms and where they should appear in the resume.
If you are attempting to re-enter the working world after a significant time away from it, or if you have been in a job for several years and have not needed or prepared a resume lately, know that it is a different world than what you experienced previously. Ignorance of that fact could keep you from getting the job for which you may be ideally suited.
Ken Murdock is the owner of Murdock and Associates Recruiters and New Wave Resumes. He recruits top talent in sales, project management, accounting/finance, manufacturing operations, and engineering for the manufacturing sector, oil & gas, construction, and the packaging industry. New Wave Résumés offers professional résumés and interview coaching for executives, mid-level professionals, recent graduates, and anyone seeking to take their skills and talents into a new career.