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What Is an ATS? Should You Care? #jobsearch #resume

November 4th, 2014

For a few years the new buzz word in training for resume writers is how to write a resume to get through the ATS system.

ATS is “applicant tracking system,” which is kind of like JibberJobber for the recruiter.  They aren’t tracking a relationship with YOU as much as they are tracking specific job openings, who applies, and who gets to have an interview with a human.

I guess that is tracking you, kind of. But only as far as that specific opportunity goes.  There is no relationship nurturing going on… it’s all about filling open jobs, and weeding out the high percentage of people who shouldn’t have applied in the first place.

You can imagine how resume writers want to write a resume that will get through the ATS, and eventually get to the live person.  I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around the technology, but I’ve understood that most jobs people are hired for are with companies that are smaller, and might not even know what ATS means.  I’ve focused my advice more on networking into a job than on monkeying around with your resume to get it better (which I call “hiding from your job search,” since you can do that for days and weeks and not really get any closer to getting an interview).

But I keep my ears open to what the experts are saying, and am always looking for any information I can share with you.  When I saw this article on LinkedIn from Louise Kursmark, I knew it would have important information.  I think this is a super-important perspective because she is a well-known resume writer who has trained hundreds, maybe thousands, of resume writers. Louise gave me permission to repost her article here (original post)… I hope this helps you with your job search strategy today!

ATS: I Couldn’t Care Less

louise_kursmark_headshotATS – Applicant Tracking Systems – cause a lot of twitter and chatter among job seekers and resume writers. I might even call it an obsession about finding the keywords, mimicking the job posting, and designing the document to get through the automated screener.

Personally, I think that obsession is a distraction from the real work of job search.

Even if your resume is a perfect match for the job posting, you have a very small chance of being chosen for an interview. That’s because your resume is one of dozens or even hundreds competing for just a handful of top slots. It’s likely at least a few other candidates will have qualifications that are slightly stronger or a background that’s just a bit closer to the ideal specified by the recruiter or employer.

So it’s easy to spend a lot of fruitless time trying to rise to the top of a very large pool. And when you don’t, you feel frustrated, discouraged, maybe even depressed and angry.

My advice: Have a keyword-rich, simply formatted resume that stands a reasonable chance of making it through the ATS. Then, spend less time applying to posted openings and more time getting referrals into the companies you’re interested in.

Use your network to find a connection, ask for an introduction, and start a dialogue. Rather than applying for a job, have a conversation about the company’s needs and how someone with your background might be able to help. Become a real person rather than a piece of paper or collection of keywords.

Chances are very good that you’ll be able to parlay many of those conversations into actual interviews for real jobs. Even if you don’t, you’ve built another strand in your web of connections that will ultimately lead you to your next job.

And isn’t it more satisfying to have a colleague-to-colleague business discussion than to be judged (and rejected) based on a mysterious set of keyword qualifications?

Thank you, Louise, for a real perspective and great advice!  There really is no way around doing some of the hard work in the job search!

5 Comments »

5 responses to “What Is an ATS? Should You Care? #jobsearch #resume”

  1. […] dig into the post from yesterday, and dissect some of Louise Kursmark’s advice.  It’s a short article, but […]

  2. I totally agree that the “human to human” side of your job search is the key, since most jobs aren’t obtained by applying to jobs online.

    However, the reality is that many job seekers still rely on applying to jobs online as a major part of their job search, for one reason or another. If that’s true of you, you really do need an ATS-friendly resume.

  3. Jason Alba says:

    Thanks for the comment Thea. My comments:

    >> many job seekers still rely on applying to jobs online as a major part of their job search,

    Let me suggest that, depending on the level of person, or position they are looking for, wasting time on applying to online jobs, and having it be a major part of their job search, will hinder them until they finally try to figure out why they aren’t getting anywhere.

    In other words, that they choose to implement a strategy that might be totally wrong for them doesn’t mean we change the message in the original post… perhaps they need there own post titled “stop using job boards! You rally aren’t an exception!”

    >> you really do need an ATS-friendly resume

    Let me suggest that what Louise is talking about is indeed ATS-friendly.

    It might not be completely ATS optimized (although stripping out things that supposedly choke an ATS, like graphics or whatever, and putting in keywords) it’s still ATS friendly.

    Now an interesting post would be how to write an ATS optimized resume… want to do a guest post here?

  4. Sophie Lagacé says:

    I firmly believe that ATS are an after-the-fact hurdle, something you have to route a copy of your resume through _after_ you’ve talked to the right people in the organization. It doesn’t get you a job; its purpose is to screen OUT applicants, not let them in.

  5. Jason Alba says:

    Sophie, I totally agree, in general.

    Reminds me of the experience I had where I had a job offer and we’d had hours of talks/interviews… and then right before the end of it all the CFO says “oh yeah, you need to fill out an application…” It had been copied a few times and looked like a McDonalds application, but it had a lot of re-copied dark stuff …

    The formalities + human nature = craziness in the job search :)