Applying for jobs is tough. Knowing why you’re not getting interviews from your applications may be even more difficult. Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS, could be the reason.
To help applicants better understand ATS, STC San Diego President Jack Molisani gave his talk, “Get That Interview! How to Beat the Dreaded Applicant Tracking System.” Jack presented this talk at two recent STC meetings: an STC San Francisco Bay meeting on July 14 and a joint STC San Diego/OCSTC meeting on July 20. At these meetings, Jack shared tips and tricks to help job applicants get more interviews.
What is an ATS?
An ATS is a web-based artificial intelligence (AI) that ranks and filters job applicants for human resources departments.
When an applicant submits a resume for a particular job, the ATS’ AI compares the applicant’s resume and application to that job’s requirements and description, then ranks how well the applicant matches those requirements. Only the applicants whose resumes are in the top percentage of matches as identified by the ATS will have their applications seen by a person.
What Can Applicants Do?
Jack strongly supports avoiding the ATS—the best way to beat it is to bypass it.
A majority of jobs are not posted on the web—these jobs are filled through networking and personal referrals. Many companies offer their employees a bonus for referring candidates—it’s faster and cheaper than posting the job online.
While most companies rarely list their HR or recruiter contacts on their website, most company recruiters have a LinkedIn account. Jack suggests contacting the recruiter directly: “Be polite and ask permission. ‘Hi, I see you have an opening. I’m… May I send you my resume?”
- Be visible! Write, network, and pitch yourself—avoid the ATS entirely. Let companies find YOU.
- If you have to submit your application to an ATS, use an online evaluation tool to check your resume against the posting ahead of time. Search the internet for “Is my resume ATS friendly?” to find one.
- Hiring Managers are interested in people with domain knowledge. Join industry-related groups and get a certificate in that domain. Your certificate is your public evidence that you have interest in that area, and the groups can help you network.
- Make a log of how visible you are—what articles you write and what meetings you attend. This information will help you know how many hours it takes to be visible and to successfully make those connections.
- Keep your fabulously formatted resume for the interview.
- Remember that your resume says a lot about you. If you’re an expert in Word, your in-person resume should demonstrate your expertise. If you’re an editor, don’t have any typos.
Become visible as an expert so employers ask you to work for them!
- The more visible you are, the better chances you have.
- The more visible you are, the easier it is for employers to find you.
- If you want to see how visible you are—Google yourself!
Tips to Avoid the ATS
At this session, Jack suggested ways for applicants to avoid the ATS.
- Use and build your networks.
- Get educated in your industry or field of interest.
- Become more visible.
- Try creative approaches.
1. Use and Build Your Network
- Let your network know that you are looking—personal referrals are strong endorsements.
- Keep your elevator pitch ready—you never know.
- Always have your resume and business card handy.
- When someone is hiring, ask them what they’re looking for in a candidate.
Network Through STC
- Announce that you’re looking at an STC meeting—your fellow STC members are a valuable asset.
- Volunteer for your STC Chapter and/or an STC Special Interest Group (SIG).
- Attend an STC webinar or educational session
- Speak at the STC Summit.
- Write for STC’s Intercom.
- Run for Office.
- Volunteer at the Society level.
Network Through Local Meetups
- Don’t just attend tech comm meetups—attend meetups in your industry-of-interest. Be the only tech writer in a group of researchers or developers.
2. Get Educated in Your Field of Interest
- Take a class.
- Get a certificate, for example, in a programming language.
- Download software—software is often available for a free trial—and create products with that software as portfolio pieces.
3. Become More Visible
- Write articles.
- Speak at conferences.
- Join and contribute to relevant groups on social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
- Be memorable—speak up at meetings and make connections.
4. Try Creative Approaches
- Reach out and interview people—make personal connections.
- Find fields or industries where they need the value of tech writers.
- Try usability testing, a/b testing with your approaches. See if your different approaches get different results—and share your results!
- Interview your potential recruiters. Contact recruiters at companies where you’d like to work. Ask questions as if you’re writing an article—and ask them, “May I send you my resume?”
If Your Application is Read by an ATS
- Make your resume look like the job posting—use wording from the posting. Your title and the top of your resume must match the posting exactly!
- Consider using online resources—there are websites that will check your resume against the posting.
- Avoid using language such as “familiar with”—be as specific as possible with your descriptions.
- Use a slash if the role you have is related to the role for which you’re applying, e.g., “Product Designer/UX Designer.”
- The ATS’ AI will also compare job duties to your resume—make sure that they match.
- If you don’t have one of the requirements, make a truthful statement that relates your experience to the requirement. For example, if you have used RoboHelp, but not Madcap Flare, you can say: “5 years of experience with RoboHelp, similar to Madcap Flare.”
Remember: ATS Are Not Smart. Your Resume Must Match Exactly!
- Use short sentences—put verbs and objects in close proximity.
- Make your resume as plain as possible—ATS can’t read fancy formatting, e.g., tables, text boxes, headers, or footers.
- Check out websites and books on beating the ATS.
Jack Molisani is the President of ProSpring Technical Staffing and the author of Be The Captain for your Career: A New Approach to Career Planning and Advancement. He’s been a Staff Technical Writer, a Contract Technical Writer, and a Documentation Manager. Jack is both an STC Fellow and on the STC Nominating Committee, and he also produces the Lavacon Conference on Content Strategy and Tech Comm Management.
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