Career Corner: ATS-The ‘Bot Every Job Hunter Needs to Know About


By Maurice Kumalo (Kumamoto ALT 1999-2002).

According to Hollywood, robots will change the world into a machine-centric dystopia. In the real world you may have heard that robots will change the workplace. The truth is they already have and not just on the manufacturing floor. The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, The New York Times and others media outlets have covered how machines will change the workplace. If you are a job seeker of any sort – that includes JETs of all stripes – you need to know how they are changing it now.

We all know this type of person (maybe you are this person); highly talented, smart, hardworking, capable, and personable. Or you are a JET with a set of diverse and unique experiences in a foreign land, wanting to translate that experience to the Canadian context while avoiding resume black hole. However, they cannot catch a break in the job market even after sending out tens if not hundreds of resumes. Now before you suggest that our job seeker invests time, energy, and or money to change careers, perhaps you should tell them about the most important bit of automation or ‘bot they may not have heard about, ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Every job seeker and especially JETs should learn about the ATS before or even during the pursuit of any of those other noble options.

What is the ATS?

Let’s say you are chef in Glasgow, Scotland like Justin Valmassoi, and you post a job opening online; you receive than 100 applications. On average there are 250 resumes sent in for the average corporate job posting. Remember that is on average, some jobs may receive many more applicants. How will you sift through all those applications? Chef Valmassoi decided to write a brutally honest job posting and ended up hiring three people and not one. However, most companies or even small businesses, will opt for the ATS to sort out all of the resumes that will surely flood in with every job posting.

Like most things that come up into the current zeitgeist the ATS has been in development for a long time. The first ATS programs were developed circa 1998-1999 about a half decade after the first public internet job search site, The Monster Board was created in 1994. So for the last fifteen or sixteen years the robots have been the gatekeepers to getting your resume seen by a human hiring manager who will spend on average 30 seconds looking at  your resume or 90 seconds if they are interested.

How Does it Work?

The ATS automates the process of sorting through thousands of resumes to find the best fit for the job that has been posted. As James Hu, CEO of Jobscan, a resume optimization company, wrote recently, “Applicant Tracking Systems operate by matching keywords in the resume to the keywords they are programmed to accept for the particular position.” And if the artificially intelligent software algorithms find a match they will send your application to the next stage of the hiring process. As with any system the software can present some challenges to users.

As Peter Cappelli a Wharton professor, and Wall Street Journal contributor, explained to Paul Solman on the Sept 15, 2012 broadcast of the PBS Newshour, “people who have applied for jobs in their own company, for example, and couldn’t get hired.  They pretended to be an applicant with the same abilities and resumes they have and they got kicked out of the process (emphasis mine).”

In essence you have to make you resume ATS ready if you want to go through the route of submitting resumes to online job postings.

Be ATS Ready

It may not be you. It could be your resume that is keeping you from landing your dream job. Not only must your resume be made to be read by human eyes, it has to be machine ready too. You can find a link here about making your resume ATS ready, here however, are some helpful hints:

  • Keep the formatting simple.
  • Nail down keywords using services like Jobscan which compares your resume and the job description or you can use free tools, Wordle and TagCrowd (this is especially good because it can show you the frequency of words used in a job description).
  • You can try LinkedIn Premium which matches the keywords in your resume with those in the job description. You can also see how you stack up against the competition.
  • Adapt your resume but don’t lie. You will get caught.
  • Make sure your resume is free of spelling errors!

Always another Way

Just as artificial intelligence has changed how we do our job searches some companies are already turning to newer technologies to find the ideal candidate. L’Oreal, as I wrote earlier this year has changed how they recruit in China. They use SeedLink Technology’s RCXUE to read applicants’ answers to opened questions to find people to interview bypassing the whole ATS for a new artificially intelligent option. Time will tell if SeedLink Technology will gain traction.

So before you invest time, energy, and money in other options try getting to know the ATS and be ready for it. Yes it will mean customized resumes for each job application but it it’s worth the effort.

If you can think of other helpful information about the ATS please share them. Stay savvy my friends.


*Other Helpful Hints

Other HR professionals will suggest that you network; there is a great article about that topic, even if you are an outgoing person, by Jeff Haden. In essence have a service mindset and network to seek people you can help and not just people who can help you. And approach someone at networking events who like you looks out of place and make it your mission to make them more comfortable and then you’ll be more comfortable! Or you could contact a specific hiring manager at a company you are interested in that needs your skills (but don’t ask for a job) and give them a resume if they ask for it. And finally volunteer, it’s a great way to keep up your skills, connect with people, and to do some meaningful work.

Note: The original version of this article was written for LinkedIn Posts. You can find it here.

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