How to Avoid the Black Hole: Understand How Applicant Tracking Systems Work

by Alex Freund

Applicant Tracking System

In this context, the black hole is not a scientific term but rather the annoying condition when people apply for posted job openings and they never hear back. It is very frustrating because applying for positions is a time-consuming effort often with no results. But why is this so prevalent? The answer is simple; because 72% of job applications are never seen by the human eye. Applicants need to understand that different from the past most companies today, except for the smaller ones, are utilizing software named Applicant Tracking System, in short ATS. This software acts similarly to the spam filter on your email. The majority of your spams never reach your inbox thus, you are not even aware of it.

How Does an Applicant Tracking System Work?

The ATS scans resumes and then takes relevant information and plugs it into predetermined columns by categories in its database. For example, the contact information on the top of the resume is plugged into the database so that the recruiter can sort it and search. The applicant’s education goes into a slot in the ATS assigned for education and so forth. If such information is not properly picked up from the resume the entire content might be omitted or placed in a different part of the ATS’s database. Often, resumes have section headers or titles different than what the ATS is expecting. Assume a section title on the resume says “Further Training and Skills”. This may confuse the ATS, and again this may result in omission of the entire section or attaching this section to another area where it does not belong. The human brain can deal with such variations and exceptions but not the computer. Another example might be placing periods when separating sections in a 10 digit phone number instead of what the ATS is expecting such as the area code to be in parenthesis and then separating the first three digits from the last four by a dash. And there are many other such examples by which the ATS is not properly coding the resume.

How is the Recruiter Using the Information in Front of Him?

The recruiter can sort the information provided to him by the ATS by status. For example: interviewed, hired, offered, in-review or rating at his discretion, geographical location or he may even tag it for future sorting. He can also group people by skills or other criteria he establishes as relevant to his search.

Conclusion

  • Use conventional terminology when using section headers. Check others to see what is common. This is not an area to use your creativity.

  • Use synonyms, for example HR and Human Resources, since you never know what keywords the recruiter is using.

  • Best if you apply for one position at a company. If you apply for more than one position the second position might be ignored unless the recruiter is manually indicating that this is the second position you apply for.

  • Use Jobscan – software that allows you to compare the words used in the job description to better match your resume.

A Final Word

The logic of a job seeker is to apply for as many positions online as applicable. And that makes sense. I am reminded of the famous bank robber Willie Sutton who was asked why he robs banks. His humorous and logical answer was “that is where the money is”. Indeed, recruiters have jobs to fill but it is known too that the chance of a candidate getting a job via a recruiter is around five percent. However, most people, 60% to 80%, get their jobs by networking. So how will you spend your time finding a job?

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