Friday, 24 January 2014

Making ATS work for Your Clients

OK, so we know what ATS is, and a bit about how it works from the recruiting end. How does that help us work with our clients in getting that elusive job?

Well, we have to be able to write CVs that tick the boxes of the ATS software. You have to be able to hit the sweet-spots so your client's application gets into the interview pile. There are some real tricks to this, and what you think might be straight-forward is not necessarily so.

One of the big tricks is striking the right balance between writing for a virtual person and then, once you pass that hurdle, of having a CV with enough formatting to be easily read by a flesh person.

Because, you see, writing for a virtual person requires some serious formatting changes. They include:
  1. Using the 'normal' Word 2003 document template (no clever formatting; the ATS algorithms can't parse images, fancy bullet points etc)
  2. Saving as a Word 2003 document (.doc or .txt. ATS algorithms apparently have trouble reading pdfs, so you are best to not use them if you want to make the cut)
  3. Having no headers or footers (algorithms can't read them - too small)
  4. Using no tables (table contents get read top to bottom, left to right, so are unlikely be read in the correct order, therefore the information won't be associated with the right keywords... so are likely to be ignored altogether)
  5. Using no text boxes (for the same reason as 4)
  6. Having no colours, bars, shading or underlines (for the same reason as 1)
  7. Using standard fonts only (Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Verdana; the algorithms may not parse non-standard fonts)
  8. Using 10-12 font size (large or small fonts may not read clearly)
  9. Having standard headings for sections (Contact Details, Work Experience, Qualifications, etc so that the algorithm 'looks' for your information in the right place. Any information that is not clearly part of a known category will be ignored altogether)
  10. Using a chronological CV format (so the title, the employer, the date and the work experience is clustered where the algorithm expects to see it; otherwise your experience may be ignored)
  11. Repeating abbreviations in full alongside the abbreviation (just in case the abbreviation or the full version is a keyword)
  12. Ensuring your positions, skill descriptions and key achievements reflect the same language as is required by the job advert, their supplied job description, and any other key words that seem logical, based on the company and reading between the lines.
A CV written for an ATS will have a lot of repetition. If we were preparing a CV for a live recruiter, we will cut out the repetition. It is hard to know how we will manage to prepare a document that will do both in one application!

There are three reasons why I have got my clients to upload pdfs in the past. They are; that the formatting doesn't change regardless of what machine the file is read on; that the file cannot be changed once it has been submitted; and that all your edits and track changes in your Word document vanish when you print as a pdf - so it prevents embarrassment. 

If we have to use Word documents for applications, I will recommend that my clients update their base file, then open a new document and paste in their updated text to continue to protect their privacy.

Lots of companies in the US are using this type of software, according to the Express Employment Professionals (December 2013). They recommend using Word (not pdfs); and also have some good stats on ATS use (Express Employment Professionals, December 2013, p. 3):

  • Applicant tracking systems kill 75% of job candidates’ chances of landing an interview as soon as a résumé is submitted
  • 61% of all North American companies use an ATS.
  • More than 90% of large companies use an ATS
  • 74% of ATSs don’t take contingent experience into consideration.
While ATS doesn't yet loom large in New Zealand, I think I will start recommend my clients cut and pasted their CV into a 'clean' Word file for any online uses from now on. I am sure it will only be about two minutes before firms find that open source ATS solutions are very affordable and that this type of filtration cuts the workload significantly.

However, what I would really like is if a careers researcher in New Zealand could run some tests, and submit pdf files alongside word docs in the same software to see if the same info gets picked up. Perhaps this could be a great undergraduate or graduate project? Check around your networks and see if you can find someone interested in doing this! 



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