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Let an Applicant Tracking System Be Your Friend

Mar 9, 2021

By Lauren Mastbaum

At several points over the course of your career, you’ll embark on the competitive mission to get eyeballs on your resume — but before you try wooing a recruiter, there’s another obstacle to contend with: the applicant tracking system (ATS). In line with our digital culture, 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to collect, filter, sort, and rank hundreds if not thousands of candidates vying for the same position. Instead of capturing the attention of a person, you now have to bypass a software platform.

You might be thinking, but what about my marketing skills? My creative writing? My personal brand? Do any of these unique qualities matter anymore if my information is just being fed into a machine?

While a cold, robotic applicant tracking system can sound intimidating, you don’t have to be at odds with it. Actually, it’s possible for an ATS to be your friend.

Befriending the Bot

“I want to change the perspective you might have against it,” said Briar Dougherty, CEO & Founder of Career Organic, a professional development company. At the first session of AMA New York’s two-part “Marketer’s Bootcamp,” Briar encouraged marketers not to throw their hands up in frustration, but realize that an applicant tracking system can work for you, not against you. “If you were No. 499 out of 500 applicants, and there wasn’t an ATS, there’s no way you would’ve even been seen to begin with,” she said. “So the ATS does work in your favor, if you work with it.”

Consider this: If your career spans more than a decade, your resume could be two pages long. Is it a guarantee that a hiring manager would read every sentence of your meticulously crafted application? Probably not — most employers only spend about 7 seconds looking at your resume. If an ATS is crunching that data for them, though, it’ll process every last keyword, opening the opportunity for all your relevant experience to be noticed before it reaches a human.

This outcome is good news for job seekers moving up the ladder in their current industry, as you’ll likely have skills that, perhaps even word for word, match the new position you’re looking for. But what if you’re making a career pivot? How will an ATS know that your background can be well-suited in other fields?

Words Are Key

Tailoring your resume to include the same keywords as a job posting is crucial for passing muster with an ATS. If your previous roles don’t feature these words, though, all is not lost. Briar explained that you can focus on transferable skills — competencies that follow you no matter your role, industry or level. You just need to find out how to translate them from one jargon to another.

For example, if you are an operations manager seeking a project manager role, you may have “scheduling” as a skill on your resume, but the job listing says “managing timelines.” At its core, your skill is transferable, and by noting “managing timelines” in the posting, you’re discovering the overlap. You can take what you have and let it “speak” in the new role. By incorporating the identified keyword, you’ll optimize your resume and increase your chances of getting recognized by an ATS.

Today’s job search journey can be a daunting one, rife with forms to fill out, strangers to contact, and self-esteem to maintain. Despite these challenges, working with an ATS doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. If you know what to give it, it’ll give back. 

Lauren Mastbaum is a content manager at Red Ventures with a background in digital marketing. Since 2020, she has volunteered with AMA New York as an editor. You can connect with Lauren on LinkedIn.

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