Tips for Job ApplicantsInsider tips on how to apply to a job through an employer’s applicant tracking system successfully.

Recently, a friend of mine was looking for a job. He sent me an article that he found online. In the accompanying note, he sarcastically thanked me for making his job hunt harder. He doesn’t usually blame me indiscriminately for things but I do work at Newton, a technology company that develops an applicant tracking system for employers. In the article, “5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems”, published last year online by the website CIO, applicant tracking systems are referred to as the “bane of legions of job seekers”. The article claims that recruiting software used by employers “kills 75% of candidates chances of landing and interview as soon as they submit their resumes”. Apparently, this data was collected by Preptel, a now seemingly defunct resume template creator. Ironic.

It’s no secret that most employers automate portions of their recruiting processes with the help of online recruiting software. Unfortunately, many older applicant tracking systems were designed to be generally prohibitive from an applicant’s perspective. Frustrated job seekers have had to reformat resumes and jump through other burning hoops just to apply to jobs. Even worse, these systems were often designed to automatically screen out resumes based on key words. Think spam filters for hiring. It’s no wonder that recruiting software has been an easy target for dissent. Fortunately, there are modern vendors that are bucking the old norms by designing new systems with all users in mind. Employers are taking notice. Lots of organizations are upgrading from unfriendly first generation systems to more inclusive modern systems at a steady rate.  This is good news for job seekers.

Today, modern applicant tracking systems will accept your resume in just about any form (Word, PDF, Text, HTML) and display the results to employers while preserving your original formatting. Even better for applicants, the latest industry trend has been to move away from having resumes scored and ranked automatically in favor of human screening and filtering. Even with these and other recent improvements, not all applicant tracking systems are created equal so I put together some tips to help job hunters avoid the common land mines associated with submitting a resume to an employer online.

Keep it simple. A well-formatted resume is best.

First, hiring mangers and recruiters want to see a well-formatted, well-written, spell checked, proofread resume. I suggest using Microsoft Word to create your resume. It’s the safe bet. Just about any online system can accept a Word document. Divide your resume into clear sections with standard headings like objective, education, work history, and skills. Avoid pictures, graphs, tables and flashy fonts. The best fonts for resumes are Arial, Georgia, and Times New Roman. It’s also best to avoid services that add video, images and other interactive components to your resume. Finally, never password protect your resume.

It’s not your job to know recruiting software so keep your resume formatted as elegantly as possible. Remember, a professionally presented, easy-to-read resume speaks volumes. This is your chance to market yourself to the employer. Be thoughtful. Be clear and concise.  Keep it simple and professional. Take the time to sit down at a real computer where you are comfortable, read the job description and follow the employer’s instructions.

Resumes are still the gold standard.

When given the option, always submit a resume in lieu of an online profile. Newton Software conducted an independent survey in 2012 asking over 100 hiring mangers across a variety of industries if they prefer a resume or some form of online professional profile , such as a LinkedIn page, when reviewing applicants. Nearly 95% of the respondent strongly prefer receiving resumes. Many managers commented that they found online profiles often incomplete and difficult to print for interviews. We’ve also recently interviewed dozens of recruiting leaders during focus group sessions and learned that many employers have stopped accepting social profile submissions because they create more work for everyone in the hiring process.

Jeff Winter, a senior corporate recruiting consultant who recruits technical talent for internet startups, only submits resumes to hiring managers. “Reviewing a profile is a great start but if I am going to submit a candidate to a hiring manager for a job, I send a resume”, said Winter. “Inevitably if I only send a social profile of someone to a manager, they are going to ask me to go back to that candidate and ask for a resume before they’ll set up an interview. This creates an extra step and slows everything down. Resumes are still the currency of the interview process.”, explains Winter.

Work with the system not against it.

With ever increasing compliance mandates for employers, most organizations require that all resumes, no matter how they are obtained, be processed through the corporate applicant tracking system. Attempting to avoid the ATS (and the employer’s process) through networking or by simply sending emails to executives and employees may ultimately work against you and cause you more harm than good. If an employer has outlined a resume submission process on their website, it’s best to follow it.

Timing and ultimately managers’ preferences play the most significant roles in hiring decisions. While it’s easy to blame the ATS for being passed over, at the end of the day, most recruiting decisions are made by humans. The reality is that applicant tracking systems treat all job applicants the same way. You can still network but be aware that there is a process in play and it’s likely there for a good reason.

Submitting your resume multiple times may work against you.

It’s unfortunate that more employers don’t have the time, systems or professional decency to follow up with every applicant on every resume submission. While modern recruiting software has made communicating with applicants easier, it’s important for job applicants to know that if they have submitted their resume to a single job more than once and have not heard anything, it’s best to move on. Additionally, I suggest that applicants pick a single job to apply to when targeting a potential employer. While you may have relevant skills for a variety of jobs, pick one job that suits you best.

Many employers perceive multiple resume submissions as a sign of desperation. I can’t tell you how many employers have asked me if we have a feature in our software that can block an applicant from applying to their jobs. We don’t. I question the legality of such a feature. I encourage employers to communicate with applicants candidly. Direct, timely, professional communication is more valuable than creating another prohibitive feature that could potentially harm applicants if used inappropriately. Applicants need to think twice before they apply to every job on an employer’s careers page. The requests for a“blacklist” feature should serve as evidence that employers often view repeat submissions as spam.

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