5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems

Error-prone applicant tracking systems kill 75 percent of job seekers' chances of landing an interview as soon as they submit their resumes, despite how qualified they may be. Job seekers' only hope for rising through these systems is to understand exactly how these systems work and how best to optimize their resumes for them. Here are five insider tips.

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Thu, March 01, 2012
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"It's totally different from what the candidate thinks they're showing," says Ciampi.


[Click on image for full screen shot]
This screenshot shows what an individual's resume looks like inside an applicant tracking system. The applicant tracking system made many mistakes importing information from the resume. Among them, it put the job seeker's executive summary under her work experience and listed an award she received as an employer.

Applicant tracking systems contain different database fields for information on a resume, such as the candidate's name, contact details, work experience, job titles, education, employer names and periods of employment. These systems try to identify this information on a job seeker's resume, but if a resume isn't formatted according to the applicant tracking system, it won't pull this information into the proper fields. Some of it might be missed altogether, such as a skills profile or an executive summary, says Ciampi.

5 Tips for Optimizing Your Resume for an Applicant Tracking System

Job seekers can increase their resumes' chances of getting through an applicant tracking system by heeding the following do's and don'ts:

1. Never send your resume as a PDF: Because applicant tracking systems lack a standard way to structure PDF documents, they're easily misread, says Ciampi.

2. Don't include tables or graphics: Applicant tracking systems can't read graphics, and they misread tables. Instead of reading tables left to right, as a person would, applicant tracking systems read them up and down, says Ciampi.

3. Feel free to submit a longer resume: The length of your resume doesn't matter to an applicant tracking system, says Ciampi. It will scan your resume regardless of whether it's two pages or four. Submitting a longer (say three or four page) resume that allows you to pack in more relevant experience and keywords and phrases could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system.

4. Call your work experience, "Work Experience": Sometimes job seekers refer to their work experience on their resume as their "Professional Experience" or "Career Achievements" (or some other variation on that theme). "People get very creative on their resume because they think it will help them stand out, but in fact it hurts them," says Ciampi. "Often the computer will completely skip over your work experience because you didn't label it as such."

5. Don't start your work experience with dates: To ensure applicant tracking systems read and import your work experience properly, always start it with your employer's name, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title. (Each can run on its own line). Applicant tracking systems look for company names first, says Ciampi. Never start your work experience with the dates you held certain positions.

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Security and Cloud Computing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at mlevinson@cio.com.

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