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An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a database tool that larger companies and recruiters use to store and organize submitted resumes. When they need someone to fill a position, they can search the database to find people to interview. The good news for them is that the database filters out candidates and narrows the field. The bad news for you is that the database filters out candidates and narrows the field. Qualified candidates often get weeded out of the running by the applicant tracking system. So how can you beat the system and get the interview?

Incorporate key words important to your industry

You should know the buzzwords or terminology that are important to your career arena. Make sure to use them in your resume. A recruiter or HR exec will use search terms important to the field to find relevant job seekers.  For instance, they might search for an ‘accountant’ and then narrow that down by adding ‘forensic’ or ‘payroll’ or ‘tax’ to the search.

If you’re switching careers, you may not know which words are the best words, so you’ll have to do some research. For example, if you’re looking for a job where you’ll improve efficiency or reduce waste or manage projects, how should you refer to your experience? Does this new field use Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, or something else? Should you talk about process improvement, continuous improvement, or… you get the idea.  Try to translate your skills into their language so they clearly understand what you bring.

Use the job description to tailor your resume

A great source of important keywords is a company-written job description. They’ll list out what they’re looking for in terms of key competencies, technology, or soft skills. As much as possible, use their wording and terminology to describe your background and experience. The HR department that wrote the job description is likely the same one that will search for your resume.

Keep your resume formatting simple and clear

If you’re uploading your resume to an applicant tracking system, you want to keep the formatting simple. Not all ATS algorithms are up to date. Graphics, fancy fonts, or other embellishments may ‘confuse’ the system and keep your resume out of the loop. Don’t take the chance. To help the system find you, keep your resume simple. Use a simple format and a simple font like Calibri or Arial.

Skip it

The BEST way to beat an ATS is to go around it and contact the hiring manager directly.

Let’s face it—an applicant tracking system is a tool to weed you out. I’ve worked with countless job seekers who struggled to break through the ATS barrier to get interviews. These were qualified, talented people. In one case, the guy even had a rare certification the company wanted. Once they skip the system and contact the hiring manager, they get interviews. The guy with the rare certification contacted the hiring manager and got hired—and his new boss had never seen his online application.

Here’s something else: the vast majority (70%-80%) of open, available jobs are not posted online. These are called hidden jobs. If you can find these jobs before they’re posted, you’ll be first in line for an interview—which means you’ll be more likely to get it.

Read The Hidden Job Market: What It Is and How to Crack It to Find the Best Job for You

To get this done, you’ll need to find the names and emails of hiring managers (your potential bosses—not HR) and send your cover letter and resume right to them. You can do this research on your own through social media and internet searching.

hidden jobs finderWant help? We developed a tool that walks you through the process. Find hiring managers and know exactly what to say to get the interview! It’s all in my Hidden Jobs Finder. Learn more here.