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10 Hacks to Beat the “Machine” - Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)



Recently, I interviewed several recruiting professionals - and not just any recruiters; but those HR people – who are specifically in charge maintaining the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for their company.


Here are some things I have learned:


1. The System is Flooded: With the current historic situation – corporate recruiters receive LOTs of resumes – EVERY day!


Example: Corporation X – gets 200 resumes through their “paid” job ads (as well as the other job boards that “scrub” these listing...like Indeed and Zip Recruiter) in one day. Recruiter X, who works for this company, gets side-tracked on an emergency-hire role, and 5 days go by. They now have 1000 resumes to evaluate.


Lesson: You are one of many applicants – don’t take this personally. The screening of candidates is more often than not...random L...based on many factors and confounding variables.


2. Not All Companies Actually use their ATS System Consistently (or...at all):


Example: Internal Recruiter #1 never received training to use the system properly; and so...only uses certain components (e.g., candidate tracking, HR process documentation) of the system. This specific person is so “busy” that they do not have time to learn it thoroughly. Furthermore, everyone in their department is using the same tool...but inconsistently.


Lesson: Just because you apply to a company’s ad on a job-board posting - does not mean that you are getting through to all the end-users of the software (HR, recruiters, and hiring managers) being used to find qualified candidates. Each end-user has their “own favorite way” of doing things. The best way to beat the system - is to circumnavigate it.



3. When Possible - Apply Directly to the Company Website (Too):


Example: You have found a job ad that gives you “goosebumps”. You decide to apply for that job. The job description says, “Quick-Apply Now” - using your profile – so you click that button.

· When searching in the ATS – the searcher - builds their “search” based on the specific technologies (or the punch-list) given to them by the hiring manager. Many times, at this level (e.g., the system’s gate-keeper level) - the person doing the searching does not even fully understand the actual technology that they are adding to their automated search for qualified candidates (usually done automatically for them by the software; using AI to create a Boolean Logic string search). The searcher is just looking for candidates who come back with a “high score” for the requested matches.


· Augment your odds of being found by sending a separate resume (and cover letter if requested) directly to the company via their website. Be sure to reverse-engineer your resume and cover letter to meet the job description, the job title – and/or the specific key words / requirements.



4. Reverse Engineer – Be Specific About Your Role and About Certifications and Technologies


Example: Candidate Z – builds a resume, profile and cover letter that states something like; “Integral part of your growing IT Team”. They might then list some broad sweeping terms – or perhaps give their new degree (e.g., systems engineering, NOC administration, server monitoring or BS in Information Sciences).


Lesson: Candidate Z is not going to be found by the artificial intelligence searching for key-words, job titles. Furthermore, when the system is flooded by resumes (like today) – recruiters and hiring managers are not going to pay attention to an applicant who “MAY” be able to do the job – when they already have plenty of applicants that “CAN” and “HAVE ALREADY DONE” the job. Literally...recruiters spend seconds to maybe a minute - reviewing an opened resume (on the first go-round). You should have many resumes, which are really one resume that you customize for each opportunity by adding specific lexicon (naming conventions), technology and certifications/education.

5. Track – Be Methodical


Example: Recruiter A - or HR person B - asks a candidate the following questions, “where have you applied (what jobs or companies)?” or “to which job ads or job boards?” The candidate answers, “I don’t remember...I applied to a lot!”


Lesson: Throwing your resume at every job opportunity and company (the scattered, bird-shot method) is not going to land you a new career. Conducting a disorganized and random search will also make you look like a candidate who does NOT have their act together. Use a spreadsheet or other such tool to keep accurate records of your search. Don’t be afraid to share this tracking device with a recruiter who is trying to help you.




6. The Hidden Job Market – Yes...this Exists... and...NO...it is NOT Mysterious

Example: Employee A at Company X has a friend who was, until recently, happily employed at another company. Due to uncontrollable circumstances -this employee of 5 years – just lost their job. She (Employee A) knows that her manager may be hiring, and so she drops off her friends resume and credentials (the friend also created a “Value Proposition / Visual Show-n-tell”) to the hiring manager. This same friend becomes the first person that Company X hired once the boss got the ok to hire (again). This job was not even advertised...and this happens... A LOT!


Lesson(s): More often than not – if you can show up on a hiring manager’s radar before they have to go through the steps of gathering the details, creating a post, speaking with HR and then waiting for the long and cumbersome process to do its work (start to finish – 5 weeks sometimes)...then...you will get the job. Think of the work, the time – and the money - you just saved the Company X. Furthermore, the employee who made the referral stands a chance of getting a bonus check (or something nice) once you has worked a set amount of time for that company.

7. Relationships are Key – Participate + Post + Join = Real Working Network

Example: Candidate Z has wanted to work for Special Company M for a long time. In the past 6 months, they have applied to every job board and job announcement that they have found, that seems to be relevant to them - and their job experience. They hear nothing back...just a few polite form letters...saying, “thank you for applying.” In their research of the company, they have learned that “Special Company M” is very active in the medical device start up community.


Candidate Z – joins this medical, start up community user’s group on LinkedIn, Facebook – and actually pays for a student membership (they are taking on-line classes) so they can attend the groups events. This candidate does the following: 1) likes and comments on posts; 2) gives back – volunteers to help (or shares articles/knowledge) in some way; and 3) actually shows up to a social event or two (even if virtual). The next time Candidate Z applies for a job – they cut and paste the Job Title and Job Number into an email or LinkedIn (InMail) to the connections that they have made through their network – and they ask them (simply and with gratitude) for their help getting through to the hiring manager. It turns out that one of her connections used to work for one of the hiring manager – so she puts in a “good word” for Candidate Z. At last...the candidate gets a call for an interview!!!


Lesson: When you do some research on the company – and make their “vision” a shared vision...you go from me (no job) and you (potential job- with thousands of resumes) to us and we – and hey “I know you!” When you build a common interest – you are truly building a REAL working network based on trust and mutual interests.

8. Create a Value Proposition - Pictures are Worth 1 Million Words


Example: Candidate Clever applies for a job on Indeed. BUT...he also applies directly to the company ad on the COMPANY SITE. Then he does some research about the company via LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Candor, Angellist etc... to find out who may be receiving his resume (HR or a recruiter) and who is in a leadership role for that department (engineering team manager @ target company). Candidate Clever then does the following:


1. They cut and paste the job title and job number (if there is one) into a simple and brief email or InMail form-letter.


2. They create a Mini Value Proposition or a Show-n-Tell picture that illustrates that they are perfect for the job (e.g., a Visio sketch of a problem they solved, a brief, clear, Excel spreadsheet, or a Canva thumbnail that illustrates scope, sequence, quantity of their job skills/experience).


3. They use the Snipping Tool on their desktop to create a small, readable jpg (or pdf) that they also insert into their cover letter (or just send as a separate upload);


4. They not only apply online through the company job board (or other) – when asked to upload documents they send a resume (custom-tailored for the job) a cover letter with the Mini Value Proposition inserted – or a separate file with a simple one page illustration of the scope and sequence of their skills quantified in a visual manner.


5. They then go to LinkedIn or a company’s website and send a brief email to the recruiter, or program manager, team lead, or friend inside the company...etc... stating the follow: they have applied for; ____X Job___, with ___Job#___, on ___X Date___. They love __X__ about the company, or they know __Z Employee__ (who could vouch for them) and they wanted you to know you are very interested in speaking to someone about that job. Add your phone number, your email and a link to your LinkedIn profile. Then make “the- ask” or a “call to action” – whatever you think is (humbly and gratefully) appropriate.



Lesson: ATS that were made to make life easier for candidates and hiring managers – but they are actually making it more difficult than ever to get noticed. They are random, and do not always pre-qualify (with a high score) the best candidates for the role. Go AROUND the System!

9. Think Like a Hiring Manager - Be Grateful & Be CURIOUS


Example: Candidate GC (for grateful and curious) follows all the advice listed in this cheat sheet. They actually get a recruiter from this GREAT Company to call them back. They find out however, that maybe they did not have all the pre-requisite skills they needed during the first phone interview (if a recruiter is good – they should tell you this kindly and clearly – or you could ask). Instead of hanging up the phone disappointed, Candidate GC says how thankful they are for the call back and for the recruiter/hiring manager’s time. Let them know how they have “made your day” (or something authentic and complimentary – and don’t lie).


Then Candidate GC asks a few (curious) questions like: “do you have another role which might be better suited for me?” or “what is the best way to get a career with your company?” or “Can I send you an invitation to connect with me via LinkedIn so I can follow all the developments @ GREAT Company?” Upon hanging up the phone – Candidate GC – sends an authentic thank you email – noting one interesting and real thing about the company, the interviewer or their conversation.


Lesson: Candidate GC is going to be remembered by the hiring manager. Furthermore, the candidate is going to look at that person’s profile on LinkedIn every once in a while (2 weeks or so) – or perhaps they will like a comment or post on LinkedIn (again don’t over-do it...moderation). This will keep your candidacy fresh in the mind/memory of the decision-maker or gate-keeper. Instead of being an on-known score from an ATS – you have become a real person, part of a network...and most importantly – a viable candidate for future openings.


So many candidates take the lack of response from their job applications personally. Truthfully – it is not about YOU. In today’s world we all need to be flexible and resilient. Try walking a mile in the recruiter’s or the hiring managers’ shoes. If you want a job – you need to think like the people doing the hiring. The best way to get hired is to - - join, participate, help, and share. That will certainly get noticed. When you do get noticed...be GRATEFUL...that will get you remembered! You can shift the balance of every interview (or interaction) in your favor - by being genuinely positive, curious and grateful.



10. Find an Accountability Partner – Do Something Different – Step Forte ®(Step Bravely)


Example: YOU decide to lose some weight. So you start jogging and go on a diet. After the first week you decide that your legs are sore; and maybe you should have tried yoga instead? Furthermore, as there is still only a few more good days of weather left – you really need to make that extra trip for ice cream with kids. You don’t lose weight.


Later (in the fall) however, you do find a program that seems suited for you. You sign up – you participate regularly. You have accountability partners – and a clear road map. You begin to develop HABITS and schedules for your practice and diet. YOU SUCCEED and you do lose Weight – and feel better about yourself and everyone else around you.


Lesson: You need a program with clear steps and proven methodology to help you succeed. You will not change your life – if you do the same thing (that did not work) ...over and over again. If you have NOT been able to find your next job opportunity or career change on your own, then do something different.


If all the details of building a resume, creating on-line profiles, side-stepping the ATS, writing InMail to hiring managers, creating a working-network, preparing for interviews, and negotiating offers/raises... seems like A LOT to you? It is...because the process is OVERWHELMING. It makes great sense that you may want some help...and...that is why we are here.


YOU are the best investment that YOU can make!


@ StepForte - We are your job-finding accountability partners – with a proven process that is guaranteed to work – and more than 20 years of experience helping job-finders succeed. We can show you how to beat the system - and think like a hiring manager.


If you would like personal guidance (step by step coaching) on how to quickly and effectively navigate this process (and get the “CALL BACK”) – then contact us directly at: https://www.stepforte.com/book-online / 716-253-6009.


Step Forte (bravely) in to your new future – today!

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