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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 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 ( 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.