ATS 101: Demystifying Applicant Tracking Systems

Dear, Anita,

I’ve heard that hiring managers don’t even look at your résumé anymore if it doesn’t go through a computer program first. How can computers decide if you would be a good fit for a job or not? I’m so tired of submitting résumés into a “black hole” and never hearing back.

Source: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Source: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Dear, Anti-HAL,

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software that automates the recruiting process by sorting, filtering, ranking, and yes, tracking, job applicants and new hires. Many mid-size companies and the majority of all large corporations utilize candidate management systems. Every time you submit a résumé online, there’s a good chance it will go through ATS software.

From a sheer logistics standpoint, it saves HR professionals time. Put yourself in their shoes, particularly in the tight job market we’ve experienced in recent years. For every one job advertised, hiring managers could be deluged with hundreds of applications and résumés. Many applicants are simply unqualified for the given position. To narrow down this paper pile to find the top candidates with the skills, education, and experience necessary for this one open job is a daunting task. If you are hiring for numerous job openings in a large organization, this quickly becomes unmanageable.

One legal reason companies use ATS is to prevent discrimination. If an unbiased computer is sorting the résumés, companies can easily show they are complying with federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) laws.

How an ATS Works

Applicant Tracking Systems extrapolate information from résumés to put into common database fields, such as work experience, education, and contact information. When you apply for a particular job, it searches, just like Google, for keywords pertaining to the position’s criteria. It will sort through all résumés and assign each a score, ranking you compared to other applicants to a particular opening. Recruiters and hiring managers use this ranked list to find the candidates who will be the best fit – in theory – for the job. If your résumé is not one of the highest ranking, you won’t get an interview (and often not even an acknowledge­ment, as you have discovered).

To increase your chances of a better score, take the time to carefully sift through the job description and note keywords.  See how you can incorporate them into your résumé. Of course, you want to be honest and not add keywords for which you don’t have the qualifications. But sometimes it’s just a matter of apples to oranges. If your current title is marketing director, and you want to apply for a marketing manager position, keep your current title, but include the word “manage” into the description of your duties.

Be sure to fill out all the fields, so that the Applicant Tracking System won’t filter you out for that reason alone. If you have to import your résumé, take a few extra minutes to review before submitting. You don’t want odd formatting errors to hurt your chances.

So, while frustrating and more time consuming, you have to use keywords to jump though the HR hoop and get your résumé in front of human eyes. Since ATS programs have many automated features, it would be nice if companies would at least send a “we-got-your-résumé-don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you” email. HAL, do you hear me?

Readers: How often do you tailor your résumé with keywords relevant to the position you are applying for?

My friends at The Select Family of Staffing Companies can save you the trouble of tailoring a résumé for each potential job. Once you’re in their database, the Personnel Supervisors will match you up with requests from temp and temp-to-hire employers.

Eight Ways to Instill a Work Ethic in Your Children

Dear, Anita,

I’m trying to convince my 13-year-old son to come to my office on “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” day this year. He just doesn’t seem interested (in fact, he barely looks up from his important texting whenever I bring up the subject). I know it’s early for him to choose a career, but I would like him to know a little about the business world, as well as where the food on our table comes from! Any advice on how to prepare him for future employment?

Lemonade StandDear, Fathering Greatness,

I remember when this event was started in 1993 by Ms. Foundation (it was originally called “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” back then; sons have been included since 2003). It’s a great opportunity to under­stand what Mom or Dad does all day, which, for a kid, is usually a pretty vague concept. This year’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 24, 2014. For more information about activities
or resources, check out the Foundation’s web page.

I took an unscientific poll of hard-working individuals I know and combined that with an ad hoc degree in parenting to come up with a few words of wisdom on raising future professionals:

1)  Insist on Respect. I love to see parents teaching their children to introduce themselves to adults with a handshake and eye contact. I would request that your son look at you when you are speaking to him. (Hey, you asked for my advice!) During teenage years especially, you may butt heads. In the future, your kids will certainly work with a few difficult people. Teach them to disagree agreeably.

2)  Chores. Helping at home as part of a family “team” will teach your child to pull his or her weight in a future workplace. In their future career, they will steadily get added responsibility, so graduate children from one age-appropriate chore to the next. One of my colleagues subscribes to this philosophy, “Just like mom and dad have a job, their job is to go to school and learn.” Report cards are their quarterly reviews! Working toward a college education was highly valued, whether from a high-achieving degreed parent or a mom who survived hardships and wanted her daughters to be self-sufficient.

3)  Praise the Effort. It’s important not to quash a child’s spirit by being overly critical, especially when they are younger.  Be sure to give clear instructions (bosses, are you listening?) and then give positive reinforcement for a task’s completion, even if it is not perfect. I’ve read that 10 compliments to one correction ratio is a good rule of thumb.

4)  Encourage Improvement. After you commend your offspring’s endeavor, offer some constructive advice. One colleague remembers her parents saying “do more than the minimum.” As she got older, they advised her to dress for the job a level above hers. Develop an “always improving” mentality.

5)  Rewards. You work for a paycheck, so pay your kids for their work. Whether you give an allowance, “incentivize” good grades, or create extra pay-for-hire chores, it’s great real-world experience to earn, handle, and budget money.  You can decide whether your kids’ earnings should go for necessities (clothing, cell phone, hair gel) or extras. One colleague remembers asking his dad for a baseball glove. The response: “You got money for that?”

6)  Let Them Solve Problems. Don’t always jump in to save the day when your child is having difficulties. One young director’s parents instilled that idea the “reward” was the success of the endeavor and the feeling of accomplishment – something money can’t buy.

7)  Delayed Gratification. In the age where instant texts have replaced letters to pen pals, it may be hard for the up-and-coming generation to get practice at delayed gratification. As kids get older, encourage larger projects that call for persistence, like starting a vegetable garden or earning scouting badges. Opening a bank account so she could watch her earnings accumulate was empowering for one industrious manager.

8)  Be a Role Model. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While many teenagers go through a slothful phase (you sometimes wonder if they’ll ever become a productive member of society!), if you are diligent at work and at home, your children will notice.

Don’t expect the school system alone to make your children employable. Do your part to set your kids up for future success in the world of work.

Readers: What was the best work or job advice you ever got from your parents?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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One Long Job on Résumé

Dear, Anita,

After 27 years with the same company, I have been laid off after a merger. The problem is I have a very short résumé, since I’ve been at this job most of my career! How should I handle this?

OneDear, Long-Term Lola,

It used to be that people stayed at the same company long enough to get the gold watch at retirement. In our more mobile society, there has been a definite shift away from job longevity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers have been with their current employer an average of 4.6 years. (I think there are some leftovers in my freezer older than that!)

First, I’m going to assume that your latest position is not the same one you started with at your (former) company. Break out each job title and list chronologically with the most recent first. You have a résumé advantage that serial job-hoppers don’t. You can go into much more detail about each position and what you accomplished there to move you up to the next level. Give measurable examples whenever possible (e.g., promoted to Sales Manager after increasing personal sales 37%). It’s important for a potential employer to see that you have not been stagnant before being thrown back into the labor pool.

If you have attended seminars over the years or received on-the-job training and cross-training, list all the credits and certificates that you have accumulated. Speaking of skills, this may be another subhead for you to add to your résumé template. List all the computer programs in which you are proficient, as well other industry-specific processes and procedures with which you are familiar.

If, by chance, you have been in the same position since Day 1, you’ll have to employ a tactic I recommend to newly minted graduates, and include extracurricular and volunteer activities on your résumé (see my blog, Including Volunteer Work In Your Resume).  In fact, if you are feeling your résumé is still a little thin, by all means mention that you organize the annual fund-raiser at your kids’ school or maintained the bookkeeping records for your local animal charity.

Take the opportunity to brag about your tenure in your previous position in your cover letter. Instead of apologizing for a lack of résumé bullet points under “Experience,” celebrate your longevity! Emphasize your loyalty, your stability, and your reliability. I am confident that the sum total of these character virtues is still sought after in the job marketplace.

Readers: How have you addressed working for only a few companies in your résumé and your job search?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 2

Dear, Readers,

Last week, Wrong Wavelength wrote in about a misunderstood email she sent to her supervisor. Follow my 10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications to keep you out of hot water. Review Commandments 1-5 here.

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

6. Avoid ambiguity. For example, you write, “We’re losing sales on our XYZ product. I wonder what our competitors are charging.” Does that mean you want the recipient to research the competitors’ prices? Make sure you are not asking rhetorical questions in email (“Why don’t you… ?”). If you are taking excessive care not to offend, the recipient may not even notice the constructive criticisms couched in our communiqués. A phrase like “There’s a problem with …” or a polite instruction like “Could you please correct… ?” is more to the point. If you’re giving bad news, use simple, sympathetic language, like “I’m afraid…”

7. Ditch the demands. On the opposite end of the beating around the bush is coming across as hard-nosed. Instead of “I want you to explain ABC,” it’s better to say, “We need to discuss ABC.” Common courtesy goes a long way.  Even an innocuous reply of “Fine” is subject to interpretation. Revisit drama class and read that one word with the following emotions: angry, happy, satisfied, bored, and exasperated. To be safe, add a few extra words (“That sounds fine to me”) or rephrase.

8. Add a little emotion.  Even at work, show a little feeling with your words, from excitement to sympathy. While trying to motivate, though, don’t overdo the exclamation points. One per paragraph is my rule of thumb. It’s my opinion that adding emoticons to internal (non-client) emails is acceptable – in moderation. But don’t think that adding a wink makes it okay to forward that off-color joke.

9. Use your CC wisely. While it’s important for anyone with “need to know” status to be included in the information loop, use the CC wisely so as not to inundate your co-workers with unnecessary emails. If you are reprimanding someone in a CCed email, the whole department (usually) does not have to know about it. Likewise, if you are the person to respond to an email with a lot of people CCed, consider whether or not they need to be included on the response. Don’t just hit “Reply” when “Reply to All” is more appropriate. It’s frustrating for the originator of the email to have to keep adding the CCed recipients back in every time the conversation shifts back and forth.

10. Reply thoroughly. My personal pet peeve is sending an email with multiple questions and getting a response to only one. When writing the original email, if you number your questions, you’ll have a better chance of getting all of them answered.

Before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email. Read it aloud in your head in the opposite tone you intend (say, sarcastic or angry for most business email). You may be surprised at how your innocent email could be taken the wrong way by a colleague. If you just can’t get the tone right, pick up the phone for a 38% better chance of being understood.

Readers: Have you ever had one of your emails misunderstood? Feel free to post your example in the comments!

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1

Dear, Anita,

I work remotely and sent this email to my boss. He got very upset and I don’t know why.

Hi [Boss], I haven’t been successful reaching you by phone, so I’ll try email instead. Could you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project] that I requested last week?

I almost lost my job because he said I was being insubordinate. What do you think, Anita? Did I do anything wrong?

Dear, Wrong Wavelength,

I recently had a text message misunderstanding with a family member, so your question really hits home. It sounds like you accidentally offended your boss when you insinuated (in his mind) that he does not return phone calls and unprofessionally ignores requests.

Albert Mehrabian, a 1960s researcher, found that communication is 7 percent verbal (words), 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in electronic communications, it’s no wonder there are so many crossed wires!

To avoid misunderstandings – or worse, offense – keep my Ten Commandments of Email Communication in mind. We’ll start with five this week, and bring the second electronic stone tablet next week.

1. Keep it short. Nobody has time for long rambling emails, and you may lose your audience before you get to the point. Summarize briefly, while still relaying relevant information. Use attachments to supplement your email outline.

Lets_Eat_Grandma_Save_Lives_Meme2. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple mistake could change your message dramatically – especially for poor grandma.

3. Be clear and avoid double negatives. Look at this muddle with a quadruple negative: “Unless you fail to inform us in advance of your inability to attend the training event, you will not be billed for those presentations which you cannot avoid missing.” Will I or won’t I be charged for the event if I don’t cancel?

4. Be specific. If you add a comment or opinion about a statement in an email, make sure it’s clear which point you are remarking on. Sometimes, it is helpful to respond under each statement or question, and change the text color of your responses.

5. Be careful with humor. Your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm may just come across as just plain mean when not accompanied by your charming smirk. Electronic joking is best employed with co-workers you know quite well.

Stay tuned for email commandments 6 through 10 next week!

Readers: Here’s a fun challenge for you! Rewrite the email excerpt in Wrong Wavelength’s question to improve the tone and avoid misunderstandings. Post your best rephrasing by leaving a reply in the comments.

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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