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.

Time Theft: Is It Really a Crime?

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

One of my co-workers always shows up to work right at 8:00 a.m. and clocks in. After she makes her mark on the time card, she is out the door to park her car in the lot down the street and then to the cafeteria to get breakfast. By the time she actually starts working, it is at least 30 minutes past. Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

Dear, Time Sensitive:Time

What a great question! This applies to everyone from employees and supervisors to managers and business owners. Your belief that this practice is unethical is spot on. The official term for this type of behavior is “time theft.” Time theft happens when an employee is paid by their employer for work that has not actually been done. Many people may not even know they are doing something wrong but, in reality, they are costing their employers thousands of dollars a year.

There are a few types of time theft that everyone should be aware of. Your employees, co-workers, and even you may be guilty of time crimes.

  • Time Clock Theft: Employees who do not show up for their scheduled shift and have a friend clock in for them are committing time card fraud. This can also include our reader’s co-worker who comes in to work and clocks in but gets to work later than the start of hershift. Most of us are not being paid just to be in the building. We are paid to work and produce results. Forging time sheets to show additional hours worked is another way that unethical employees are trying to cheat the system.
  • Excessive Personal Time: Most managers and employers understand that their employees have lives outside of their jobs that may require attention during work hours from time to time. But when this becomes a routine, that is where the time theft concern arises. Non-work-related calls, emails, personal discussions, and social networking are the primary time wasters that are making employers pay the price.
  • Over-Extended Breaks: Employees are due a break or two during their shift according to federal labor laws. The most common instances of time theft occur when employees either take more breaks than allotted during their shift, do not clock out for breaks that they take, or extend the break time without making up the time.
  • Using Sick Time Inappropriately: Sick time is set aside to help employees in the event that they are ill and cannot be at work. Sometimes, employees will use these days to receive pay when they are taking a personal day off.

For a better understanding of how much these small actions can affect your productivity and profitability, take a look at the following chart from Acroprint. It shows how much arriving even five minutes late and leaving five minutes early can cost employers on a typical, full-time (250-day) work year.

Number of employees

2

5

10

25

50

Hourly Pay

Cost/Minute

Profit Loss

$8.00

$0.1333

$1,333

$3,333

$6,667

$16,667

$33,333

$12.00

$0.20

$2,000

$5,000

$10,000

$25,000

$50,000

$15.00

$0.25

$2,500

$6,250

$12,500

$31,250

$62,500

As you can see, even a small bending of the time rules can cost employers thousands of dollars.

While I applaud you for doing the ethical thing and not committing time theft yourself, I do suggest that you keep your co-worker’s behavior to yourself. Eventually, your supervisor will catch on and the employee will have to face the consequences. It is best to only be concerned with your work ethic and your performance. These issues typically work themselves out in the end.

Readers, do you find time theft occurring in your workplace? What would you do if you noticed your co-workers bending or breaking the rules and committing time crimes?

Best wishes,

Anita

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

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Declining a Job Offer Professionally

A reader writes…

Good Morning, Anita:

I have great news to report! After searching high and low for job opportunities, I was able to get not one but two job offers. I have taken both into consideration and analyzed the pros and cons of each position. Now that I have made my decision, I need to tell the other employer that I am not going to take their offer. How can I politely decline the position so as not to burn any bridges for the future?

Dear, Job Offer Juggler:

Congratulations on this exciting news! It is always great to hear from readers who have successfully found employment. For all you out there on the hunt for a new job, this is proof that you can and will find something!

Job offerAs for your question, I think that it is very important for your professional reputation to politely decline the other job offer. Just as you do not want potential employers to leave you hanging, you should show them the same courtesy. Who knows, the hiring company may have a future position you are interested in pursuing, and you do not want to sour a positive relationship.

Just as we previously discussed in my post Thank You for the Interview, it is important to be courteous and professional with your communications to the hiring manager. This will most likely be the last chance you have to leave an impression on them, and you want it to be a good one. Below are some rules to follow for declining the offer.

  • Use the appropriate means of communication. If you have been working with the hiring manager through email, you can  respond in that format. In some instances, a formal letter and even a phone call may be more appropriate. Choose  to communicate the news in whichever way  is more relevant to your experience.Job offer2
  • Take the time to plan your message. At this point, the hiring manager has spent a lot of time considering you for the position, and you need to be respectful of this. A well thought out message will show that you greatly appreciate the offer and will leave a more positive impact.
  • Be prompt with your response. Once you have made the decision to decline their offer, you need to let them know. They will have to make other arrangements and contact other candidates when you refuse, so try to make this process as timely as possible.
  • Keep the details to a minimum. The employer does not want to hear about how much better the other offer is. Let them know that you were impressed by their company and that you took all aspects of the offer into serious consideration before making your decision. A great “out” is that the job opportunity was not the best fit for you at this time.
  • Keep it short and sweet. There is no need to carry on about how great the company is and how much you wished it would have worked out. Think of it like ripping off a Band-Aid.

A great site to look at for examples and different ways to craft your letter can be found at Harvard Business Review blogger Jodi Glickman’s post Turning Down a Job Offer. It does a great job of laying it out for you, so take advantage of her advice!

Job seekers and employees, what would you do if you were offered two or more positions?

Managers and business owners, how would you like a possible candidate to break the bad news to you?

Best wishes,

Anita

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

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Discussing a Job Offer

Hi, Anita:

I was contacted by a recruiter for a position at another company that is very intriguing. The opportunity would be a step up from my current position and offers a higher salary. It may sound like a no-brainer decision, but I really like my situation at my job now and have hopes of being promoted soon. What are your thoughts on discussing this job offer with my current employer? Can there be any benefit to bringing it up?

Discussing Job Offer Negotiate BlocksDear, Headhunted:

Luckily, this is a win-win situation for you. Most employees dream of finding themselves in this circumstance. Who doesn’t like being in demand and scouted for better opportunities? You should be very flattered. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of your question.

Presenting this situation to your current employer does have its benefits, but only if you are serious about taking this other opportunity. Interest from a competitor or other firm can serve as a little reminder to your superiors of how valuable you are to the company and to the industry. You can use this to your advantage if you are in the position to either stay or make a move. Here are some tips to a situation like this to help boost your salary base and move you up the ladder.

  • Do not discuss the other opportunity with anyone at your current company. If word gets out that you are contemplating another offer and, as rumors do, it spreads like wildfire, things could turn out very bad for you. My advice: keep your thoughts to yourself until you have all the appropriate players in your current position in the know.
  • Think long and hard about what you really hope to achieve through negotiations with your current employer or by Discussing Job Offer Womanswitching to a new company. Are you entertaining this other offer seriously because the base pay is higher? Are there more opportunities for promotion? Do they offer a better benefits package?
  • Remember that hiring a new employee will cost your company money. This could put you at an advantage. The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley reports that the average cost to replace an employee for all categories of workers is about $4,000. The average cost for managerial and professional employees may be as high as $7,000. This doesn’t even factor in the time and energy it takes to train a new employee! Just this alone could help lead you to an increase in salary.
  • Be prepared that the negotiations may not go as planned or your way at all. Your current employer may be unwilling or unable to meet your demands or the competitor offer. Even if they do raise your compensation to keep you, they may feel as if you’ve proven you’ll leave at the next good opportunity and feel resentful toward you. If you are going to bring the other offer to your current employer, you must be confident that the possible new position is a sure thing and that you are okay with making the move. If not, you may find yourself without a job and without a reference.

Be sure to properly analyze and take into account all angles of your situation. This includes your job performance, relationship with your boss, flexibility, and other factors. It isn’t just the salary number that makes people happy at their job.

Readers: Have you ever been in this situation? How did you approach your boss, and what was the outcome?

Making the Right Hire

Hi, Anita:

I have just received notice from one of my employees that he will be resigning from his position in 2 weeks. What tips can you offer that will help me make sure I am making the right hire to fill the opening in our team?

Hi, Hoping to Hire Smart:

Thank you for the question. At one point or another, all managers or supervisors are faced with the challenge of selecting and hiring a new employee. Once you have spent hours sifting through résumés and aInterviewpplications to weed out the definite “no”  candidates, it is time to begin contacting the promising ones to schedule an interview.

The information gathered during the interview provides the strongest insight into whether or not hiring this person is a smart decision. Not only do you need to look at the candidate’s professional experience, but you also need to take into consideration whether or not this person meshes well with your company’s culture and current team dynamics.

One bad hire can throw a wrench into your well-oiled machine, so take note of the following:

  • Understand that making the right hire is not a race. Take the time you need to find a candidate that best suits the position and your company culture. Don’t let pressure or the copout of “I had no other options” be the reason you make a hiring mistake.
  • Utilize behavioral interviewing techniques. Ask questions that require honest, on-the-spot answers, not carefully rehearsed responses.
  • Before the interview, carefully review the candidate’s résumé and be prepared with questions that will provide insight into past, present, and future performance.
  • Test the skills of the candidate. Just because they listed them on their résumé doesn’t mean they can actual do them.Oops Sign
  • Talk to your team to get a feeling of what they want in a new hire.
  • Ask for and check references. Explain the job description the candidate is applying for and how well this person would perform in the role.
  • Be honest with yourself about your selection and interviewing skills. If you are not confident that you can make the perfect hire, contact a professional staffing agency like Select Staffing. They take the worry and hard work out of finding your next employee. With their skill evaluation tools and strict screening process, you can be sure that the bad apples stay away from your basket.

Here is great video from Microsoft Small Business about the importance of hiring the right people.

I hope this information helps you make the best hire for your open position!

Readers, what do you think is the reason why bad hires happen and what do you do to avoid them?

Networking Know-How

A reader writes:

Hi Anita! I am new to the area and in search of a new job. I have heard and learned from reading your blog that networking is one of the most important aspects of job hunting. Can you offer any advice to help break the ice and get the most out of professional networking?

Dear, Need-to-Network,

Thank you so much for the great question. I have said time and time again that networking is extremely important when it comes to finding your next position. The more people you know, the more likely you are to bridge the gap between Business Man with Cardbeing a stranger or being the candidate that comes highly recommended. Getting your foot in the door and your résumé to the top of the pile is an incredible advantage in today’s world.

First off, get yourself a professional set of business cards with your contact information on them. Even if you are not currently employed, you should still be prepared. Being able to exchange business cards is networking gold! Think about it. How embarrassing is it to be empty-handed when you finally meet the CEO of the company you are dying to work for and he/she asks for your info. You just blew that first impression. Companies like Vista Print offer deals where you get 250 business cards FREE! All you pay is shipping and processing. Now you have no excuse not to have them! Include your name, address, telephone number, email, and other vital contact information.

One of the big No-Nos in networking is focusing your attention elsewhere, as in playing with your phone or carrying on a text messaging conversation. It makes you look Thumbs up from Womandisinterested, unapproachable, and worst of all, unprofessional. Do yourself a huge favor and leave your phone in the car or keep it in your pocket on silent. You are networking to meet new people, not to catch up with old ones.

Many of us, including me (I know, HARD TO BELIEVE), can find ourselves at a loss for words when placed under pressure or in a new social setting. Before you go to an event, prepare and arm yourself with what we call an “elevator speech.” When a hiring manager or person of interest asks you “what do you do?” or “what are you future career goals?” you will be ready to give them a response with a punch. You will leave them with an impression that you are smart, confident, and maybe even their next star employee!

Keep your spiel short, sweet, and strong for the most impact. Also be ready with follow-up questions to keep the conversation moving. (Check out my “Sell Yourself… Quickly” post for more tips.)

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up and talk to others. This is probably the most difficult part of networking. It would probably be easier to be a wallflower and blend in with the crowd, but that is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. If you see a group of people talking, pick up your head, perk up your posture, and stroll over and introduce yourself. The more you do it, the less awkward it gets. Before interrupting their conversation, however, do be sure you read their body language; if they’re having a serious and intense discussion, wait a bit before going over.

Check out this video on Networking’s Golden Rule for one final tip:

Readers, what tips and tricks have you found helpful during networking opportunities?

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

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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