applicant tracking systems

High-Impact Resume Strategies For Creative Professionals

iStockphoto.com |  scyther5

iStockphoto.com | scyther5

The most substantial asset graphic designers, art directors, interior designers, photographers, fine artists, marketers, and other creative professionals possess is their ability to translate a concept into an attractive visual presentation. It is both their tool and their trade.

When meeting with hiring managers or potential clients, creatives need to demonstrate their ideas and experience in a professional fashion.

The first piece of work such an applicant usually presents is their resume. A beautifully designed resume, with nice fonts, illustrations, layouts, and graphics can quickly demonstrate to a hiring manager at an advertising agency or within a corporate marketing department a candidate’s visual design and copy writing skills.

But, the realities of the corporate job application process get in the way. Companies often use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to gather and sort resumes, and on top of the challenges they present to every applicant, they can even more quickly derail applications for creative professionals.

Creative professionals tend to focus on form, building complex layouts in programs such as Adobe InDesign that incorporate graphic illustrations and other elements. Applicant tracking platforms, on the other hand, generally require a plain, simple design in order to parse resume data – this means a resume created in Microsoft Word, with a single column of text. These systems often disregard (or can’t read) anything presented in text boxes, graphics, or tables, and recruiters will generally pass over resumes that the system hasn’t been able to fully understand. A resume with a complex design will appear at the bottom of the applicant tracking system’s ranking of the applicants against the job description.

So, how can creative professionals increase their chances of securing an interview and, ultimately, the job?

  • Build an ATS-Friendly Version of Your Resume. In order to make it easier for the applicant tracking system to parse the data and, hopefully, give your resume a higher ranking, use a single-column format. Don’t include large tables or graphics, as these can make a resume hard to scan. Even if you follow these guidelines, there could still be issues parsing data – if so, try saving your resume as a .txt file and uploading that version. And use your ATS-friendly resume for all online applications.

  • Keep a Graphically-Designed Version of Your Resume Handy, Too. Yes, you’ll want to have two versions, because the hiring manager will use the designed version to evaluate your creative eye. If the applicant tracking system lets you upload attachments along with your resume, absolutely upload your graphically-designed resume, along with samples of your work. And print out copies of this resume to hand out during an interview.

  • Develop Your Portfolio and Put it Online. A nicely designed portfolio of your work is a fantastic way to highlight your skills and achievements. Create an online version with your best work samples, and include a URL link to your portfolio in the header of your resume. You can also post this in your LinkedIn profile for greater exposure.

  • Don’t Rely Solely on Your Online Application. There’s a lot you can do to get noticed. After applying online, try to identify the decision-maker for the position on LinkedIn. Then send him or her a brief note – via LinkedIn or through email – to inform them that you’ve applied online, and ask where you can send your resume and portfolio samples. A well-timed message can potentially improve your changes of being seen by the hiring manager, regardless of how the applicant tracking system scores your resume.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

Why Is Applying To Jobs Online So Darn Complicated?

iStockphoto.com |  SIphotography

iStockphoto.com | SIphotography

Why is applying to jobs online so darn…. complicated?

Don’t believe me? Try it. Visit an employer’s career portal and select a posted position. Then click the “Apply Now” button.

Buckle in, because this is where it gets rough. Prepare to be bombarded with an endless procession of requests, mandatory fields, and seemingly arbitrary data to complete:

—>Create a Username and Password (required)
—>Upload your resume (required)
—>Enter your contact information (required)
—>Enter your address (required)
—>How did you hear about this position? (required)
—>What are your salary requirements? (required)
—>What is your willingness to travel? (required)
—>What is your willingness to relocate? (required)

… and on. And on. And on.

Then you’re asked to enter all the employment and education data from your resume that the system seemed to parse out of your resume when you uploaded it. Manually. Field by field.

In the end, you’re looking at investing around 30 minutes for each online application you fill out. It’s a process that’s painful and demoralizing, especially considering that thousands of other job seekers are applying online to the same job and the chances of your resume being seen by a human being are pretty darn low.

Why would employers do it this way?

Why would they put in place a process that is so deliberately opaque and difficult to navigate?

As someone who spent almost two decades as a recruiter, I can assure you that companies usually try to build hiring process with the best of intentions.

They want to be an employer of choice, and they want people to feel good about applying to their company.

But they also want their recruiters to be as efficient as possible. And with the average corporate recruiter responsible for filling an active load of 20 or 30 open positions, maximizing their time is essential.

So companies invest in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). They use these system to store job descriptions, approve and process new jobs, and collect job applications.

The latest ATSs are pretty powerful technology. From an employer’s standpoint, one of the most valuable features of an ATS is the ability to incorporate extensive screening criteria so the system can review each application and rank each one against the criteria in the job description.

Look at it this way – how valuable is it for an employer to have the system sort through the thousands of applications, and provide the recruiter with a short list of 20 to 30 applicants who check all the boxes?

It’s great for the company in the sense that their recruiters are saving dozens of hours that would have been sifting through resumes. But if the ATS doesn’t have a strong data engine to parse, pull, and synthesize data from the resumes, employers will usually default to pushing that work on the applicants in the form of additional fields to complete. And ATSs make it very easy to add screening questions to an online job application – hence, the litany of qualifying questions and endless mandatory fields to fill in. This also doesn’t help the candidate experience.

Unfortunately, when it comes to companies that rely on ATS platforms for their hiring, there’s not much you can do to avoid the online application gauntlet. In fact, many employers tell applicants they won’t even talk to them unless they’ve first filled out an application online.

But there are actions you can take to make your online application more effective:

  1. Make sure your resume is ATS-friendly. In order to make it easier for the ATS to parse the data in your resume and hopefully avoid excessive re-typing, use a single-column format. Don’t include large tables or graphics as these can make a resume hard to scan. Even if you follow these guidelines, there could still be issues parsing data – if so, try saving your resume as a .txt file and uploading that version.

  2. Improve your chances with the search filters. You’ve heard about keywords - the technical and soft skills listed in the job description. Before uploading your resume, read the job description. Really read it. Identify the skills the company is looking for in this particular role and sprinkle these into the text of your resume.

  3. Don’t rely on your online application alone – shake a tree. There’s a lot you can do to get noticed. After applying online (sorry, you’ve got to play the game), try to identify the decision maker for the position on LinkedIn. Then send them a brief note – via LinkedIn or through email – to inform them that you’ve applied online, you have the qualifications for the role, and would love to connect with them. Your well-timed message can potentially put your candidacy front of center, regardless of how the ATS scores your resume.

  4. Work your network. It’s a big world out there, and there’s the possibility you know someone (or someone who knows someone) at the employer who can put your resume securely into the hands of the hiring manager. At many companies, good referrals carry more weight than a random online application.

  5. Let LinkedIn do the work for you. This is about playing the long game, generating interest in employers so that they pursue you and you spend less time chasing online job ads. Companies pay a lot of money for LinkedIn subscriptions that enable them to mine the system for passive candidates. Invest time in building a strong LinkedIn profile, loaded with keywords and accomplishments so that you’ll show up in their searches. And constantly grow and nurture your network with high-impact connections so that you elevate your online brand.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

The Job Hunter's Guide To Applicant Tracking Systems – OR – Avoiding The Resume Black Hole

Learn how the ATS works, so your resume doesn't end up here. | iStockphoto.com ( Mike_Kiev)

Learn how the ATS works, so your resume doesn't end up here. | iStockphoto.com (Mike_Kiev)

 

When you send your resume to an employer, you have two audiences to impress – human beings and applicant tracking systems.

As you know, human beings are the people who review your resume, such as hiring managers and recruiters, and whom you need to suitably impress in order to get an interview.

You need to impress the applicant tracking system (ATS), too. Employers use an ATS to collect, sort, process, and manage all their resumes and job postings. There are several Applicant Tracking systems on the market offered by companies such as Taleo, iCIMS, Cornerstone, and dozens of others. Keep in mind that each ATS works a little differently, but the concepts here tend to be universal. Here's your user's guide to navigating the world of ATS systems, so that you don't feel like you've thrown your resume into a black hole.

What does an ATS do?

An ATS is the Human Resources department’s window into the recruiting world. Companies use these system to store job descriptions, approve and process new jobs, and post these job opportunities to the outside world.

What kind of companies use an ATS?

Most employers use an ATS, but so do staffing firms. They need it an ATS to keep their hiring efforts organized; large organizations may be managing tens of thousands of job listings, and millions of applicants.

How does a company post jobs through an ATS?

Usually an employer's recruiters can click a few buttons to make their job posting public. The obvious place the position will appear is the employer’s external jobs website, but most employers will pay a little bit extra to have their job listings appear on Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and countless other job boards with the click of a button. Increasingly, ATSs are connected to social media – not just LinkedIn, but also Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else potential candidates may be found.

Does it matter whether I apply through the company’s web site, or if I apply through one of the other job boards?

It doesn’t make much difference. Despite minor differences in the systems, no matter how you apply, your resume will still end up funneled into the employer’s ATS. In fact, if you send your resume directly to somebody at the company through email, they'll probably upload it into the system.

What happens to my resume after I click “Apply”?

Your resume will be collected and processed by the ATS. This involves parsing out essential data such as your name, phone number, email and address, as well as sorting, indexing, and categorizing your resume to make it more easily retrievable.

I applied online for a specific job opportunity – what happens next?

Regardless of what job board you used to apply for the particular job opportunity, your resume will be placed into a single queue with all other applicants’ resumes from all other job boards and sources. It’s not unusual for that queue to contain 10,000 or more applicants if it’s a popular job with a desirable employer.

What about internal applicants? Where do they apply for new positions?

Employers often have a dedicated job posting portal for their internal applicants seeking mobility opportunities. The back end of this system will connect with – you guessed it – the ATS. These individuals go into the same queue.

Does the recruiter review all the resumes?

Probably not. A single recruiter may be assigned 20 (or more) open jobs at a given point. It’s difficult for a recruiter to find the time to look at 10,000 applicants for a single job, much less 200,000 for all 20 of their open positions.

How does the recruiter decide which resumes to review?

In concept, the ATS evaluates and sorts the resumes against the job description, and assigns each resume a ranking. While the mechanics of each system's sorting algorithms will vary, as a general concept the ATS will allocate the highest scores to resumes whose keywords most closely match the keywords found in the job description. The recruiter will then review the resumes, starting with the the highest-ranked matches, until he or she has gathered enough qualified candidates to screen – probably somewhere in the neighborhood of between five and ten resumes. Then they’ll move on to something else. Most resumes don’t get reviewed.

Why do recruiters approach it this way?

To better understand this process, consider the following allegorical example. Let’s say you’re getting ready to go out to dinner, and you want to find a good Italian Restaurant in your neighborhood. You enter the following search criteria into Google or Bing: “Italian restaurant near me.” Chances are, you'll receive dozens of pages of search results; but if you happen to identify an appealing, highly rated restaurant on page 1 or 2 of your search results, why would you keep looking?

What happens to my resume if it doesn’t get reviewed?

It stays in the ATS for a period of time as determined by the company’s document retention policy, until it’s purged (in other words, deleted). Until it’s purged, it’s searchable by recruiters as part of the general resume database. You can learn what it means when an employer says they'll keep your resume on file – here. They really do keep it on file.

What are the chances my resume will be reviewed for future opportunities?

It’s not unheard of. Sometimes recruiters look through the resume database if they need to conduct a confidential search (and don’t wish to or can’t post the job, for whatever reason) or if they’re looking for specific, hard-to-find skills.

Okay, so how can I get noticed by recruiters when applying for jobs online?

Clearly the numbers are not in your favor, so you need to do a little bit of work as you apply to jobs online. Here's the process I recommend you follow when applying for jobs online:

  1. Analyze the job description. Read it. Really read it. Learn what skills the company is looking for in this role – both technical and soft skills. Those are your keywords.
     
  2. Ensure that you’re a fit for the job. While it’s okay to be aspirational in your applications, you could unintentionally hurt your standing with an employer by applying to too many roles for which you clearly don’t have the skills or experience, as recruiters will eventually just skip over your resume no matter how well the system determines it matches.
     
  3. Make sure the resume is ATS-friendly. Two-column resume formats, while attractive, tend to get mangled by an ATS. Other things to avoid – large tables (the parsing order can confuse the system); graphics (text in a photo format doesn’t get captured); and uncommon fonts (the employer may not have your font, and it could distort your resume's formatting and overall appearance).
     
  4. Save a copy of your resume to your desktop for you to edit.
     
  5. Match the title of your resume to the position. A title on the resume sets the stage for the reader, but it can also provide a valuable keyword match for the ATS. If you’re applying for a job titled “Finance Manager,” make it the same so long as it’s intellectually honest to do so.
     
  6. Plug keywords from the job description into your resume. You can use a “Skills” section for this purpose. But also sprinkle the words in appropriate places in the resume.
     
  7. Insert similar terminology to the job description. Here’s an example which can explain what I mean – some companies have a Staffing department, others have a Talent Acquisition department. Both terms mean similar (if not the same) things, as both departments manage the company’s recruitment, but if your resume’s terminology doesn’t match the job description, your resume's score may knocked down. Other examples: Logistics vs. Supply Chain; Training vs. Development; Human Resources vs. Personnel. And note little details, like how the company describes the degree requirements – an MBA may be the same thing as a Master of Business Administration, but it needs to match what the company lists in the description in your uploaded resume.
     
  8. Save your edited resume, and apply online. Given the option your resume in a Microsoft Word version – it’s universally accepted by ATS platforms. And lastly...
     
  9. Go around the system. You read this correctly. Try to identify the decision maker for the position on LinkedIn. Then send them a brief note – through LinkedIn or by email – to inform them that you’ve applied online (always follow the company's process first), you have the qualifications for the role, and would love to connect with them. Your well-timed message can potentially put your candidacy front of center, regardless of how highly or lowly the ATS scores your resume. Also, this shows initiative and creativity, and you may very well be the solution to the employer’s problem.

By the way, it's a great idea to have a premium LinkedIn subscription while you're searching for a job – the benefits far outweigh the cost.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.