Bad news for job seekers: as various sources state, about 75% of all resumes are rejected automatically before they get past a recruiter’s eye.
Good news for job seekers: that’s not true.
You might have seen some scary materials with an abbreviation ‘ATS’ (Applicant Tracking System), explained as a scary parser, ready to discard your resume in a minute if you don’t follow the specific rules. But don’t hurry to believe it and pay for the ‘ATS-compliancy’ of your resume.
In this article, I’ll try to explain all the key moments about ATS and resume optimization.
Understanding the ATS
Simply put, the Applicant Tracking System (or ATS) is a huge database of candidates, who apply for a job in a particular company. This system is also a comprehensive set of recruiting tools, helping HRs to post jobs, gather feedback, track the recruiting progress and expenses, etc. ATS also helps companies to collaborate on recruiting issues, as managers, directors, and other employees can also access this software. In short, ATS is a program, which companies use to streamline the hiring process.
When a job seeker fills out the application form on a company’s website, their personal profile is automatically created in that firm’s ATS. To expand this profile with additional information (such as one’s contacts or hard skills), the resume is parsed. For applicants, this part is usually the scariest one. Many of the job seekers believe that if the parsing process fails, their resume will never catch the recruiter’s eye. That’s far from the truth — even if one’s resume isn’t parsed correctly, it will still be attached to their personal profile in a particular ATS. Therefore, every recruiter will be able to open it just as one opens an attached file in an email.
As many job seekers want to ‘beat the ATS’, they ask for professional help or buy the special ATS-optimized templates. However, this is unnecessary. First of all, in most cases, the parsing process still goes smoothly.
The number of unparsed resumes is less than you may think
According to recent data, only about 3% of all resumes fail to proceed through the parsing stage. This data is based on the error stats of CV Compiler, a tech resume analyzer which has already processed about 15k resumes. Needless to say, they’ve all had different structures, formats, and content. In most cases, parsing errors happen due to one of the following 3 problems:
- Using the wrong file format (HTML, PowerPoint, etc.) — ~1,2%.
- Including too many images — ~1%.
- The resume file is too big or the servers are overloaded — ~0.9%.
So, the probability that a resume won’t be parsed correctly is relatively small. As parsers keep developing, in the near future, the number of unparsed resumes will be further reduced. Experts say, that even the correct parsing of images and PDF files will also be possible.
Modern ATS is powerful but not almighty
As you can see, ATS or parsers cannot reduce one’s chances of getting a job, as ATS with the automatic refusal feature is virtually nonexistent these days. The reason for that should be obvious — the perfect method of matching a resume with a vacancy has not yet been invented. ATS can rank candidates according to the keywords found in resumes, but machines do not make decisions — that remains a human responsibility.
Automatically matching a resume with a vacancy remains one of the biggest technical challenges for recruiters. Simply because skills are present on a CV does not mean the applicant has mastered them, and vice versa. Moreover, job descriptions are generally different from the actual job requirements. So, the possibility of making a mistake is genuine, and the potential cost too high for the employer, which is why recruiters still check all resumes manually. That is especially true for popular positions in programming, marketing, design, sales, etc.
“An Applicant Tracking System is just a technical interface helping recruiters do a better job, collaborate with hiring teams, comply with regulations and making sure nothing is keeping them away from delivering a great candidate experience.”
– Oscar Mager, Global Talent Acquisition Specialist,
Founder of Evertalent
Moreover, it’s not just recruiters who have access to the ATS; hiring managers can also review a resume at any time, and, if they like it, interviews will be scheduled. Some positions do demand specific knowledge and teamwork, and ATS can help locate appropriate candidates. As a result, companies tend to hire the right people for the right jobs.
ATS can also help those who don’t get job offers immediately. Even if someone doesn’t get a particular job, their personal profile and resume are still kept in the database (unless they request to delete it). Many recruiters will search for candidates in their database prior to publishing a job description online. So, it’s possible to get an offer from the company later, when a more suitable vacancy appears.
What experts say
Pundits agree that ATS-compliancy shouldn’t bother today’s job searchers. With over 500 different ATS now, each using a different parser and algorithm, it is literally impossible to create a resume fully compliant to all of the applicant tracking systems. Hence experts advise candidates to concentrate on improving their skills, rather than ‘beating’ the applicant tracking system.
“Resume parsers can parse data located inside a header, a footer, a text box, a table, or graphics — as well as the text, located in table columns. And yes, it can also parse PDF files (both text files and image files), the latter using advanced OCR technology.”
– Christine Watson,
Marketing Director at DaXtra Technologies
“One of the best ways a job seeker can improve their chances of successful parsing is to keep the word count to below 1000 and stick to a plain text format. You can experiment with the fonts (consider adding Merriweather, Lato, Poppins, or Palanquin), but try to keep the template clean and nice, without heavy structure and loads of images. The downside is there is no fancy formatting, but following these two rules will please both the recruiter and the parser.”
– John Rose, Managing Partner of Resourceful,
with 24+ years of experience in recruiting
General advice on creating a solid resume
I trust that you now understand the basic principles of how ATS works. However, when it comes to landing a job, nobody wants to make a mistake. So, to allow your resume to be easily parsed and stored by any applicant tracking system, follow these simple rules:
- The fewer images — the better. A technically-perfect resume is still a plain text file, without images, diagrams, or graphics.
- Make sure your DOCX or PDF file isn’t locked.
- Keep an eye on the file size — it should be no bigger than 5 MB. Include only the most important information on your resume — parsers and recruiters alike will appreciate it.
To check if your resume is parsable, just copy its content and paste it to any text editor. If done successfully, any ATS will be able to do the same.
So, while looking for a job, don’t worry about the ATS-compliancy of your resume. These systems make the hiring process smoother for both candidates and employers, but not reject anybody. Keep improving your skills and expanding your network, and only include actual skills and accomplishments on your resume. That’s the right way to realize your career goals.