You Got Bot’d: Why Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) Reject Your Resume

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You spent all of the second semester crafting your resume. You got the perfect font (Georgia, because it’s the first not-Times-New-Roman-one on Hubspot’s best resume fonts list). You’ve got splashes of color and those trendy skills dots ••••• next to your Photoshop proficiency. I mean, you’ve even got your tasteful headshot in the corner like a real pro.

Yet you’re not hearing back from any of the jobs you’re applying to. Are they even reading your resume? The resume you spent hours upon hours on?

Honestly? Probably not.

The truth is that 75% of resumes aren’t even seen by human eyes. That’s because for the most coveted jobs, the people in charge of hiring can get overwhelmed by a tsunami of PDFs and Word docs (also, stop sending resumes as Word docs please). Because it’s not efficient for humans to sift through hundreds and hundreds of resumes, they use something called Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to do it for them.

So in short, if you’re not getting any responses on your resume, there’s a good chance that you got bot’d by the ATS.

How Applicant Tracking Systems Read Your Resume

An ATS does more than just scan your resume for a “yes” or “no.” They do a lot for the hiring managers including accepting the resumes automatically as they come in, organizing them into the system, sorting them how the hiring manager wants them, and tracking the progress of each applicant as they move along the hiring funnel.

But unless your resume moves past the initial screening that the Applicant Tracking Systems have in place, the only real interaction you’ll have is that automated “we regret to inform you…” email. That’s right, those emails are rarely written by a human either – that’s another ATS special.

So how does an ATS read your resume? It’s all about the keywords.

At the end of the day, most ATS software isn't that smart. They’re not going to rise up and take over Canada any time soon. All they’re really doing is searching for the right keywords in your resume, and making sure the “must have” keywords exist.

For example, a hiring manager for a marketing department can tell her ATS to make sure that any resume it processes must have three out of the five following keyword phrases to move on to the next round:

  • Copywriting
  • SEO
  • Social media marketing
  • WordPress
  • Mailchimp

Any resume that doesn’t meet this initial criteria is auto-rejected, which is how 75% of resumes are simply not even seen by human eyes.

For higher-level positions, an ATS can also scan for previous job titles, years of experience, a wider set of skills & tools, and even for specific college degrees. The algorithm can then rank the applicant resumes by “most likely to fit the job” and only show the top handful to the hiring manager.

So, it’s clear that you need to beat the bot to make it to the next round. Let’s talk about how to do just that.

How to Beat the ATS Bots

Assuming you have the skills and experience that are right for the jobs you are applying to, the next step is to create an ATS-friendly resume. Just knowing that bots will be scanning your resume is a great first step, helping you think more algorithmically and making sure that you’re writing out the right keywords so your CV doesn’t get passed over.

Here are some easy hacks to make your resume more ATS-friendly:

  1. Put the literal job title as high up on your resume as possible. If you’re applying for a “marketing assistant” position, use that job title since there is a good chance the ATS will be searching for it. You can employ a “resume headline” at the very top of your resume under your name; a 1-2 sentence elevator pitch of who you are and what you’re looking for. Example: “Passionate and creative recent Communications graduate targeting a marketing assistant position in tech.”
  2. Read the skills, get the skills, write in the skills. Every job posting will have a list of requirements and skills laid out plain as day. They’re not there as suggestions. Now you know that the ATS will actively weed out your resume if you don’t have the skills that they are explicitly looking for. See how many of them you already can add to your resume, and how many of them you can learn about and add to your resume in a short amount of time. Then write them letter-for-letter to the way they are listed in the job posting.
  3. Write out acronyms as well as the full phrase. You know how to use a CRM? Great! But also write out Customer Relationship Management software. Treat the ATS like they’re in 3rd grade; you really need to spell it out for them just in case they can’t keep up. So be sure to write out things like Search Engine Optimization when you’re writing SEO. And if you need to save room on your resume and have to choose one or the other, fall back on writing out the entire phrase instead of their acronyms and abbreviations.
  4. Stick to text. As cool as your formatting and colors and charts and skills dots ••••• may look, remember: an ATS literally has no heart. There’s nothing to impress. Your resume can either be read, or it can’t be, and fancy formatting can gunk up the system and give your resume the boot. Stick to plain text. Don’t use headers, footers, charts, tables, graphics, images, symbols, or gifs. Don’t get cute with naming sections either. Stick with the standard headers of “work experience,” “education,” and “skills.” You can always bring in the fancy resume with you when you make it to your first human-led interview.

Beating the ATS is Part of the Hiring Game

Here’s the sad truth behind jumping through all these hoops: Applicant Tracking Systems aren’t all that great. Companies don’t really use them because their algorithms are calibrated to find these hidden gems of young employees. Quite the opposite actually, as a Harvard Business study showed that “a large majority (88%) of

employers agree, telling us that qualified high-skills candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description. That number rose to 94% in the case of middle-skills workers.”

Companies use their ATS to streamline workflow because they get hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes. It’s to save them time and money, and not actually to find better candidates.

So it’s up to you to outsmart the system, literally, and get your resume through the initial bot screening. But if you can’t, don’t worry. As the Harvard research shows, you may not be unqualified – you just need another way in.

That’s why PathMatch is committed to helping students and recent graduates connect directly with companies, while helping you build the exact skillset to help you stand out. Download our app today and get started on your own, personalized career path.

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