Applicant Tracking System Myths Debunked, with Marie Zimenoff

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 135:

Four Applicant Tracking System Myths Debunked, with Marie Zimenoff

Airdate: April 18, 2018

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac of Mac’s List. Find Your Dream Job is presented by Mac’s List, an online community where you can find free resources for your job search plus online courses and books that help you advance your career. My latest book is called Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. It’s a reference guide for your career that covers all aspects of the job search, including expert advice in every chapter. You can get the first chapter for free by visiting macslist.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List.

I’m joined by my co-hosts, Becky Thomas and Jessica Black, from the Mac’s List team.

This week we’re talking about — and debunking — common myths about applicant tracking systems.

Often these days, a machine, not a human being, receives and routes your resume when you apply for a job. This technology is called an applicant tracking system, or ATS.

This week’s guest expert is Marie Zimenoff. She says there is a lot of confusion among job seekers about applicant tracking systems. Marie and I talk about four of the biggest ATS myths later in the show.

Applicant tracking systems aren’t the only tool used to automate the hiring process. Becky has found a story in The Guardian that describes how companies now use AI, or artificial intelligence, for work once done by HR managers. She tells us more in a moment.

Many companies use vague job titles when hiring. This can lead to confusion and frustration for applicants. Why do employers do this? That’s our question of the week. It comes from listener Garry Rodgers of Medford, Oregon. Jessica shares her advice shortly.

As always, let’s start by checking in with the Mac’s List team.

Becky Thomas is here to share with us what she’s learned after spending her week exploring the nooks and crannies of the Internet looking for those tools you can use in a job search and career. Becky, what are your discoveries this week?

Becky Thomas:

Because we’re talking about applicant tracking systems and hiring technology today, I started to do some research and reading around what is going on in the hiring technology world. There’s a lot.

It got me thinking about how backwards it seems in 2018 for applicant tracking systems to not be able to recognize variances in keywords. I know we hear of common advice about, “To get your resume through the ATS you have to use the exact words and phrases in the job description or the ATS won’t realize you’re talking about the same thing in a slightly different way.” In 2018, as we’ve got all this advanced technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, it’s like, “How come the ATS can’t learn that?”

Jessica Black:

That’s a great point.

Mac Prichard:

It is. A great question.

Becky Thomas:

Right? I hope that Marie will talk about that a little bit more today.

Mac Prichard:

I think she will. We’re gonna dig into that.

Becky Thomas:

You should push her on that a little bit, like, “ATS’s should be better.”

But there’s a lot of other stuff going on in the hiring technology world. There’s a lot of new automations that are being used mostly by larger enterprises, multi-national companies that are aimed at efficiency. Basically a robot will  read a bunch of resumes so that a hiring manager doesn’t have to. But there’s a downside to this tech progress in the hiring world because it’s creating more of something that everyone feels in the hiring process, which is a disconnect between the actual human beings. That causes all kinds of other challenges.

I found an article this week in The Guardian that has a really dramatic title but is actually full of interesting facts and figures. The title is:

‘Dehumanizing, impenetrable, frustrating’: the grim reality of job hunting in the age of AI

Mac Prichard:

Grim was the word that jumped out at me.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, it is pretty grim. Some of this is grim, but it’s also the reality that we’re living in and so I think it’s important for job seekers to know what may be coming or what they may face in this current age.

Jessica Black:

And the tools, and tips, and tricks to be able to make it less dehumanizing and less grim.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, well I think there might be more lessons for hiring managers here because there’s not a ton of tips and tricks in this article, but I think it’s more about understanding the landscape.

It talks about how technology is changing the way organizations are hiring and how job seekers are already having to respond, plus what could be coming next. “A slew of new companies selling AI software to organizations as a replacement for the costly human side of hiring.” That’s what they wrote.

Just a couple examples of what’s going on, they mentioned that:

Applicants are being prompted to answer questions on video, then software will analyze their  “microexpressions” and compares them against top performing employees that are already at the company.

Also, and I think some of us may have already encountered these, quizzes, psychometric tests, you have to answer multiple-choice questions as part of the screening process, and custom built games that can be used to reject applicants before a human may ever see their application.

They also interviewed several job seekers, and this is in the UK so they’re talking about an imminent update to the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),which will basically require a company to disclose whenever a decision that “significantly affects an individual” was automated. It’s basically giving job seekers some say in the matter if they’re being discriminated against by a robot. We’re in a brave new world right now.

Like I mentioned, the tone of this article is somewhat bleak, and it’s difficult not to be worried that we’re losing a lot of human interaction in the traditional hiring process. On the hiring side, automation would help minimize internalized bias by a hiring manager perhaps, but we’re also not leaving ourselves room to discover amazing candidates through real conversations. I think that on the hiring side they need to think about that as they’re approaching this. Is efficiency better than not actually finding the right people? I think it promotes this idea of, “We need all of the same people that we have now.” That can be challenging too.

On the candidate side, it seems like an already isolated process and its seeming to becoming more so.

We’re in early stages here, so I don’t want to be really down in the dumps and be like, “Things are going to hack in a handbasket.”  But I think it’s important for job seekers to learn as much as they can about trends in this hiring technology so that they can be prepared for it. As you look at jobs, research a potential employer’s hiring process. I think that in this day and age, you’re going to have to expect wide variations in the way companies hire, and customize your materials, interview answers, etc. to the job that you’re applying for, but don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you’re trying to game the system to land a job through this automated process, it’ll likely end up being a bad fit and you’ll have to start this grueling process all over again.

If anything, this is probably supporting the advice that we share over and over, which is to network and try to get into the hidden job market where you don’t have to go through the formal hiring process because this seems like it’s hard.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, it is. I haven’t read it yet but just hearing about it, the automation of everything, stresses me out and makes me feel sad. Even though it’s also hopeful and exciting like how innovative and how far technology can go, there’s also… I’m such a people oriented, human-centric person, that I love the connections between people. To reduce those in every capacity feels weird and scary but it also is very exciting at the same time.

Becky Thomas:

I also feel like there’s a big divergence between the trends and the way companies talk about hiring. On one side, they’re talking about culture fit and making sure personalities are aligning. On the other side, they’re not wanting to actually talk to any candidates. It’s like, “You guys need to find a way to figure that out.”

Jessica Black:

Right? How are the robots going to know what their personalities are?

Becky Thomas:

The robots aren’t the ones going to happy hour with their coworkers. The thing is, we still have to work together as humans for now.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. For now.

Mac Prichard:

For a long time…and I’m glad you found this article because it reflects a lot of the concerns that people have about ATSs or Applicant Tracking Systems, and I know Marie is going to address those in our conversation.

I also want to second your point about the importance of personal networking. Because even in these large companies that rely on these automated systems to receive and sort resumes and assign people different rankings for interviews, the personal connection still matters. It can make all the difference.

Jessica Black:

True, yeah, and I think your point about arming job seekers with just the realities of the trends is just so important because you have to know what is actually happening. As much as I might feel that I want it to be more human centered and relational, that’s not the reality of where we’re going so I feel like we have to understand what’s happening.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Marie feels very strongly about that and she’s going to share some insights into how these systems work and how candidates can navigate them. The more we understand how this system works, the more effective we can be.

Jessica Black:

I am really excited about your conversation with Marie because…and I’m one of them, but I think a lot of people don’t understand how Applicant Tracking Systems work. I’m really excited for her to share a little bit more about how they actually work and what myths there are that we are all walking around believing that aren’t actually true. Yeah, I thinks it’s going to be really good and insightful.

Mac Prichard:

Good, I’m looking forward to it as well, but first…

Thank you, Becky. Do you have a suggestion for Becky? Write her and we may share your idea on the show. Her address is becky@macslist.org.

Let’s turn to you, Jessica because you’re out there talking to our listeners a lot, and getting their questions. What do you have in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jessica Black:

This week’s question comes from Garry Rodgers of Medford, Oregon.

Garry says, “I’ve noticed that a lot of companies use bureaucratic or vague job titles, often in ways that make it difficult to understand what the job really is. This most recently became an issue when I applied for an “Account Manager” position. Only after I arrived at the interview was it made clear that this was a telephone sales, call-center type job. Why do employers do this?”

Garry, this is a great question because it’s absolutely, very true. This happens and job seekers have the feeling that job titles aren’t always what they seem. Even though oftentimes they are very clear and direct, there are always possibilities where you’re going to get to an interview and find out that the job is different than what you expected.

To answer your question about why employers do this, I think it comes down to just general marketing. Employers do that for the same reason advertisers use vague language. They want to capture attention and sound more appealing to a wider audience. This is just an assumption that I have, but I would assume that they are thinking if they can get someone to apply and interview, the likelihood that that person will accept the job is higher than if they provide all the information that this position is a call-center type job. They may have less applicants and thus have a harder time attracting candidates. Again, that’s just my assumption so I don’t mean to put employers in a negative light that way.

I think that idea that we always want to make things sound the best way possible and highlight the best qualities of the job rather than showcase the more mundane, that sort of thing. Again, I don’t know the particular organization that this was or their reasoning or their decision making process for this. That was, again, marketing is very powerful so that would be my assumption.

I would say that to get around this, or at least get around this a little bit better, is to, like we say a lot of times, do informational interviews. Find people that actually work for that organization and talk to them and get the inside scoop about the organization. Figure out what type of job this actually is, how the people there like working there, what the day-to-day looks like, that sort of thing to get a little bit better understanding.

Again, networking and I think reading the fine print or reading between the lines of the job description. Really understanding the words that they’re using. Sometimes there can be vague language but if you understand the meanings…It’s like when you’re looking for an apartment online and something’s referred to as “cozy”. You know it’s going to be small. Understanding those synonyms almost, of what people are meaning by the words that they’re using.

I would also recommend doing research online of the job title that you’re applying for. I did a little online research for the job title “Account Manager” just to see what comes up. To see what the job description looks like. If there could be a reference to doing those types of sales oriented, call-center type positions, and there were. There were several opportunities or job descriptions where it was a specific, “Call-center account manager” position. Or “Sales account manager” positions. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this job description that you applied for, Garry, was referencing that. But oftentimes employers pull job descriptions from online… use it from other organizations that they’ve found online. Being able to get an understanding of what you’re walking into is helpful if you’re not able to make those direct connections with a person inside the organization.

Yeah, those are my pieces of advice. What do you guys have for Garry?

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I think that it’s definitely key to just try to research the company as much as you can when you find a job that you may be interested in. Just be like, “Okay, this job title and description look like something that I would want to do.”  But without doing any research on the company, they might have been slightly…

Jessica Black:

Blindsided?

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, and I think there’s some responsibility from the job seeker side that you should figure out what kind of company this is before you apply. If this job, this account manager job, was explaining something that didn’t involve any telephone work then it’s totally not cool. You’re lying to your candidates and that’s not a good practice.

Jessica Black:

Right.

Becky Thomas:

But I think there was probably some sort of massaging of the truth in the job description.

Jessica Black:

Right, they may have said, “Ten percent telephone” rather than the actual all the time.

Becky Thomas:

I think the job seeker needs to do their due diligence and figure out what is really going on and if you don’t find that out until the interview process, that’s unfortunate because you don’t want to waste your time on something that you’re not interested in.

Jessica Black:

I’m hoping that this was just a bad case that happened because I don’t think this happens all the time.

Becky Thomas:

Right, because I don’t think the employer would benefit from getting a bunch of candidates that aren’t actually interested in the job that they have. I’m sure Garry was like, “Oh, I’m not interested in this telephone sales job. I thought it was totally different. Thanks but no thanks.”

Jessica Black:

Exactly.

Becky Thomas:

That’s not helpful to them. I would think.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. What do you think, Mac?

Mac Prichard:

I would say to Garry, he also asked the question: “Why do employers in general use vague or bureaucratic titles?” A couple reasons. One, sometimes there’s internal processes that require employers to use a very general title like Program Specialist 3. Smart employers figure out that they may have to use those internal titles on documents inside the organization, but if they’re going to attract the best candidates, they should use functional titles that clearly describe what the position is about.

The other thing that may be going on, when Garry sees those positions with the vague titles, is many employers, particularly small ones that don’t hire a lot, they just don’t have a lot of experience both in writing job descriptions and creating content, or copy rather, that is compelling and is going to attract candidates and also tell the story of the job. Sometimes it’s just an honest mistake.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, that’s another thing that I was thinking is that sometimes the job description evolves. They may have advertised an account manager position and then throughout the hiring process decided that they wanted to alter the position a little bit. I know that happens too and they should be very transparent in communicating that to their interviewees. I assume that it’s always done and they just didn’t know but it is a bad practice. I’m sorry about that, Garry.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well thank you for the question, Garry, and thanks for the advice, Jessica. If you’ve got a question for Jessica, please email her. Her address is: jessica@macslist.org. You can also call our listener line. That number is area-code 716-JOB-TALK; we love getting recordings. Or post your question on the Mac’s List Facebook group.

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of our book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere.

We’ll be back in just a moment. When we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest expert, Marie Zimenoff, about common myths about applicant tracking systems.

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Now, let’s get back to the show!

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Marie Zimenoff.

Marie Zimenoff is the CEO of the Career Thought Leaders Consortium and Resume Writing Academy. She trains career professionals around the globe in resume writing, career coaching, and business development.

Marie has delivered hundreds of presentations for career service providers, job seekers, and business leaders.  She is also a frequent presenter at national conferences and the host of The Career Confidante podcast.

She joins us today from Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Marie, thanks for being on the show.

Marie Zimenoff:

Yeah, thanks for having me, Mac. I’m glad to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Now, our topic is one that comes up a lot with job seekers and that is applicant tracking systems. The acronym is ATS. I’m guessing many of our listeners have heard of ATS’s but they might not be familiar with what they are and how they work. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Marie Zimenoff:

Yes, so an applicant tracking system can serve many functions within a company. The one that people are most worried about when they talk about it in terms of applying to a company is what’s called the Resume Parsing, or Resume Scoring, part of that applicant tracking system. It actually takes an application and scores it for keywords that are in the job description. They are usually programed in by that recruiter who wants to find someone with a specific expertise.

Applicant tracking systems also do exactly what it sounds like they do; they track that application throughout the process for the recruiter. The recruiter can mark in there when they’ve contacted the applicant, when they’ve interviewed, when they’ve decided they’re not going to move them forward, etc. They do a lot of different things, but again, what people are usually talking about when they are bemoaning an applicant tracking system is the scoring part that many companies do use to help get that top pool of applicants for a human eye to look at.

Mac Prichard:

Just to clarify, does every applicant tracking system have a resume scoring function or only some?

Marie Zimenoff:

Only some of them do, but again, most of the time when people are talking about it, they’re really talking about that resume parsing system. So when a company says, “We use an applicant tracking system”, they are usually talking about the full functionality. Interestingly, the Federal Government programs…I just learned this recently, always learning new things  in our field. The USA Jobs, where people apply for government jobs, obviously uses some kind of an applicant tracking system to track the people applying, but it does not use a resume scoring system.

It’s very interesting that some companies, or some organizations that you might expect to use that resume scoring, do not. Right now about 60% of companies use some type of resume scoring system for their applications.

Mac Prichard:

Aside from resume scoring systems, are there any other ways that applicants are ranked or scored aside from resumes in an ATS?

Marie Zimenoff:

Some of them are starting to do some social scoring. That is a little bit more of a touchy subject, of course, because it gets into some of the legal issues around what you can and can’t access but there are more companies using a system that actually goes out and scores people’s social media for the top five personality traits. It goes out and looks at your profile and scores you on conscientiousness, and extrovertedness, or outgoingness…I can’t remember what the actual words are. Some of them are using some of that technology to go out and score your social media, which is interesting but that’s not as common by any means as the resume scoring systems.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have a sense, Marie, of how many employers out there…say in the United States, use an ATS of one kind or another?

Marie Zimenoff:

The last number that I saw was around 60% percent. You can think, “Oh that’s bigger companies that have money.” But sometimes it’s smaller companies who’ve outsourced that job to someone who’s got a system. If you’re applying online it doesn’t always mean that people are using a resume scoring system. One of the favorite employers here in Fort Collins had an online application but wasn’t using an applicant tracking system, really a scoring system, until maybe just two or three years ago. An online system may indicate that they have resume scoring but not always, it’s not a given.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so the systems exist. About 60% of employers in the United States today use those. Those that do have an ATS, again, about 60%, have some kind of resume scoring system in place. It sounds like a fraction, but a much smaller number, actually looking at social accounts of applicants as well.

Anything else about the reach of ATS’s or ways that they rank applicants besides social and resume?

Marie Zimenoff:

They are looking usually for keywords and sometimes there’s a system at the very beginning that asks some questions and it will score the answers to those questions as well as the resume. If you have to answer a few essay questions or answer some checkbox, or scale types of questions, those might be scored as well. There are 200+ different applicant tracking systems out there so this is one of the biggest things I see, is someone says, “This will or this won’t work in an applicant tracking system.” The question is, which system are you talking about here? Because there are many and they are all different although they are in some ways starting to use similar technology that makes some of those differences less, between the technologies.

You’ve got people scoring your resumes, scoring your answers, and I always remind people, even if a company is not using an applicant tracking system or resume scoring software, that usually there’s an entry level HR person doing pretty much the same thing that the software would be doing. Looking for key qualifications and keywords in the resume without a whole bunch of thought to translating for you, or guessing, or thinking outside the box on your behalf because they simply don’t have time. They’ve got hundreds of applications to look through and they’re looking for the person who’s qualified. They aren’t going to say, “Oh wow, what a great background you’ve had. I’m thinking you’d be really interesting.” The person that’s screening it, even if it is a person, doesn’t have the ability or time to think like that.

Mac Prichard:

It’s interesting you should say that. I am dating myself, but when I was applying for government jobs here in my home state of Oregon, I wasn’t getting interviews and someone, a mentor, said, “Well what you need to do is to get the position description”, and this was way back in the 1990’s. “Highlight the keywords and then make sure when you turn in your government application form that you include those keywords as much as you can because the person who is reviewing your application is probably a high school graduate. Today they’re looking at hundreds of applications for the field of communications for public information officers. Tomorrow it could be structural engineers and the day after that it could be foster care workers.” They have a list of keywords, was the coaching I got, they’re looking for those words and that’s how they assign the score. It’s not a new approach, is it?

Marie Zimenoff:

No it really isn’t, and I think that one of the other things we try to push as a job search coach or as a teacher at a university, or any way that we interact with job seekers, that applying online isn’t the best way to find a job because of that. Because the person looking at you isn’t thinking about you as a person. Yet during some part of the process, even if you network in or have someone that’s really pushing your application, there’s still going to be some level of scrutiny to, “Do you have the right skills? Can we back up our decision to hire you legally?”, even if the CEO recommended you, the HR people want to be able to cross their t’s and dot their i’s. Even though you may not need to worry about, “How applicant tracking friendly is my resume?” You do want to make sure that you’re communicating your qualifications in your resume no matter what process you go through.

I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about that later.

Mac Prichard:

We are.

We’ve talked about what an ATS is and how it works, and there are four big myths that you keep running across when you work with job seekers about ATS’s. Let’s go through them one by one.

The first myth, Marie, that you hear and find in your work is that the ATS is evil. Why isn’t this true?

Marie Zimenoff:

I just saw another article today, HR Is Not Your Friend. I understand the sentiment of the article, HR is not there necessarily to hand-hold or to be your helper in getting hired, but I think sometimes that we overvillanize HR and we overvillanize these systems. HR people are helpers just like you and me; they’re coaches who happen to end up in organizations. They actually do like to help people, most of them. They’re busy, they’ve got a lot of rules and regulations that they’re dealing with, but they have a good heart and they want to help.

When they bring on a technology, they are looking for a technology that will help them do their job better. That will help them find the best qualified candidate. We can argue that do applicant tracking systems help them do that or not, maybe, maybe not, but the systems are really advancing and evolving. They do that better, to find the best candidate better.

Now if you’re a candidate whose nontraditional and you’re like, “Oh I’m a great candidate because I know I can do this job”, that’s wonderful but that’s not what an HR person is looking for. They’re looking for someone who has the qualifications that the job is asking for. If you want to get in the back door, there’s different ways to do that, but when you apply online it’s realizing that system is trying to find the best qualified candidate. It does screen people out if they make mistakes, if they don’t follow directions, but I would argue that that’s an important skill for any job. To be able to follow those directions and do it the right way. Of course the systems used to kick people out for really silly things like using italics, or bold, or underline. They are advancing to not do that. HR didn’t like that either. They didn’t like that candidates were getting kicked out for those silly reasons or because the person didn’t know exactly how to do the resume where it wouldn’t get kicked out of the system.

They are trying their best to get to the best people and kick out the riff raff. If you want to blame anyone for the systems being put in place, blame those people who are applying to positions they have no business applying to. Because that’s what HR is trying to get around. It’s trying to find the people that are actually qualified for the position.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that’s one of the great contradictions right now. It’s never been easier to find jobs online or apply for them, but it seems harder and harder as the years go by to actually get interviews when you do apply online, doesn’t it?

Marie Zimenoff:

Yeah and it really depends on the industry and the saturation of where you’re at. There are certain industries where applying online is going to get you tons of interviews because they don’t have that many applications so it’s really easy to get through that way. Companies do still, on the whole, HR folks, when they’re interviewed, still do place a high level of value on people who apply directly to their website. Because, of course, it means you’ve sought out and found that company as a place you want to apply. They do put value in that, many companies, not all of course. It’s just figuring out what works in your area.

If you’re in high tech or IT, applying online might work for you. If you’re an admin assistant, probably not. There’s a lot of applications for every position in that world, whereas in IT or programming, depending on where you are, there may be very few applications that are actually qualified for that position. It’s all about how well do you match the positions you’re applying to and what’s the saturation level for the type of position and geographic location where you’re applying? It may work to apply online, it may not. It just depends.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned a moment ago that in the past people could use italics and other forms of formatting in an ATS application and that could cause problems. That brings me to myth number two that you run across.

People believe that when you apply through an ATS, that you need to use only text and no formatting. Is that still true, Marie?

Marie Zimenoff:

Over the last three or so years, all of my ATS experts have agreed, and this is like a pig flying moment, they’ve all agreed that most formatting elements- bold, italics, underline, shading, borders- do not impact your scoring anymore. This is because it has changed from applicant tracking systems reading your document like a document scanner. You know those old time scanners that you might have had on your desk?

They don’t do that anymore. They read the actual HTML code of the document. When you look at a website, you can look at the HTML of that website and you’ll notice that bold and italics is a separate command from the text. A separate command, usually in carets tells the computer to bold that text, but it doesn’t actually interfere with the characters of the writing, the actual text you want read. As systems have moved to that technology, and they’re moving to that fairly quickly now because it makes things easier. All of that formatting doesn’t matter at all because it’s not connected to the actual text that the computer is reading in HTML code.

As that change has happened, most of that formatting stuff doesn’t matter. There’s still some debate on whether or not tables are acceptable. Two out of three of my experts say that tables are fine, they’re just read a specific way, so you have to be careful about the construction of your table. There’s some debate about the graphics. Two out of three of them agree that graphics just disappear. A graphic won’t get read but it won’t impact the scoring of your resume, so if you put a sales graph in there, or you put a symbol that shows that your company was in the hundred top growing companies or something. Those can be great visuals and most of the time aren’t going to impact an ATS.

Then the last one all three people still say to avoid is text boxes. If you insert a text box that’s most likely going to get treated like a graphic and it completely disappears. That pretty format you have where your core competencies, or areas of expertise, or keywords are in a text box. That text box is disappearing, not getting read, and could be hurting your scoring.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned debate a moment ago and that brings us to our third ATS myth. Some people believe keywords don’t matter at all. Others out there say keywords are everything. What are the facts, Marie?

Marie Zimenoff:

I’d be interested to know how those people who say keywords don’t matter think their resumes are being scored because that’s what recruiters are looking for. They’re scoring for those words. Now they are starting to score for those words in context. That pretty list of core competencies you have is less effective today than it used to be because the systems are getting smarter and they’re looking for those words in context. Now what I love about the evolution of these systems is that it’s actually making good writing even more important. Because now you have to actually write a document that talks about your accomplishments in context with the keywords.

Throwing up a list isn’t going to do it anymore. It’s that good rich content that shows you’re qualified. The computer likes that now too which is great, we’re all on the same page. A lot of times when people get kicked out of a system, or they get a denial right away, they automatically blame the formatting. “My document must be formatted wrong.” Probably not, maybe. The number one thing is did you follow directions? Did you upload stuff where you should have uploaded stuff? Two, did you have the keywords in context, did you have accomplishments? Three, there’s about a million other reasons you could have been kicked out. They already had someone set up for the position but they had to post it.

We know that happens a lot; they have to post it to appease corporate policy but they already had someone in, so they pretty much set it up to send everyone denial notices right away. When we think about why we got denied, be careful not to just skip right to blaming the formatting of your document. Look deeper, look at the words, look at are you sharing those words in context, are you showing that you can actually do the skills and add the value? Then of course, following the directions.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve touched on this but I do want to bring up the fourth myth that I know you see a lot in your work. That’s that ATS’s just don’t work because there are people out there who are well qualified, they apply, and they get rejected. So the system is broken. What do you say to those folks, Marie?

Marie Zimenoff:

That’s probably true. There are people who get kicked out when they’re qualified. Again, maybe because they don’t follow the directions, or their resume is formatted incorrectly. It’s possible. For the most part, there’s a million different ways that you can get kicked out. There’s a million different ways you can get in, and it’s really about, are you qualified for the position? Can you demonstrate that on your resume? Because that’s all they’ve got. They don’t have any other way of judging you than what you put on your resume.

If you’re doing that, if you’re matching what you’re applying for and you’re still getting kicked out, then you might go and look at some of the other issues. As we’ve talked about, start networking; if we spend too much effort on that resume we’re wasting time because there’s so few open positions that get filled that way. You spend enough time on the resume, you make sure it’s good, it matches, and it shows you’re qualified. Then start networking so you can be the person who’s handed to the HR person in addition to applying online.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, don’t put all your eggs in the ATS basket.

Marie Zimenoff:

That’s just a recipe for frustration.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well Marie, it’s been a wonderful conversation. Tell us, what’s next for you?

Marie Zimenoff:

As you said at the beginning, I’m at the head of Career Thought Leaders Consortium and Resume Writing Academy. We are consistently rolling out resources for job seekers and for other career professionals in the field to help try to debunk some of these myths and try to stay up on top of all the changes. People can go to our website and look at the resources, look at the resume information we have on there at resumewritingacademy.com. Some of the career and job search information will be on careerthoughtleaders.com.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a great website, I did have a chance to check it out before our conversation and people can find it by visiting careerthoughtleaders.com.

Marie, thank you for joining us this week.

Marie Zimenoff:

Yeah, Mac, thank you for having me and I look forward to talking to you again.

Mac Prichard:

As do I. Take care.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Jessica and Becky. What are some of your takeaways from my conversation with Marie?

Becky Thomas:

I think that I was a little bit skeptical. I was like, “Oh is she going to defend the ATS?” Because I think I do have some of that preconceived notion that the ATS is out to get us.

Mac Prichard:

That the ATS is evil.

Jessica Black:

Totally.

Becky Thomas:

The language that we use for our advice is always like, “How to beat the ATS” or, “How to get around the ATS”. I think it was really helpful to hear from her about why employers use it and how they use it and the fact that for most jobs, the ATS is doing the same thing that a real HR entry-level person would do. That it’s not actually like the robot is trying to defeat you; it’s about, “Are you qualified for this position and can you show it on your resume?”

Jessica Black:

It’s an efficiency thing, too. The purpose is for efficiency.

Becky Thomas:

Right.

Jessica Black:

Usually a person can’t do it all themselves so they need support to be able to sift through the resumes that don’t match at all. That was a thing that I took away, too, that an HR person is here to help you, they just need support as well.

But she said, I can’t remember the exact number, but maybe she said 20,000 different types?

Mac Prichard:

200.

Jessica Black:

200.

Mac Prichard:

That’s still a big number in the United States.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, I remember hearing it and thinking, “That’s a huge number.”

Mac Prichard:

200 ATS’s.

Jessica Black:

I couldn’t remember the exact number. That was shocking to me too.

Becky Thomas:

The fact that employers don’t share the details of how their ATS works is not helping all these myths. If employers were more open about the process, then there wouldn’t be all these myths that are outdated about your formatting, and uploading text in the right way, or all that stuff. I feel like there’s blame to be spread around on both sides.

Jessica Black:

Sure, but I get what you’re saying and I think that’s really… Because another thing I took away which I thought was really interesting was the fact that she was talking about if you put text boxes in, they will basically get removed. I thought that was really interesting because I’ve seen a lot of resumes of friends, and colleagues, and associates, or whatever that have those where they put their skills at the top area. I thought that was really interesting that those are key places for keywords to go in and those are basically going to get removed.

I think that, to your point, Becky, if there was a little more transparency about…

Becky Thomas:

Instructions.

Jessica Black:

Instructions, yes that’s exactly what I was going to say. Like, “Here’s how to optimize sending in your resume. Feel free to bold, don’t put in textboxes or graphics. They’re not going to show up.” Those types of things would just help people. People would be able to utilize them easier, and better, and make it more commonplace, rather than like a fear that you’re going to get weeded out because you don’t know how to do it.

Becky Thomas:

It’s not a clear system, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well the good news is that systems have improved and I agree with Marie that people in HR are helpers and they want to make these systems better. Change takes time but I’m reminded of this speech I heard once at a conference about leadership and it was a Navy officer. He’d written a book called It’s Your Ship and his big idea, which I think is so smart, is that you need to learn a system and once you do that, you can make the system work for you.

There’s more good news in that there’s people like Marie and others out there writing about how ATS’s work, and they’re sharing information you might not get from employers but it’s available and it can make a big difference.

Jessica Black:

It’s so helpful. I’m so glad that she shared that because it was just really insightful.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, well thank you both, and thank you, Marie, and thank you, our listeners, for downloading today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Make sure you present yourself in the best possible way. Create an error-free resume that can get you interviews and job offers. Get my new guide, Don’t Make These 8 Killer Resume Mistakes.

Go to macslist.org/resumemistakes.

Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be William Arruda. He’ll explain why your bio matters more than your resume.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

Applicant Tracking Systems get a bad rap. That’s understandable, since job seekers receive competing advice on how to “beat” or “get through” an ATS screening. It’s hard to determine the best way to work with an ATS! On this episode of Find Your Dream Job, guest Marie Zimenoff explains why and how employers use an ATS in the first place. She’ll shine light on some of the common misconceptions people have about ATS software, and give you tips to work with them more effectively.

About Our Guest: Marie Zimenoff

Marie Zimenoff is the CEO of the Career Thought Leaders Consortium and Resume Writing Academy. She trains career professionals around the globe in resume writing, career coaching, and business development. Marie has delivered hundreds of presentations for career service providers, job seekers, and business leaders. She is also a frequent presenter at national conferences and the host of The Career Confidante podcast.

Resources in this Episode: