Although USAJOBS is not an Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) system (if you read my columns regularly that should not be a surprise), most private sector employers’ employment portals are some form of ATS. Here are some fun facts (and important information) about ATS. All jobseekers should pay heed.
• Close to 90% of Fortune 500 companies, and thousands of smaller ones, use some form of ATS.
• Even if you are networking and hand your resume to an insider, the likelihood is that your resume will get submitted to ATS at some point.
• There are nearly 400 different ATS systems out there and each one is slightly different. Even if two companies are using the same ATS, they can turn specific features on and off so the ATS operates differently.
Given all the potential variations, what’s a smart jobseeker to do? Here are some common features across all ATS with the caveat that you may find variations and ATS are changing constantly:
• Use a PC and Word for your resume—that’s the best platform for ATS—it’s the best platform for USAJOBS too.
• Don’t get fancy with fonts. The fonts that most ATS will accept are Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, and Veranda. Some ATS will accept other fonts but you’re “safe” with these four. And, don’t use any 3rd party installed fonts. The government still likes Times New Roman but the same caution about fancy fonts applies.
• Leave your resume is Word—do not convert it to PDF when applying.
• Do not use text boxes. If you do use text boxes, make sure that nothing you want “read” by ATS is in them.
• Spell out acronyms—at least on first use. Most ATS use Boolean logic and is not Artificial Intelligence so it may not “translate” your acronyms—even common ones. And for those of you applying under USAJOBS, remember that not everyone understands your acronyms—the government is full of them! There’s one agency I work with that uses the same FMD acronym in widely different ways: Financial Management Division and Foot and Mouth Disease. Be clear—remember that your audience may not know your language.
• You may use tables in your resume; know that tables are read from left to right and not down a column.
• Want to understand how a specific ATS works? You can usually tell the name of the ATS being used by careful review of the job posting and application system. Try making an online search for the system—you may run across YouTube videos or training manuals online. While these are generally “how to” instructions for recruiters, they can be useful to jobseekers too.
• Headers and footers are not always read. Do not put key contact information in a header or a footer—especially on the first page of your resume.
• Include the key words from the posting. Enough said.
• Be careful in filling out your profile for each specific system. The profile is often used to “prequalify” you. If you get the wrong, you may be eliminated immediately. I often see jobseekers make mistakes on their USAJOBS profiles, as well as the profiles of other systems.
Given the high use of ATS, the days of having one resume are long over. There is no excuse for not tailoring your resume each and every time you apply. If you want to get past ATS, you need to demonstrate the qualifications required and must use the key words from the job posting and include them in your resume. Following the above tips will help ensure your carefully constructed resume gets successfully “read” by ATS and forwarded to the hiring manager.
Even if you’re not applying through an ATS, the above tips are applicable and using them will maximize your opportunities for getting past the “gatekeepers,” to the hiring manager, and getting that job you want.