PostHeaderIcon The Myths About Applicant Tracking Systems and Black Holes


Risky Business Newsletter
By: Roger Lear

If you are in the middle of a job search and use job boards, most likely you get frustrated when you decide to apply to a job and the apply link goes to an appli tracking system (ATS). Most major companies have this technology in place to collect your career information, resume and ask you a few questions. Once you complete the process, the computer will “score” your information and you will be graded against the job for which you applied. If you pass this phase of the process, you will automatically be emailed to the human resource department or the hiring manager for further consideration.

In talking to numerous job seekers over the few years they indicated applicant tracking systems are challenging because:

  1. The application process is very difficult and time consuming. Many of the questions being asked on these applications require information like past employer’s names, email addresses and phone numbers that you may not have. For some ATS’s, these are required fields, therefore the application cannot be completed.
  2. Job seekers never received any feedback from the employers. (We call this the black hole.)
  3. Once connected to the ATS, they could not find the job they wanted to apply to.
  4. Technical issues that prevented an applicant from applying. (The system times out.)

You will find most an ATS at major companies like Darden (Allstate and Liberty Mutual) and Disney. In smaller companies, it is still good old-fashioned email. ATS’s are here to stay so if you understand how to use them, you will increase your chances of being “career optimized” in the computer’s mind.

In a recent survey we just completed, jobs posted on the internet are getting over 100 applicants per job. The competition is fierce so here are a few tips to make sure your ATS application is viable:

  1. Apply to the job that you are most qualified for. Do not apply to multiple jobs. This will not help.
  2. Make sure your resume has the SAME KEYWORDS as the job description. IF YOUR BACKROUND DOES NOT MATCH the keywords in the job description, most likely you are not qualified for the position This is not a time to lie. More often than not, you do have the experience but need to tweak your resume to match the job. For example, your current title is account manager and you are applying to an administrative position. However, your current job is really an administrative job. If you don’t change your resume, the ATS system will spit you into the black hole.
  3. Many ATS will ask you additional questions about your background. For example, a question for managers would be, “Do you have at least four consecutive years of managerial experience?” What if you have three and half years? Answer the question correctly and hopefully your resume score will get some human eyes on your application. If you did say “yes” in this case, once in the interview process, this may be a huge negative.
  4. “I never hear back!” The black hole. You do everything correctly and are certain that you are qualified but never hear back from the company. This is a MAJOR issue we speak to employers about all the time. The company has to fix this issue and send at least an email back to you letting you know that you are not being considered. After all, the way you are treated whether you’re qualified or not is a true reflection on a company. You may be a stock holder, customer or future employee and it would be in the company’s best interest to treat you with professional respect.

ATS’s are not going anywhere. When applying, don’t be in a hurry, tweak your resume for keywords and make sure that the position you are applying to fits your background. Anything else is a waste of time in high unemployment.

question: Is there any way around these Applicant tracking Systems?

answer: Yes and No.  The best way around these systems is to know someone at the company you are applying and have them personally hand your resume to HR or even better the hiring authority.  In most cases, you will not know anyone so you can use LinkedIn to see if you can find someone at the hiring company that you may be able to contact by email or phone.  Word of caution: If you find someone in LinkedIn or Google who you think might be the hiring authority, call them and let them know that you have an interest in the job.  You may be surprised what happens!

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