I found a recent a discussion on the Career Thought Leaders Consortium to be quite thought provoking. It concerned the robots reading the resumes we write, and how preparing your resume for scanning by an ATS system is very important for most job seekers.
As I commented in that discussion, hopefully all of my fellow resume writers have long been making sure that our resumes are keyword rich and well matched to the job target. It is sad that ATS systems seem to be reducing all resumes to the least common denominator regarding formatting and presentation, since in my view these are important components contributing to the overall impression.
I do in my practice routinely provide Word (fairly simply but attractively formatted), PDF, and text versions to my executive clients. However, sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they say that you need to submit both plain text and Word formatted versions when applying for a position so as to meet the needs of both the robot and the human. In most cases when applying for a position via websites, the opportunity is afforded to submit only one version. So a choice has to be made–whether to appeal to the human or the robot.
The infographic to be found in this article is revealing:
Recruiters’ perspectives on this are interesting. In a recent LinkedIn discussion within the Corporate Recruiters group, it was discussed what the emerging dominance of ATS in recruitment means for recruiters. Are they becoming processors instead of talent agents? Many find ATS to have its pros and cons. An HR Manager observed that “An ATS searching for key words in a resume could very well bypass key talent, leaving a position unfilled for quite some time,” an extremely valid point. Others complain about the loss of the “personal touch” or the need for relationship building. Still others observe that as a database system, ATS is no better than the programming that created it and the consistency and accuracy of data handling. Many feel that ATS systems (along with most resume databases) encourage laziness versus the creative, hard work of tracking down and evaluating talent.
When you get down to it, recruiting is an art, not a science or a mathematical equation to be worked out by an impersonal computer. I believe that ATS has a very long way to go before it can be depended upon to result in good hiring decisions and avoid arbitrarily discarding some of the best potential candidates for a position. At least in the meantime, at whatever level you are in your career, I encourage you to become a sleuth and figure out who are the decision makers and how can you directly contact them. Where this absolutely cannot be done, you’ll face no other choice than to submit a very simply formatted Word version or a not too appealing text-formatted document.
The first line in the article mentioned above stated: “These days, the first set of eyes on your resume may not actually be eyes.” I’m speaking here to my executive clients: For those in the upper echelons of management and the executive suite, you are doing yourself a disservice if you are doing much of your search via submission of your resume through online job boards or employer portals where odds are your resume will first be screened by an ATS.
You do not want to be applying via websites where you can avoid it. Your go-to strategy should be building and leveraging a strong network and making at least initial contact directly with the party or parties involved in the hiring decision. Job #1 is to make sure that wherever possible the first eyes on your resume ARE actually those of a human.
Once you have piqued the interest of a real, live person, the resume will likely be uploaded to the recruiting firm or company’s resume database, and at this point you will also want to provide a simply formatted text version for that purpose. This is probably unavoidable, but you can rest assured that your resume has already bypassed the black hole of a resume database and landed on the desk of a decision maker.