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How to beat applicant tracking systems

Sharon Florentine | Feb. 14, 2014
All's fair in love, war and job hunting. Learn how to use 'guerilla' job search tactics to use applicant tracking system technology to your advantage.

You've got all the right skills. Your resume shows a clear progression through your career, with a long list of accolades and accomplishments. You work well with others, but can excel independently. You've solved problems and increased revenue for your last few employers. You interview well — or at least you would if you could get an interview. So, what's the problem?

You might be at the mercy of an applicant tracking system (ATS) - technology that scans incoming resumes for job-specific keywords and "grades" them on a scale of 0 to 100. If your resume isn't scoring high enough, you could be excluded before your application ever makes it before human eyes.

But there's a secret to beating these systems, one that Rick Gillis, job search expert, strategist, consultant and author encourages his clients to use to give them a better shot at landing an in-person interview and a job. Just a few quick formatting tweaks can catapult your resume to the top of the pile.

"Yes, we're gaming the system," Gillis says. "This is what I like to call a 'guerrilla' job-search tactic; really, we're leveling the playing the field. I know that my clients can land jobs if they can get past the machines and can prove themselves in person. That part of the job search and interview process is up to them. But as a consultant, it's my job to help them make the difference between getting that phone call, creating that touch point, and moving forward," Gillis says.

Even Guerilla Tactics Have Rules
First, and most importantly, there are some hard-and-fast rules, even in these guerilla tactics, Gillis says. Do not lie, do not misrepresent yourself or your skills, and do not claim experience, traits or knowledge that don't represent you, he says.

"One thing clients ask me is, 'If I see a job and I meet most of the criteria, but not all, should I even bother applying?', and I tell them that a job description posted by a hiring company is a wish list. These companies would love to have 100 percent of these qualities and skills, but if you have 70 percent to 80 percent, go ahead and apply," he says. "But don't you dare put anything in your resume or your application that you can't speak to in an interview. Sure, you'll get past the machines, but you'll be branded a dishonest, deceitful and untrustworthy person, and you'll never land a job," he says.

How Applicant Tracking Systems Work
ATSes use a resume-filtering module that scans and grades resumes on a scale of 0 to 100, with points given for each match in keywords and terms that happens between a resume and a job posting, Gillis says.


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