14. November 2019

How to write an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) friendly Resumé

Precious advices to get your CV passing the selection and eventually get to the interview.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are way more diffuse than what you may think.
If you are considering updating or re-writing your CV, here you may find a collection of valuable insights to hack the ATS and make your resumé algorithm-proof.

As funny as it sounds, also us from DataScienceJob.de sometimes need to apply for jobs.
In this article I will tackle the 3 psychological states I went through before landing to the final resumé (actually it is just the most recent and fine-tuned) and give you some hints on how to prepare your CV for both recruiters and Applicant Tracking Systems.

Stage 1: Am I looking for a job?
It was six months before the end of my study, and I was unsure to get an offer from the company I was working with, so I decided to start to check the market. The CV I used had the same format since ages. Just to give you an idea about how lazy and naive I was: I worked as business developer and now I was using the same CV to apply for Data Science jobs. Anyway, I started sending my old CV just adding the DS Master to the Education section on page 2 and writing about the projects I did as a student.

Applications sent: 5 — Cover Letter style 'whatever'.
Positive replies: 0 — of course.
Success Rate: 0,0

When you start looking for a job, it is of course also important to update your linkedin profile to let companies know that you are available. I actually got some calls from recruiters, but I was rather disappointed with them. They were supposed to represent me, but instead it often felt like I was explaining to my grandpa what data science is. Moreover, they often did not really get the difference between a Data Scientist, a Data Engineer, a Data Architect, or Data Analyst. It seemed as it does not make any difference for them, but it felt like i was supposed to already know EVERYTHING. So I decided to take a more proactive approach.

Stage 2: First upgrade - I can do better
After talking with a friend — who is also a Data Scientist — he suggested to add buzzwords here and there into my CV. So I added a Technical Skills section with Data Science Haves, Libraries I have used and Programming Languages I had experience with and put all my DS projects in the Data Science Experience section.

Applications sent: 8
Follow up calls: 3-4
Eventually interviews: 3 — NICE!
Success Rate: 0,375

At some point I had an odd call with an HR-Person (m/w/d). We were going through my CV and even if my CV was divided in Data Science Experience and Business Development Experience, (s)he was asking for every position — even after my Bachelor in Economics — "what kind of DS tasks did you have there?" and I was like "not yet, later!" ...and so on for 5 long years :) At this point, I decided to add just below my photo and above my Technical Skills a summary-like sentence: "Business Developer once, Data Science since 2016."

If you consider how many applications recruiters & HR-employees are reviewing, adding a summary can be very useful to highlight core information about yourself. This kind of hack can make the application process a lot easier - for both of you.

Stage 3: Where did my wave go?
I am currently in stage 3. Hi, feel very welcome my friend! I was surfing the wave. But at some point, as my wish to close grew, I started to get one refusal after another … I was really wondering why! Reviewing the equation, I realized that I did not only change my CV, but at the same time I stopped applying for non-tech consulting companies and tried to get a more developer/research position. Anyway, I arrived to the logical conclusion that I should stop upgrading my CV but I should rather start re-projecting it.

Applications sent: tbd
Follow up calls: a lot
Eventually interviews: enough
Success Rate: better

So I started reading about how to improve your CV. Here are my findings/takeaways. Some of them may be controversial, so everybody should get to their own conclusions.

Applicant Tracking Systems

In every job posting there are keywords and these are always included in the sections Job Description and Your Requirements. This is where the ATS comes in. It is a software application that scans your resumé and looks for keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience and schools attended. Actually it is similar to Ad-Words. Recruiters and HR departments choose and rank the top skills, keywords and job title they are looking for, and give them a weight. The algorithm applies this information to the resumé and returns a matching-score.

In the small world I was living in, I thought only HUGE companies make use of it, but actually it is a pretty widespread method to make a first skim — apparently there are open-source and SaaS solutions. A lot of companies use this SaaS solutions to manage their applicants. Long story short, you need to get an ATS-friendly resumé.

How to get an ATS-friendly Resumé

In order to be friendly to the ATS make sure to include the keywords in your application that are used in the sections Job Description and Your Requirements — i.e. Python, SEO, TensorFlow, Unit Director, etc.

Let's suppose you are applying for a Senior Position as Acapella Singer, and 5+ years of experience are required. Then, you should probably consider renaming your position of Acapella Artist to Acapella Singer. To increase your chance of success, it is also useful that your resumé matches the language of the job posting. Why? Because if the ATS has been set up to find a Sales Manager it will not get a match for 'Verkaufsmanager', nor 'Responsable de Ventas', or 'Responsabile Vendite' either.

All in all, the Job Description reveals the skills the employer needs and the qualifications he is looking for. Take the time to adapt your resumé to the vacancy. Make it easy for your counterpart to match your skill set with the desired requirements. Nobody will do the extra work to find the right skills out of your CV. If they don't see at first glance what you can offer them, they will almost certainly just take the next application. So Remember:

  • A generic resumé is like a self service restaurant: "This is what I have cooked, let me know if there is something you like."
  • A tailored resumé is more like: "You ordered fish? I am the perfect white wine that goes with it." In other words it is a display of the job-relevant skills and qualifications you bring to the table.

Fun Fact: I have also read that somebody adds white buzzwords or ghost buzzwords so that HR does not see it, but the ATS algorithm does. In my opinion it goes too far... but it is up to you, I don't judge!

Hands on the CV

TYPES of RESUMÉ

Apparently there are 3 types of resumé formats: Chronological, Functional and Hybrid.

  • Chronological : You can guess, your working experience is listed chronologically. It is useful if the desired job is closely related to the old one. You are very experienced in your field, and/or all along your career path you have basically been doing the same, and/or the golden thread is more then clear — you have been Junior Developer first, then Senior, afterwards Team Lead, and lately CTO — then this kind of resumé is the one you should use. Example
  • Functional: Emphasizes qualifications and accomplishments instead of specific jobs. At the beginning of your CV you list your skills and highlights. Apparently, this kind of configuration is not particularly appreciated because it is too abstracted. Recruiters like to see, when and where, you have done what, rather than guessing it. Anyway, if you are seeking a career change or you are applying for a management position, this kind of layout should be doing fine. But still, if such a resumé is hardly interpretable by a human, you can also imagine that it is definitely not ATS friendly. Example
  • Hybrid: It is a mix of highlighting stuff before and give a chronological job history afterwards. So you can add a section like Technical Skills, or Data Science Haves but only with keywords. In the chronological section you can give more information about when, where and what you achieved. Example

WRITING STYLE & LAYOUT

  • Avoid long sections of text, use bullepoints instead.
  • Avoid columns and boxes. Long story short, get a template and stick to it!
  • Avoid the functional resumé style
  • Adding the job experience, stick to the following layout:
  • Chose a sober font like Arial, Helvetica, Sans, Garamond
  • Be consistent using the date-format: mm.yyyy is good!
  • Try not to be exotical in naming the sections headers: Work Experience and Education are more than fine
  • When you are asked to choose between upload your file CV or fill it in the browser, go for the second. I also see it as unnecessary, but you know… ATS like it more that way
  • Upload your file as .doc, .docx rather then .pdf

Other good practices, not just for the ATS but for the HR-readers:

  • Do not use doing/passive language like “Negotiated contracts with vendors” , but an achieving/active language instead:

"Slashed payroll/benefits administration costs by 30% by negotiating pricing and fees, while ensuring the continuation and enhancements of services."

  • Employers might be more interested in your previous contributions and specifically how you’ve made a difference, rather than merely "what you did".
  • The list of Work Experience and Education should start with your most recent experience, since it is the most relevant information.
  • Start alternatively with Work Experience or Education (only if recent), according to their relevance to the job you are applying for.

Resumé Summary Section

The summary section is a paragraph (3-7 lines), or better said an abstract of your career. This section is not for the ATS but rather for the human being reading your curriculum, so it should definitely be tailored for the position/company you are applying to. It is suggested to be used only if you have years of experience and you are applying for a job in the same field.

If you are a career jumper, a short sentence should be enough, something like:

I started my career as Acapella Singer 20XX. After X years of experience in the field, I was seeking for new challenges, and enrolled 2016 in an MBA to become Orchestra Director.

Be careful choosing the wording. The summary is a powerful weapon, used improperly, it can cause a lot of damage.

A new Hope

Confused about what is the right CV for you? This infographic can help you out:

Out there you will find pages that help you out to find an ATS friendly template, ATS score and even some professional CV writer — upload your CV for a free expert review.

I guess when I am done doing all of this myself, I will start re-writing my cover letter. Then I will be ready to enter Stage 4 - Giant waves surfer — enjoying my next wave of follow up calls & interviews.

Author: Alessandro Buttignon