Friday, January 28, 2011

Creating a Winning Resume in the Era of Automated Applicant Tracking

The U.S. Commerce Department reported today that Gross Domestic Product, the broadest measure of economic activity, rose at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the October through December 2010 quarter, representing a potential shift in the dynamics of the job market. Many sectors have already recovered and have a robust hiring agenda for 2011. This means that if your career was hi-jacked by the recent economic downturn and you are either unemployed, or unhappy in your current role, the next few months are a great time for you to evaluate new opportunities. So, is it time to dust off that 4-year old resume and add your latest and greatest job title, accomplishments and tweaks to your objective? Not so fast! To get noticed in today’s hiring climate, you need to embrace some updated resume writing and job seeking strategies that capitalize on key business trends.

I’ve been in Staffing, Human Capital Management and Consulting Management for more than 17 years and have seen many changes to the business process utilized by recruiters. When I started in this business, we all had 1-2 page resumes painstakingly typed out on our IBM Selectrics. We then waited for the Sunday classifieds to come out so that we could write a detailed cover letter, mail that together with our resume in an envelope, (or if we were lucky, and really cutting edge fax it over!) to hiring managers who then individually reviewed each resume and selected the best candidates for interview. Things have changed a bit I’d say! I’ve never seen a bigger shift in how things get done than over the last decade as the internet, online job boards, social media, and the prevalence of Applicant Tracking Systems have come to dominate the hiring process. This blog entry and those that follow will help you better understand how to write a resume in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, what happens to it once you apply for a job, and how to better control your own destiny throughout the application, interview and selection process. Whether you are actively looking for a job, or considering a career change in the next 18 months, keeping these tips in mind can make you more productive and help you to better achieve your career goals.

An overarching change in the employment world is the wide-ranging use of automated Applicant Tracking Systems to drive talent acquisition. Nearly all of the Fortune 500 have ATS’ in place, as do nearly every staffing company, consulting firm, and direct placement agency. The Software as a Service model that now predominates the ATS market, means that even mid-market and smaller firms can adopt ATS at a fairly low cost of entry. What does this mean for you, the job seeker? It means that in all likelihood, unless your resume has a 90% match to the stated job criteria, no human being will physically touch nor directly view your resume if you apply via the web, which is the leading point of entry for today’s job applicants. Ouch, right? This is the infamous black hole we’re all too familiar with. The good news is that knowing that ATS’ are in place and how they work can help you with a keen advantage as you embark on your own job safari.

Today’s Tip: Keywords – Learn to recognize and use them!

Almost every job description or online posting you see will have keywords embedded throughout the narrative. You need to learn to recognize those terms used often in your career field or desired role and pepper them throughout your resume. Moreover, placing as many of these keywords as possible near the top of your resume will improve your match criteria (or, how the ATS sees you as matching up to the job). Think of the ATS as an online matchmaker! In fact, the technology that drives these systems is very similar to how many online dating services select potential mates for their members. It is also what drives many SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tools and techiques. It’s all about speaking the same language!

Check out the following excerpt from a current online job posting for a Project Manager with a leading healthcare provider; what keywords do you see?

Essential Functions:

- Deliver on-time, on-budget projects to meet or exceed customer expectations.

- Manage supply and demand to ensure adequate resources are available and delivery commitments are met.

- Act as the primary interface to the business partners and interface with the IT Business Segment Partners for issue resolution and project initiation.

- Manage project financials, estimates, timelines, status reports, issue logs and remediation plans.

Basic Qualifications:

- Minimum of 6 years experience managing IT projects including creating and maintaining project budgets along with cost accounting of resources.

- Minimum of 4 years experience as the primary project manager on highly complex and large scale IT Development projects.

- Experience driving projects with a strong customer focus

- Proven expertise to build, track and monitor project plan(s) using either MS Project or Clarity Resource Management to ensure that the project remains on track with regard to schedule and budget

While there are many possibilities in this excerpt for keywords that the recruiter or hiring manager may select to use in their search criteria, here are a few definite words and phrases likely to be a part of the search string:

“IT Development Projects”, “Project Management”, “Manage Project Financials”, “MS Project or Clarity”, “Project Budgets”

Take the time to browse several job openings for your particular desired job and take note of the keywords that come up repeatedly. You can do this easily on by searching on your desired job title, or on an aggregation site like, which pulls open jobs in a defined regional area based on your own keyword searches. I’ll give you a hint – you are going to see a LOT of the same words used repeatedly. We recruiters are NOT that always that creative by nature and we sometimes use cut and paste or boiler plate descriptions quite a bit! What you’ll notice is several keywords that pop up in almost every job opening for your skill set, which you can incorporate liberally into your own resume template. Then, you can further customize each individual resume you send out to reflect keywords for more specific selection criteria associated with that particular job. Back to our prior example, here is a further excerpt from the Healthcare IT Project Manager job description above:

Preferred Qualifications:

- Healthcare experience either in health plan operations or care delivery

- Technical background is highly preferred as projects are geared towards technical integration and the building of SOA services.

Spot any keywords? How about “Healthcare” or “health plan operations” or “SOA”? If in fact you have this experience, definitely incorporate it into your resume in a very visible and targeted manner, ideally in the career objective or summary of qualifications at the top of the document to improve your odds of becoming a “searchable match” for the job. Obviously, if you do not have these preferred qualifications, you cannot and should not fabricate them, but don’t miss the chance to really highlight these skills if you do possess them. Maybe you have SOA experience, but you’ve called it “Service Oriented Architecture”? If so, change your term (or add it parenthetically) to match their term, “SOA”. Perhaps you are not a Healthcare PM, but you are an IT PM with good integration experience and operations experience. Use all of these words frequently to improve your match criteria and increase your chances of getting selected for review. Maybe you have been a consultant and worked across multiple industries, if healthcare was one of them, by all means, make that clear. Even if you do not have healthcare experience adding your desire to move into that high growth field in your career objective will dramatically improve your match results. Here is some sample verbiage to incorporate into an “ATS-optimized career summary” for a Project Manager applying for the above role:

“Customer-focused Project Manager seeking new opportunities in the growing Healthcare IT field, leveraging ten years of experience successfully delivering high value software development, integration, and technology infrastructure projects, on time and on budget, while exceeding client expectations. Specific expertise includes leading a collaborative team of IT peers and business partners to drive a high visibility SOA Services implementation project for a major financial institution.”

With this career objective alone, you’ve now successfully matched many of the keywords and critical job criteria, which will enhance your chances of getting your resume seen by an actual human! You’ve also made it very easy for that individual to quickly determine why you are a fit for their opening – BINGO!

The truth is that you have to do a lot of work up front to ensure your resume gets seen in the age of automation, but doing so has a huge payoff and is ultimately much less time-consuming than spending weeks or months sending resumes into the infamous black hole, with no response. Now, get to work and start job hunting the smart way! And, don’t forget to check out my next blog; I’ll share more tips on resume content that will get you noticed….stay tuned!!

Daphne Wotherspoon is an expert at getting the right people hired into the right jobs. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the staffing, consulting, recruiting, and human capital management industries. An industry leading sales professional, entrepreneur, general manager, and recruiter, Daphne has hired and placed more than 2000 job seekers at Fortune 500 and mid-market companies, not for profit institutions, and government agencies. Currently, Daphne is a founding partner of Aligned360, a Talent on Demand Solutions firm located in Northern Virginia. She is also a mother of two, an avid blogger, social media enthusiast, and an aspiring TV chef. She has been featured in Staffing Industry Review, and the Washington Business Journal, and in 2009, she was selected to be a contestant on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, a nationally-televised game show (which did not unfortunately result in millionaire status!). For more information and helpful suggestions, tips and notations on business trends, follow Daphne on Twitter @dspoon1 or check out Aligned360 on Facebook.

No comments: