Top ten mistakes you don’t know you’re making when applying online

The resume black hole. The abyss. The void. The applicant tracking system (ATS) creates all kinds of stress and irritation for job seekers. Candidates almost universally loathe the experience. The ATS requires them to copy and paste sections from their resume into tiny boxes and answer questions that could be easily discussed in a quick phone call, adding to what is already a user-unfriendly, often tedious experience. While they are far from perfect, most companies are using them, and they appear to be here for the foreseeable future. Decrease some of the angst by being alert for the following common mistakes people make when applying to jobs via the ATS:

Important details in the header or footer. Some ATS systems are sophisticated. Some are clunky. The clunkier they are, the pickier they are. If you have critical information in the header or footer of your resume, there’s a real chance that it won’t translate into the system.

You don’t bother with keywords. Keywords are king. There is no way around it. The ATS allows employers to search for candidates by select keywords. Ensure that your resume is optimized for this purpose.

Wrong file type. Most ATS systems accept Word and PDF files. If your resume is in a format other than these, you will find yourself filling in each field manually.

Being overly creative or “original.” Most applicant tracking systems are unable to read charts or embedded graphics. Stick with text and standard characters only.

Functional resume format. The functional resume format is one which is organized by theme—key skills, major achievements—instead of chronologically. Recruiters and hiring managers hate them because they make it impossible to understand career progression. Applicant Tracking Systems only accept information in reverse-chronological order. Stick with that format.

Wonky fonts. ATS systems are very finicky when it comes to font, so keep it simple and use a standard serif font.

Spelling and grammatical errors. Just as you want an actual human to understand what you’re talking about, you want to ensure that what you upload is digestible by the ATS. Incorrectly spelled words and overuse of acronyms can land your resume in the digital trash bin.

You don’t bother with the cover letter. If the ATS gives you the option of submitting a cover letter, by all means do it. This is the opportunity to address your skills and experience in narrative form.

The objective statement. ATS applications are often limited to a certain number of characters. Do not waste any real estate with an objective. Instead, summarize your career and its highlights.

You don’t review before hitting “submit.” There’s a decent chance that despite your best efforts, something wound up in the wrong field or is otherwise incorrect on the ATS. Review scrupulously before you submit.

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