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Navigating an Applicant Tracking System

Have you ever wondered where your resume went when you hit submit? Did it go to someone’s email, a corporate management system, or just into a big black hole? As technology has evolved, it has dramatically changed how we apply to jobs. Job boards like would have never existed 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago you would have just opened up the newspaper classifieds or went by the main office to turn in an application. Now you use websites, social media, and numerous other methods to get your name in the hat for your next career. Some companies use an online screening tool to access candidates before they lay eyes on the candidate or their resume. With so many new techniques, the more you know…the better you can navigate through them to find yourself at an interview!

Companies now receive more applications for positions than ever before, and with that increase in applicants have come an increase in applicant management and record keeping. Most employers, especially larger companies who can have 100+ job openings at a time, must keep detailed information about the people who apply to their jobs and who they consider for positions. This is important for companies to remain compliant with Equal Employment Opportunity Laws. By using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or Talent Management System (TMS), companies are better suited to manage resumes and applicant data in a central location. The ATS technology is built in to their corporate website and will include an area to manage job postings and applicants. These systems can integrate with job boards like to allow the companies to seamlessly post jobs from their corporate site to the job board. As the applicant in the final stages of applying for a particular position, you’ll be transitioned to a company-branded site to supply information and your resume.

The technology provided by ATS systems allows companies to sort applicants more quickly. Applicants who have pre-identified skills can be promptly graduated to the next step in the process. ATS systems can also identify if a jobseeker has applied for one job but may be better qualified for another they may have available in the future. This is possible by examining qualifying questions that applicants answer as they fill out information on the company website. There are also ATS systems with built-in testing systems that put applicants through a pre-qualifying questionnaire to determine what strengths and qualities the applicant can bring to the role compared to other applicants. ATS Systems are also used by companies to indentify internal employees for roles before they decide to look at external candidates. As companies continue to look for tools that can allow them to reduce the time it takes to fill needs within their organizations, we’ll continue to see more ATS systems and other technologies for job seekers to use.

The second step to navigating an ATS system, the first being knowledge of what ATS stands for, is to understand when you’re using one. The first clue could be that the website suddenly looks different. for example will tell you that you are about to be re-directed to the corporate site to finish the application process; others may not give you this warning. Additionally, when applying to a job you’ve found via an online source, company websites included, you may notice that you’re being asked a lot of questions. More questions than just your name, email address, etc. Questions about your past employment, your interest, and your salary requirements are just a few examples. This may seem a little ‘sketchy’ however; ATS systems are tightly controlled by laws around data protection so they are trustworthily systems for entering your information.

It will be important that you answer all of the questions completely and honestly. One blank question or an answer that doesn’t add up with another could quickly put your name in the junk pile. These qualifying questions are building a second resume the potential employer will examine possibly before they ever look at your resume. If you see that you may need to do some more research before completing the process, either save your answers or come back later. Many of the systems will allow you to create a username and password with the company so you can come back later before processing the application.

Depending on the system you will probably be asked to either upload your resume or copy and paste it into the ATS system. This is where it will be important to match your resume to the company and job you are applying for. The technology within the ATS system is designed to search your resume for particular keywords. Employers (computers) search databases using keywords and phrases that match the job they are trying to fill. Take time to look at job postings for what you want to do, load your resume with some of those words and phrases where they match your experience. Examine the company’s website for information about their culture and mission and build those qualities into the phrases you use in your resume. The ATS system may also ask you to upload information for your references, so be sure to have these identified before hand and have their information handy so it can be plugged in accurately.

All of this technology can be nice but at the end of the day every job seekers wants to know ‘Ok what now?’ Some systems can tell you in a matter of minutes if you are still in the running for the job, others will be updated on a daily or weekly basis. Some systems do not provide any information to the candidate because company representatives make that notification via another method. Regardless of the process, this is the point where you can turn the clock back a few years and rely on your own follow up. On the company website there should be a general email address or HR email address, if not an actual HR representative you can email to inquire about your application and where they are in the process. If you did not make the cut and the system did not provide you with a specific reason, you can call and inquire; just be sure to take the feedback and utilize it to better your application for the next position you apply for. If a phone number for HR is available, you can also call to follow up. Just remember these systems have been put in place to help companies become more cost effective in their recruiting practices so they may not be able answer every call within the hour!

The way we apply to jobs will only continue to change. New technologies are being invented everyday and some of those will impact how you find, apply and interview for your next job. Hopefully after reading this article you feel a little more ‘in the know’ about the processes companies are using to evaluate you for what could be the job of your dreams!

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