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Why the ATS Doesn’t Scare Me


October 1, 2019

Career coaching clients have said to me, “I’ve heard the ATS machine only likes plain resumes.” Well, that’s sorta true. Here’s my opinion.

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is used by companies to help weed out unqualified candidates, which, as a hiring manager, I think is great. It really is frustrating (even aggravating at times) when you take the time to sift through dozens, if not hundreds of resumes, only to find less than a handful of candidates qualified enough to interview.

Essentially, an ATS scans your resume for applicable keywords and competencies as they pertain to the position you are applying for. If the system deems an applicant non-qualified, depending on the ATS used, the resume could be purged before a human actually has the opportunity to view it. For a hiring manager, this cuts out a TON of time.

There is just one problem: an ATS also strips the application process of individuality. If you are applying for any type of communications, marketing, advertising, PR, website, sales or creative-type jobs, you need to show some design flair and personality. Couple a clean, attractive resume with impact statements, and you will make yourself stand out from the crowd. Heck, I bet there are managers from other fields who would appreciate seeing a numbers breakdown or a Venn diagram!

Take my resume (an old version above), for example. It doesn’t go into boring details about what I did at each job…it quickly and numerically explains the impact I’ve had. So instead of a hiring manager having to sort through three of four lines of fluff under each job title, she can see, right off the bat, that on average, I’ve reduced costs by 44% through process implementation. And that I built an app at no-cost for a nonprofit. And that, yes, a bloody sock launched a PT faculty member into stardom.

Side note: I get asked about the bloody sock reference by everyone. Long story short: 2004 ALCS Game 6 between the Red Sox and Yankees. Boston pitcher Curt Schilling had a bloody sock. I got on the phone and pitched a Physical Therapy faculty member from the university where I was working who specialized in foot and ankle injuries. The media bit, she was fantastic and she became a go-to source for local sports reporters.

So you’re probably wondering how I get around the ATS with an infographic resume. Truth is, sometimes you can’t. But be honest with yourself: do you really want to work at a company that doesn’t take individuality and creativity into consideration? To me, it sure doesn’t sound appealing because I thrive in innovative and entrepreneurial workplaces. But to each her own.

However, if you want to ensure you properly apply for a position, manually enter everything into the application system. Yes, this is horrendously long if you’ve had more than a couple of jobs and educational experiences in your career. However, do it.

To make it easier, create a Google Doc or Sheet and enter all of the standard information you will need such as names, dates and places of employment; education and job duties. Under job duties, bullet point (or hyphenate) your impact statements mixed in with a few role responsibilities; this is where you will use job-specific keywords that align with the description of the position you are applying for.

After filling out a few applications manually, you’ll notice that most of the ATSs ask the same standard questions (many systems even look exactly the same). When you come across a new question that hadn’t been asked before, copy and paste your response into the Google Doc/Sheet you created just in case you are prompted in another system.

Then, when you have the opportunity to include additional documents at the end, upload your infographic resume and a cover letter (even if you already copied and pasted it into the system). Yes, I’ve had ATS sort–and depending on the company, score–candidates. But as a hiring manager, after I quickly scan the system for education and experience, I go right to the uploaded documents section. If the applicant didn’t include a cover letter, I skip right to the next candidate. If there is a cover letter attached, I immediately open the uploaded resume and if I like what I see there, I move back to read the cover letter. Personally, I HATE trying to read applications in the systems I’ve used.

Want to take it a step further? Research the name and email address of the person you would potentially be working for and email him or her with your cover letter in the body and the infographic resume as an attachment (unless the job posting specifically states to not do that). Better yet, a link to your professional portfolio website where your resume is housed. Don’t have your own website yet? Click here. As annoyed as I get with vendor cold calls, I actually like to receive personalized (note: p-e-r-s-o-n-a-l-i-z-e-d, NOT generic) emails from potential candidates in addition to getting their resume through the standard process…to me, it shows they REALLY want the position and aren’t just applying to every job under the sun.

Please remember this is my preference; not all hiring managers agree. With that being said, during my PR grad school program almost 20 years ago, we were consistently reminded that one of the biggest hits to get was the USA Today front-page infographic box. Years later, consumers have become increasingly overstimulated and visual, meaning the popularity of infographics has only increased. In 2017, Forbes reported on how the use of infographics is on the rise because of the quick and entertaining way they are used to get important information across.

So why not take a stab at highlighting your major “wins” with an infographic resume? There are many templates out there, and, if you can swing a designer, I encourage you to do so (mine is here).

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