As long as employers rely on applicant tracking systems to screen resumes, qualified job seekers' only hope for passing through them successfully is to understand exactly how these systems work. Jon Ciampi, CEO of Preptel, has intimate knowledge of applicant tracking systems. He previously served as a general manager with SumTotal Systems, a maker of applicant tracking systems, and his new company aims to help job seekers penetrate these systems. (Read a CIO.com review of Preptel's services.) Ciampi shared his insider secrets that explain how applicant tracking systems work--and how job seekers should best format their resumes to get through them.
How Applicant Tracking Systems Rank a Resume's Relevance
Many job seekers and career experts think applicant tracking systems rely on keywords to determine the fit between a candidate's resume and a specific job. They do their best to identify keywords in a job description that may be important to an employer or applicant tracking system, then they stuff these keywords in their resumes.
In fact, what matters most to applicant tracking systems is the uniqueness or "rarity" of the keyword or the keyword phrase, says Ciampi. That is, the keywords and phrases must be specific to a particular job ad. Applicant tracking systems, which "see" all job ads a company has ever published, determine which keywords and phrases in a specific job ad are unique to that job ad, says Ciampi.
The systems then develop a ranking based on how closely a job seeker's resume matches each keyword and phrase and how many of the keyword phrases the job seeker's resume has, he adds.
What Recruiters See When They Look at Your Resume in an Applicant Tracking System
When a recruiter clicks on the name of a candidate whom the applicant tracking system has ranked as a good match for a job, the recruiter doesn't see the resume the candidate submitted. The recruiter sees the information the applicant tracking system pulled from the candidate's resume into a database, as the picture shows.
"It's totally different from what the candidate thinks they're showing," says Ciampi.
Applicant tracking systems contain different database fields for information on a resume, such as the candidate's name, contact details, work experience, job titles, education, employer names and periods of employment. These systems try to identify this information on a job seeker's resume, but if a resume isn't formatted according to the applicant tracking system, it won't pull this information into the proper fields. Some of it might be missed altogether, such as a skills profile or an executive summary, says Ciampi.