Many employers use online application systems (called Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS) to screen candidates. These programs standardize recruitment practices, making candidate screening more efficient. Unfortunately, they can also remove the human element. In a way, the system takes over responsibility for screening candidates in or out.
Although Applicant Tracking Systems differ, common features include creating an account and setting up a profile that includes relevant details (e.g., name, contact information, employment history, skills). You may be able to upload a cover letter and resume or might have to scan your documents or even input the information directly into their form. Ultimately, the point is to get your information into the ATS allowing the system to scan for keywords.
When using these systems, there are a few critically important strategies:
Although spelling errors are always a problem in a job application, in these systems misspelled words will not even be recognized, so correct spelling and word usage are even more important.
The keywords/phrases the employer is looking for will often be in the job ad. Using those exact terms in your application helps the system recognize you as a viable candidate. Do not over-optimize by secretly adding keywords in white text, rendering those words “invisible” to any person reviewing but still allowing them to be caught by the system. If caught, employers may not appreciate attempts to trick or fool the system.
It is impossible to tell what abbreviations any given ATS might use. To be safe, avoid abbreviations or use both long and short forms of key phrases. For example, use GDIM/Graphic Design & Interactive Media rather than just GDIM
Avoid a resume that uses complex graphics, tables, or columns, as ATS programs cannot read these. A highly stylized resume will also not work in these systems. Do not put important information (e.g., name, contact information) in a header/footer. When it comes to the creative industries, well-designed resumes are a great way to show off your skills and personal brand. However, unless you are applying via email or in-person, it is highly recommended you submit a simplified resume that can be easily read by an ATS.
Leaving any part of the form blank may invalidate your whole application, including the fields that may be listed as “optional.” Strive to complete the full application, including all required and optional fields.
Ensure your resume, cover letter, and any other documents (e.g., portfolio) have appropriate file names. For example: Resume_JohnSmith
Remember that many jobs are never advertised, and these systems remove the human element. Build and nurture your network and use that to help you find work.