Get That Interview! How to Beat the Dreaded Applicant Tracking System (Webinar Review)

On March 21, 2024, Jack Molisani presented Get that Interview! How to Beat the Dreaded Applicant Tracking System, the second of the three-part Employment Readiness Series offered by the STC Ohio Chapter. Jack is an STC fellow, president of ProSpring Technical Staffing, and the executive director of The LavaCon Conference on Content Strategy and TechComm Management. He is also the author of Be the Captain of Your Career: A New Approach to Career Planning and Advancement, which reached number five on Amazon’s career and resume best sellers list.

Jack emphasized that networking is the most effective way to find a job. Indeed, Jack advised to stop applying for jobs via Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) and instead use your professional networks. However, he did say that if you absolutely must use an ATS for a job application, you must learn how to beat the ATS at its own game and start building your network now before you need a new job.

Jack’s recommendations for building your network are:

  1. Attend meetups, conferences, and other industry events to connect with people in your field. Take the long view—invest in the STC Summit now for future job opportunities. Plus, you will have an opportunity to meet Jack at the Summit. 😊
  2. Volunteer to serve your local STC community/chapter/region.
  3. Join, contribute, and reach out to people on social media groups, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Post answers and share your knowledge. Jack said you want to have a healthy number of online hits when potential employers search for you online, so having an active online presence helps achieve that goal. In addition, Jack advised to be so visible in your network that you are considered an expert whom people want to hire. And, by building relationships with people in your field, you increase your chances of hearing about job openings before they are posted publicly.

An interesting fact that Jack referenced was that most job openings are not posted online—most are communicated via referrals and networking. In fact, many companies offer their employees a bonus for referring candidates because it is a faster and less expensive method of finding candidates than posting openings online. Hence, Jack said to not hesitate to ask someone at an organization where you want to work to pass on your resume to the hiring manager—after all, they would get a referral bonus. He recommended asking for this referral whether you know the person or not.

But, if you must apply for a job opening online via an ATS, Jack gave valuable tips to help you get past the system because many companies use ATSs to screen resumes. He reiterated from his first webinar in this series that a resume is just a vehicle that shows you match what the reader wants. This fact is especially valid when the “reader” is an ATS dictated by artificial intelligence (AI). Therefore, the main strategy to get past an ATS is to make your resume look as much like the job posting as possible. For example, your title at the top of your resume and in your current and previous jobs must match the job posting exactly. So, the title of “UI/UX Designer” will be rejected by the ATS when the job title in the posting is “UX/UI Designer”. In addition, because the AI will compare the stated job duties to your resume, Jack said to make sure your resume shows that you have done what they say you will be doing in this posted job using their exact wording. If you have not done or do not have one of the posted requirements, Jack recommended figuring out how to work in the needed keywords with a truthful statement, such as “5 years experience with Ahrefs, a content audit tool similar to Buzzsumo.” Jack advised to consider having a separate resume for applying through an ATS that is optimized with keywords.

In addition, because AIs can’t parse long sentences, Jack said to “write like a cave man”—using short phrases and keeping verbs and objects close together. An example he gave was: “Wrote training materials” rather than “Wrote a variety of content for end users, including user manuals, SOPs, and training materials.”

Formatting does matter when applying for a job via an ATS. Your resume should be clear, concise, and easy to scan. Jack encouraged using headings, white space, and bullet points, and he said to submit PDF resumes, not Microsoft Word-formatted documents. Your PDF-formatted resume is in addition to the unparsed, unformatted one that often is required by the ATS-driven application. Also remove tables from your resume. In addition, Jack recommended not using resume building tools from job sites, such as Indeed, because a preformatted resume does not tell the recruiter about your skills.

When asked about whether to include a cover letter with an online application, Jack said that there is no data on how AIs read cover letters. But writing a cover letter that includes a comparison table showing how what you’ve done aligns with what the job requires certainly works for humans reading your application. Jack recommended making the cover letter the first page of your resume. While some hiring managers do not read cover letters, Jack said that a strong cover letter can increase your chances of getting an interview. Start with a strong first paragraph that highlights your most relevant skills and experience for the job. Briefly elaborate on your skills and experience in the second paragraph, demonstrating how they align with the job requirements, such as with the comparison table. End the cover letter by reiterating your interest in the position and expressing your availability for an interview.

At the end of the webinar, Jack shared his contact information so that everyone could network with him, inviting people to connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, and send him their resumes.

By Sue Kern