Although applicant tracking systems are being used more and more in the hiring process, ultimately, people hire people. The computer might be used to conduct the initial screening, but the résumé ultimately needs to be written to appeal to human beings. That means you can’t just stuff in keywords (to appeal to the applicant tracking system) and have it make sense to human readers.
Another important factor to consider is that applicant tracking systems — although gaining in popularity — are not yet pervasive. The simple fact is that most résumés are read by people, not machines. So appealing to human readers remains priority number one — especially if you are targeting a company with fewer than 100 employees. When you email your résumé to one of these “small” employers, it’s likely to end up on a computer all right, but in someone’s email inbox, not in an applicant tracking system.
Which leads to the next important point: Instead of spending a lot of time trying to make yourself more attractive to an applicant tracking system, you would be better served by making real-world, in-person connections (i.e., building your network) — or, at least, taking that time to develop a 100% complete LinkedIn profile and making virtual networking connections.
Either of those techniques will yield you a much higher likelihood of job search success than spending an equivalent amount of time cracking the ATS code.
According to Preptel, 75 percent of résumés are not compliant with applicant tracking systems. If you can’t bring your résumé into compliance, you need to find another way to get yourself in front of the hiring manager.
This is also true if you are considering changing careers. Applicant tracking systems are not kind to career changers.
However, keep in mind that some companies do not allow hiring managers to accept a résumé unless it is submitted through an applicant tracking system — and that policy applies even if the candidate networks his or her way to the hiring authority or connects through social media.