Getting Noticed in an Applicant Tracking System World

applicant tracking system interviews sports jobsThe interview process over the years has become less and less personal.

Entry level job seekers submit resumes destined to be skimmed and analyzed by a computer, whose only goal is to classify how you stack up to the others in the pile.

If you are lucky, and get past Phase One, maybe you’ll get a computerized interview, where you talk, not to a person on the other side of the screen, but to a program that asks and records your answers.

Feeling sad yet? Worried? Concerned that your passion, vigor and charisma can’t help you win the room if no one else in the room has a pulse?

Well, you should be, I know I would be.

But rather than sit back and complain about the emerging world around us, lets figure out together how to beat it.

The Wide World of Keywords

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have been around since 1998, but, like most technologies, they have advanced greatly in the last 16 years. Originally, the ATS software would scan resumes, find those that had matching skill profiles and set them aside for consideration.

It was actually quite efficient.

In one of my previous roles in sports television, I hired anywhere between 5-15 people per year. We didn’t have a ton of turnover at our regional sports network because I was an awesome boss (actually, I think it was the free tickets to local games and hot dog Wednesday) but hiring that many people still takes much work.

The process was made much easier for me by the Applicant Tracking System – I would provide a list of skills I wanted for the role and our corporate human resources department would deliver a small(er) stack of resumes that all fit my profile request. They did it by searching for keywords in resumes on file like: Avid, Final Cut Pro, Producing, Camera, Editing - things of that nature.

We, The People...Messed it up

Alas, a problem arose.

You see, as much as we want to blame corporate America, we are often our own worst enemies. As people figured out applicant tracking systems scanned for keywords, job seekers began stuffing in keywords just to pass this hurdle. It made for applicants that appeared most qualified, but in reality weren't.

ATS software companies adjusted.

applicant tracking system word cloud
It's hard enough breaking into the sports industry without a computer determining your fit
The latest in ATS software uses contextualization techniques to ensure you have more than just a plethora of keyword matches in your resume, instead understanding how the keyword relates to the content around it.

This next generation techology is pretty darn close to a human reading and understanding your resume. Which means what? It means this whole employment process starts way, way before you even craft a resume.

What Should You Do as a Job Seeker?

Before I come to the big conclusion, I want to make one thing really clear. I hate these systems.

I understand their necessity, their added efficiency and their intent to find the right candidates. But I strongly believe great people slip through the cracks because their resume may not be optimized. And I hate that.

I’m a believer that if applicant tracking systems are going to be implemented they should be used as a base level scanning tool to reduce a stack of available candidates, not to refine it.

But that isn’t our reality anymore, and all my complaining isn’t going to change the interview process - so instead let’s fix ourselves.

1: Start early

The moment you decide you know who you want to be, start driving towards that goal hard. If you want to work in sports marketing - learn the skills, pick smart internships, volunteer at sports marketing firms, job shadow, join clubs, start clubs. Do it all.

Now your resume will be full of real experiences that human beings, ATS software and contextual search techniques will all see the same way – impressive.

2: Find Your Lane

If you are a career changer, find out what skills you have learned in your previous jobs, how they relate to your new desired career and lean into those.

Are you an expert in sales? Hammer that home.

dead end job sports career
An applicant tracking system can feel like a dead end, but it doesn't have to
Have you done financial analysis? Make sure that is clear.

3: Don’t just go through the motions

The shotgun technique of applying to all opportunities, using the same resume and cover letter and just [inserting name here] doesn’t work.

Put in the effort to each application, take your time, alter your resume to fit that role and highlight the right skills. Create a custom cover letter that shows an understanding of their business.

When someone asks me to connect on LinkedIn and I accept, I figure they have something to say. When I never hear from them, I assume they are just going through the motions, trying to up their contact list and not really developing any relationship or network.

That is how many people approach job seeking, and it doesn’t work.

Don’t just check the item off your to-do list, do the work.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Pitfalls to Avoid:

During a human resources panel at the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference the discussion turned to pitfalls you should avoid in ATS systems.

1: Apryl Evans, Director of Human Resources, RedPeg Marketing:

“I work in a very creative environment so if I see a resume that is very standard black and white it is okay since I’m looking for the content, but also put a splash of color into it, such as using logos. If you work at a company maybe add the logo and instead of just the name of the company. You can add a link to the company so that I can learn a little bit more about that company. Also, I tell everybody you must have your LinkedIn profile on your resume. If I click on your LinkedIn profile you will know that I clicked on it and now you know that I may be interested in contacting you. It kind of gives you a head start to see what employers are interested in hiring you.”

2: John Quinones, Vice President of Recruitment at Major League Baseball:

“You have to complete the application, not just attach your resume, and by complete the application I mean to use the correct punctuation and grammar. I get a lot of applications that are all lowercase and people will just upload the application and think that they are done. Instead of going through, proof-reading it and making sure that all of the sections are completed.

“Remember from a recruiter's perspective it is more efficient to look quickly at each application but if you have not taken the time to actually fully complete it then chances are, the recruiter is not going to take that extra step to then go and open up your resume to see whether or not you're actually qualified. The work is really on you to do that. So my feelings is that if you are not going to take this step I'm not going to take the extra step to find out whether or not you qualify.”

3: Alan Gromest, Manager, Human Relations Washington Nationals

“There's been numerous times when I've gotten a letter or a resume that has been addressed to my name, manager of human resources, Washington Redskins or Washington Capitals. Um, I work for the Nationals. You really do want to be careful where you send it to. Make sure that you proofread everything before you actually send anything out."

So How do I Get Noticed?

It’s simple - develop the right skills, customize each resume and cover letter, take each application seriously with painstaking detail, optimize your resume …and cross your fingers. Easy right? (sarcasm)
By Brian Clapp | March 30, 2014
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