How can you get your job application past applicant tracking systems and in front of hiring managers?

Job applications are not the same as they were. With everything shifting online, there are new rules to adhere to and new methods of making sure your materials are effective. One of these is ensuring your resume - and all other documents - are fully optimized.

Now that optimization is not just limited to the world of search engines and marketing, its effect is being felt in the world of job searching. One of the most important elements of this practice is keywords and ensuring the right ones are included. It has now become necessary to conduct your own version of keyword research to capture the attention of the right people - as well as automated systems.

Getting through applicant tracking systems

Companies are increasingly automating their recruitment efforts. This means humans are involved in fewer steps. Software can now screen applicants for businesses, making it easier for hiring managers, but often more difficult for job seekers. Even the most qualified candidates can slip through the cracks if they haven’t formatted their application in the right way to get past these systems.

Your goal is to get past the recruitment software and in front of a real person, when they’ll decide they definitely want you to come in for an interview for the job. So you need to learn how to play the program’s game. According to career expert Alison Doyle, “generic resumes are the enemy of applicant tracking systems” (ATS).

These systems are looking for specific matches, so carefully evaluate what you include in your material. For example, if a job ad states that one of the job requirements is proficiency in Wordpress, use that term rather than saying you’re familiar with content management systems. You should also emulate the spelling and grammar used in the job description in order for your application to rank highly.

Where to find the right keywords

Hiring managers and recruitment teams generally choose their terminology carefully so the job description is your first stop in your search for the right keywords. One way of identifying the most important terms is to paste the text of the ad into an online word cloud. This then reveals the most used words, which you can include in your resume and supporting documents to show that you’re paying attention to what the hiring manager is looking for.

However, if there isn’t much information available from the job ad itself, you could find other relevant keywords by venturing a little further afield. Doyle recommends reviewing similar job postings elsewhere to gauge what employers are looking for. Look at the keywords they use and include them in your job application to ensure you’re providing what the ATS and hiring manager are looking for.

Keywords are not just necessary to get past an ATS, however. Using the right terms can help you reinforce that you’re aligned with the company culture and mission. Check out the firm’s ‘About us’ page and identify the words used to describe how it operates. You can then include some in your application to show that you’ve paid attention to the business as a whole.

Where and how to include keywords

It’s vital that your keywords aren’t just haphazardly inserted into your resume, but that they feature naturally. Founder of resume keyword analysis tool Jobscan James Hu has said you have to maintain a “balance between the ATS and human eyes” so you have to ensure you’re writing things in a natural fashion. When it comes to abbreviations and acronyms, for example, Hu advises “writing the abbreviation in parenthesis”. This pleases both the ATS and the hiring manager reading your resume.

Including keywords naturally is pretty straightforward. Just make sure you’re writing phrases that include them and actually make sense. This can be done by studying the way a job description is worded and following that as a guide. If it has a required skills section, you can include one of your own, in which you explain which of those you possess - written in the same way as the description. The same goes for experience and qualifications.

When you’re looking for a new job, it’s not enough to just have a great resume. You need to have an online presence too, where hiring managers and recruitment teams can find you. LinkedIn is the perfect start since it enables you to detail your work history and skills. Including the right keywords here is essential to being found by the people who could hold the key to your next opportunity. Make sure you’re featuring them naturally throughout your profile - from your summary to your qualifications.

Relevant keywords are now some of the most important information you can include in your job application materials. This is why it’s vital to carry out the necessary research to ensure you know what to focus on.

Getting the keywords right could be the difference between receiving an interview invite and not hearing anything.