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Learn More Tips for Optimizing your Application

Read the basics of how to optimize your resume for ATS in the Resume section of our website

Read the job description VERY carefully

It can be helpful to print it out and use a highlighter.

Follow the employer's instructions exactly

Always look for and follow instructions when provided. This can sometimes be part of the screening process: if you can't follow the instructions, it indicates that you have poor attention to detail.

Be mindful of keyword screening across your resume, cover letter, and essay questions

Employers are looking for relevant keywords across your entire application. Be sure to use the language of your field and keywords from the job description whenever possible. In your resume, use relevant keywords in your Profile or Summary, in Coursework descriptions, in Skills, in Experience descriptions, in Project descriptions, and elsewhere. The more often you use them, the higher your application will rank.

Fill out online applications completely

Don't skip items. Doing so could disqualify you.

Resist the temptation to hit the Apply Now button

More job boards (and LinkedIn) are trying to make it easier for applicants to apply, which is nice in theory, but using this convenience means you do not have the opportunity to customize your application. Take the extra steps.

Send a cover letter, even if one is not required

This gives you another chance to sell your fit with the role.

Send your resume with a cover letter via postal mail as well as applying online

Not many candidates will do so, and you may stand out. A mailed submission also gives you an opportunity to submit an attractive, graphically pleasing print version of your resume since resumes optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems require somewhat stripped-down formatting.

Customize your Related Coursework and Skills sections

Be sure to list any technologies and specialized skills listed in the job posting. List any skills mentioned in the job posting, especially those that appear to be the focus of the job, as many times as you legitimately can in your resume. If you gained them in courses, be sure to list those courses.

Evaluate your job titles vs the job posting

If you've had jobs that are essentially the same as the position you're applying for, but the titles are different, list both your title and the title in the job posting. Candidates have been eliminated when titles didn't match up.

Apply to jobs as early as possible after they are posted

"Recruiters admit that when they search an ATS for potential candidates, they stop after they find what they need," writes Brie Weiler Reynolds. "If your resume isn't one of the first to pop up, the odds are low that they'll search long enough to find your application." Set up job-search agents on job boards and career sites so you are alerted as soon as an opening that fits you is posted. Check posting dates; it's probably not even worth applying to a job that has been posted for a couple of weeks or more unless you have an inside contact.

When possible, choose to complete online applications

Paste or upload your resume, rather than emailing your resume as an attachment. "An online form usually goes to a shared database where you can be found later by a specific search," writes Mark Nelson. "An email is more likely to disappear into a resume graveyard."

Don't forget that at some point, humans will read your resume

They will read it if it's not screened out by the system, and they will read it if the employer does not use an Applicant Tracking System, which as Barrett-Poindexter notes, not every employer does. "Your resume should be written for a human being's eyes and ears," Barrett-Poindexter advises. "Does it sing? Or, does it fall flat? ... Does it advertise your value in a brilliant, enticing way?"

Going Beyond Applying Online

Make a list of employers you want to target and instead of applying to vacancies posted online, get referrals to those employers through online venues such as LinkedIn, as well as your offline network. "When you invest the bulk of your time only pursuing posted jobs," writes Hannah Morgan of Career Sherpa, "you are missing out of the opportunity to meet with individuals inside companies that could potentially hire you and this is where the real opportunities lie!" Instead of applying to job postings, Morgan advises, use the postings to learn about current skills employers seek, job titles in your field, which industries are doing the most hiring, and names of recruiters hiring at targeted companies.

Create a list of targeted employers and conduct informational interviews

Make insider contacts and gather information on employer needs and problems.

Don't give up on a desired job if the ATS rejects you

In How You Can Beat Computerized Applicant Screenings, Dylan Alford describes being instantly rejected after applying through an Applicant Tracking System but not giving up on the position. On LinkedIn, he tracked down the recruiter who posted the vacancy and sent her a cover letter, resume, work samples, and a business card via postal mail. She called him to arrange an interview.

Create opportunities instead of pursuing openings

See a collection of articles about how to create opportunity, along with this one by career expert and author Susan Whitcomb: Pumping Up the Interview Pipeline: The Difference between Openings and Opportunities.

Optimize your LinkedIn presence

Because LinkedIn is a major tool for recruiters and other hiring decision-makers, be sure your profile on that venue is complete and up to date.

Final Thoughts on Your Job Search Success

Finally, as has been advised every year in the Annual Reports on the State of Internet Job, you've got to network. Employers would much rather fill jobs through referrals than by posting them and subjecting themselves to a tsunami of resumes; thus, they post them when efforts to get referrals have failed (or they are legally required to post but already have a candidate targeted for the job). If you network with people inside the employer's organization, you can find out about and pursue openings much earlier in the pipeline than when they appear on job boards or the employer's career site.

Adapted from an article by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. on Quintcareers.com

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