Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Navigating the Online Application Process

The Online Application Process

Do these questions or comments sound familiar to you?

How do I capture 25 years of experience in just two pages?

Why do I never seem to get a response to my online applications?

Why did the employer say I was under qualified?  I have 15 years of experience!

They must be crazy - I bet they did not even read my résumé.

How do I know what the employer sees?

What am I doing wrong?

Can you help me?

If I can just get to the interview, I could explain……

Of course, you have (over and over again - even hundreds of times).  Here is another thought for you to ponder:  Most online applications direct the candidate to “cut and paste your résumé here.”  Oh, and by the way, “upload your résumé here.” The first thought any job seeker has, is “Why do I have to do this twice?”  The red flag is up and waiving, but most people just move on through the process and try not to think about the real reason.  They go ahead and cut and paste the information from their word document (the résumé), wondering why they are wasting valuable time, but know they have to do it to finish the application.  The answer is quite simple – two different processes. 

When you apply for a job online, you are sending your information through a Talent Management or Applicant Tracking System; commonly referred to as the online application program or ATS System. This is an automated program designed to track applicants (hundreds and thousands).  The ATS System manages data and screens the résumé of online applicants – or the information that they cut and paste into the program. The system parses or interprets the candidates information, summarizes the years of experience in a particular concept (or key word) based on the job announcement criteria.  If the candidate scores high enough, the application is “flagged” for a person (HR Representative, Recruiter, or Hiring Authority) to review. This “person” receives a Qualification Summary, or a computer generated report that has parsed and interpreted the data and outlines credit for experience based on the applicant’s skill set.  Then, this “person” will print out the “traditional résumé or word document to get an idea of how this person presents his or her self on paper.  Does that make any sense?

There has been little if any guidance provided to the general population on exactly how these systems are programmed to interpret the data they receive, yet you should know there is a distinct difference in formatting requirements, for the online-version of the résumé vs. the traditional résumé presentation.

Yes, if you want to present a visually appealing résumé commensurate with the competition, and still tackle the online application process successfully, you must have two completely different versions of your information compiled. 

Understand that the traditional résumé (the pretty-pretty version used for networking, interviews, and job fairs) only serves as a snapshot of your experience (the reason it becomes challenging to document a career that may span over 25 years). The traditional version of your résumé can rarely be used to tackle the online job search effectively due to a variety of reasons (formatting and content presentation) and if you cannot make it through the online ATS system, the traditional or pretty version serves no purpose.       

By understanding how the typical ATS system parses, interprets, and quantifies your skill set, you will be empowered to pursue every opportunity and finally, receive invitations to the interview.

To get ready for the online application process, prepare to “talk” to the computer system. Capture and copy all of the data from your traditional or pretty version of the résumé. Remove all formatting (graphics, text boxes, creative fonts, etc.) and save in a simple word document, one inch margins all around, using a simple font (times roman, arial, tahoma, or courier).  Save as a simple Word 2003 document (.doc) or as a plain text document (.txt) that opens in notepad.    

Properly Format Your Information

The most important thing to understand is that the basic programing of talent management or applicant tracking systems is fairly standard throughout the industry.  The systems are designed to parse and search for specific data. Additionally, the space allocated for candidates to portray their skill set is not unlimited, but certainly does provide a great deal more room to incorporate a skill set; unlike the standard one or two page résumé!

The typical ATS System is designed to look for standard subject headings followed by supporting information:

Contact Info | Summary or Objective | Experience | Education | Publications | Certifications

Note: On the traditional or pretty version of the résumé, you can use any subheading you like (Professional Profile, Objective, Core Competencies, Key Attributes, Professional Affiliations, Community, or Awards), but if you use these headers on the document you submit through an ATS system, the program will not be able to recognize or interpret the entry and will skip over the section completely!   

Contact Info:  ATS Systems will find it difficult to interpret a P.O. Box as an address.  Most ATS systems will not locate or interpret an address posted as a P.O. Box, therefore the information will reflect on the employer’s end as “missing”.  If possible, always strive to use a street address.

Summary or Objective: If you must include a professional profile, call it a “Summary” or “Objective”.  Remember that the ATS System will not give credit (years of experience) for any key words, or quantify the data found in a summary statement.    

Note:  If you want the ATS System or computer to give credit, or quantify content commonly placed under subheadings such as Summary, Professional Profile, Objective, Core Competencies, Key Attributes, Professional Affiliations, Community, or Awards, incorporate this information under a period of employment - somewhere in the presentation!        

Experience: An ATS System will search for the company name, the job title, and the dates of employment. Some ATS programs will not interpret or parse for the location, even though we use that as a standard for employer entries. To help the system identify an employer, or to be sure that the system correctly identifies an employer, you can trick the system into reading the employer name by following it with LLC, Inc., Corp, or Company. In other words, some systems may not interpret an employer such as “Department of Defense” properly.  Using a period at the end of the employer description helps the system move on in parsing the document. If you use any other dates in the duty description or responsibilities, the system may interpret that as a “break” and start another period of employment. 

Education: List the degree, list the major, list the university, list the date completed, and end each entry with a period. 

Certifications: Start with the word Certified, Certificate, or Certification; state the concept, state where obtained, list the year received, end each entry with a period [Certified Electrician, Department of Education, 2012.].

How to Quantify Years of Experience for the ATS Qualification Summary

The qualification summary (years of experience in a particular concept) is generated based on the use of a key word or phrase under a specific period of employment.  The ATS system looks for key words or phrases that mirror content found in a particular job announcement (remember hearing how the résumé must change for each job, there is no one size fits all……). When the system identifies a key word or concept listed under a period of employment, the system calculates the number of years a candidate held that position and provides credit for years of experience in that concept.  Just because the ATS System identifies a key word under one employer, programming will not allow the system to “assume” that the applicant worked with that concept for their entire career! If you list a concept such as “Microsoft Word” or “accounting” only once under a two-year period of employment, you will only gain credit for two years in experience. If you make sure to repeat the key word under each period of employment, you will help the computer program properly quantify your level of experience.  

A good example (although not the best) would be a candidate that worked construction for two years in one company right out of high school, while obtaining a degree (say using the key word welding). This same candidate obtained a degree in nursing and worked for the last eight years in one company providing “patient care”.  When the information is parsed and interpreted by the computer system, the candidate’s qualification summary will reflect “welding – two years” and “patient care – eight years”. This process does start to make some sense, as the computer programs do exactly what they are told to do when designed and/or programmed – they manage talent.                       

For candidates that have spent 30 years in one job, the task of presenting a skill set is very easy. For each key word mentioned in this “one job” scenario, the qualification summary will provide credit for 30 years of experience.  The traditional résumé is a snapshot of a candidate’s background. We cannot possible portray every accomplishment over a 30 year career, in just one or two pages.  Nor can we repeat each key word or concept spanning a 30 year career, with a work history compiled of sporadic jobs that lasted two to five years each, and still remain within the widely accepted parameters of two pages for the traditional résumé.

Once you master the concepts behind the online application, be sure to redirect your efforts in developing well written version of your Traditional Résumé Presentation. The competition is tough and you may be quite surprised to find, that employers are intrigued to locate a visually appealing, exciting, and dynamic presentation to review in the bottomless stack of applicants!          

Essentially - It’s All About the Strategy……….

Contact Lisa Parker, CPRW through the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches, or visit parkercprw.com to learn more about competing for opportunity in today’s labor market!     

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