Q: Can an ATS system be configured to automatically exclude resumes that include certain words?

Q: Can an ATS system be configured to automatically exclude resumes that include certain words?

Q: Can an ATS system be configured to automatically exclude resumes that include certain words?  I frequently read about the need to include certain keywords in my resume so applicant tracking systems can easily find them. However, I’ve never seen anything on the need to exclude certain words. Does HR ever set up their ATS to exclude resumes from their systems that mistakenly list sex, age, race, and other protected categories? I am concerned because my university still includes the word “woman” in its title, and I am curious if this is part of why I rarely receive interviews from places that require a full online application versus just emailing a cover letter and resume.

TA: I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of an Applicant Tracking System (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applicant_tracking_system) being set up to exclude applications based on certain keywords.  As you mentioned, I’ve always heard of these systems scoring applications and giving higher points to those that included specific keywords (like a relevancy rating).  So more keywords = higher relevance and higher score.  Not so much the opposite (certain keywords = lower score, or even excluded from consideration.)  Additionally, it strikes me as highly unlikely that a company could set up an ATS to screen out and exclude from consideration any resume that contains the word “Woman”.

So maybe your question is really, Why am I less successful with ATS applications than with emailed applications?  There are any number of reasons that are possible here, but let’s start with a few that immediately come to mind:

  1. Perhaps larger companies use Applicant Tracking Systems and smaller companies don’t.  If that’s the case, it might also be logical to conclude that larger companies have larger budgets to advertise and recruit nationally, thus building larger, better qualified, more competitive applicant pools.
  2. Maybe your emailed resume looks better than the application that you build within the ATS.  Carefully crafted resumes and cover letters say a lot about a candidate’s style and attention to detail.  All of that attention and detail can be lost when you enter data into an ATS.  Solution?  If given the option, upload a copy of your resume and cover in addition to the application information you enter into the ATS.  I know it may seem redundant—it’s really the same information, right?—but the time and attention you put into that cover letter and resume won’t be lost on the reader.
  3. Finally, sending an email to someone is a much more personal experience than just entering your data into a large applicant system.  Maybe that personal connection—on both ends—is lost with an ATS.  If you can find a hiring contact for the position, send a brief email to introduce yourself, express your interest in the position, let them know you’ve submitted your materials online, and attach a copy of your cover letter and resume.  While you’ve met the technical requirement of applying online, you have also established a personal connection that could be helpful as you proceed through the hiring process.

Make sure your resume and cover letter are top notch and ready to be shared.  Also make sure it’s ready for a technology-savvy world (See: Resume Writing Tips for a Technology-Savvy World, http://jobsearch.about.com/od/resumewriting/a/resumetechtips.htm).

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