Resume Trends: ATS and Keyword Packing

If you want a definitive direction on resume trends involving ATS (applicant tracking systems), you might find this blog post disappointing–I have yet to find a definitive answer! However, I do have some thoughts to share, which were sparked by an article written by one of my colleagues. Hopefully, that will at least give you something helpful to reflect on.

Resume Trends: ATS

I have conflicting emotions whenever I think or read about the growing use of applicant tracking systems in sorting through (and too often rejecting?) job seekers’ resumes. However, I have somewhat resigned myself to this resume trend as being inescapable and something that just needs to be dealt with. The question then seems to be: How do you deal with it most effectively? One answer that some people have come up with is to load your resume with keywords–also known as keyword packing or keyword stuffing. However, as with many things, this technique can quickly get out of hand and end up creating a negative impact on your ability to be considered by potential employers. Clearly, that isn’t the result you want!

I hasten to point out that I am not recommending the wholesale exclusion of keywords. Far from it. If you don’t include relevant keywords in your resume, whenever and wherever they need to appear, you will be stacking the deck against yourself.

So what is with this ATS/keyword controversy? Partly, it might be a matter of semantics, partly a difference in viewpoints, and partly–who knows? The more impersonal the job search becomes (as the use of ATS technology seems to force itself on you), the more challenging that job search also becomes. Your challenge is to find a way to deal with it or else to circumvent it in reaching company decision-makers.

Keyword Packing is Not the Answer

According to my colleague, “Resumes are not a science; nor do they require mathematical algorithms to land that next great interview. While using language in your resume that mirrors your target company’s needs is imperative, keyword packing is not. In other words, know your audience, be precisely focused in your target job, and let the words bubble up intuitively.” She then lists 5 reasons reasons to expand your focus beyond keywords, including the following:

  1. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) vary.
  2. Not every company uses ATS screening.
  3. Human beings read your resume.

If Not Keyword Packing, Then What?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (for those of you who remember what records are or were!), I’m afraid one answer lies in making a greater effort than you might have in the past to find your own path, first by developing a resume that contains the essential keywords and then by tracking down people who need to see it, so you can get it into the best hands. From an item I read a while ago, that might not keep your resume from at some point being fed through a system that scans it (such as an ATS), but if you have an interested advocate on the inside, they might be able to help smooth the path for you. That’s a possibility worth pursuing.

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