Mastering Job Applications in 2024: Navigating ATS and Enhancing Your Resume For Success

Cory Mazure | Dec 2023

The job market in 2023 has evolved, demanding a more strategic approach to overcome sophisticated hiring systems.. Due to the advancements in corporate Americas hiring systems, job seekers have had their hands full. Today I am going to break down the job application system as it exists today, giving you precise tips on how you can stand out from the crowd and land more interviews. 

System Analysis for Job Seekers: Dissecting the Application Process for Better Results

Gain insight into the application process from start to finish. For those actively applying, pay close attention. It is time to reverse engineer the application process, giving you the knowledge you need to optimize your job hunt. 

One of the benefits I took away from my engineering education was the depth of knowledge I retrieved on systems. Systems are all around us, and with the right knowledge on the topic, you can use it to your advantage to make your time far more effective. 

As a high level overview, according to systems theory, there are only 5 parts of every system.

  • Environment
  • Input
  • Process
  • Output
  • Feedback

The first thing to note is the environment of the system. This is often overlooked, but I would argue it is one of the most important parts. Within the environment, there are inputs, which is what goes into the system. Next, are processes, which is what interacts with the input to create the next part, the output. All great systems have one last aspect to them, which is feedback. The purpose of feedback is to reflect on the outputs, and determine if they are satisfactory. If there are not, there's something that must change, which is either the environment, input, or process. 

Without a solid understanding of systems you are going to:

  • Waste energy
  • Waste time 
  • Be unproductive 
  • Experience frustration from not knowing what actually works
  • Lack consistency as you see no results from your initial efforts

The ultimate benefit of understanding systems is the establishment of control. With a system, you know what you will get as a result of your inputs.

Once you know the theory behind systems, you will see them all around you. It is one thing to recognize them, but we take it a step further, and help you leverage them.

The System Applied To Job Applications

The job application process fits perfectly in the 5 part framework

  • The environment is where you are applying.
  • The input is your resume.
  • The process is the applicant tracking system (ATS) grading your resume 
  • The output is a graded resume which is reviewed by a hiring manager
  • The feedback is an email from the hiring manager either moving you on to the next stage, or rejecting your application 

Let's break down each of these 5 parts of the system a bit more so you understand how you can leverage them to get more interviews. 

Optimizing Your Environment: Smart Strategies for Targeted Job Applications

Success starts with targeting the right roles and companies. For the environment, be very considerate of where you are applying. If you are continuously being denied for jobs, ask yourself if you are even applying to the right roles. You need to be well qualified in order to get an interview. If you are a recent college graduate and are applying for jobs to be a senior engineer, you are never going to see an interview. 

Once you are confident that you are qualified, consider if the company is even one you want to work at. Confirm if they align with your values. If you are skeptical if the mission of the brand is in alignment with yours, save yourself the time and do not even apply. Once you vet the company, make you apply directly onto their website. There are many of these middle men sites like LinkedIn and Indeed that claim you can apply through them. Some have “easy apply” features that are designed to save you time. I am not a fan of this for 2 main reasons. 

For one, some believe the ATS filters resumes differently based on where they came from. I believe you will get the best chance of getting an interview if you apply directly to the company. Next, you need to see the complete job description on the company's website to know if you are qualified and if your resume reflects your skills for the given job. 

A bonus tip for you is the time of day of application. Some studies have suggested that your resume will do better in the ATS if you upload it between 6 and 10 am. My hypothesis for this is that the hiring manager is more likely to see new applicants' submissions in the morning, before their day gets away from them. They might be in a better mood, and have a higher level of focus to dedicate to your resume in the morning, but become impatient in the afternoon and begin skimming resumes. If you have the ability to apply in the morning, give it a try! 

Input: How to Beat the ATS and Impress Hiring Managers

The input is your resume. Craft a resume that overcomes ATS barriers and captivates hiring managers. The ATS is going to destroy your resume if it does not follow a few key principles. This is really how you stand out against the competition, so pay attention. 

I often get asked, should my resume be one page? . This is a false narrative that needs to be put to bed. If you have a significant amount of relevant experience, you should include it all. A 2 page resume is perfectly acceptable and will be far easier for you to properly articulate the value you provided in your prior work experience.

What truly drives results is being articulate with your words. A hiring manager wants to know what you accomplished in your prior work. They want to see you specifically did something which drove a positive change in your prior organization. In order to display this effectively, you must follow the STAR Method. 

The STAR Method: Crafting Impactful Resume Content for Maximum Effect

The star method is not one I can take credit for, it is a best practice that interviewers love. It can become your secret weapon to make your resume stand out against the competition. The STAR method is a 4 part framework: 

  • Situation: Give context to the problem
  • Task: What was your understanding of the task given to you?
  • Action: What action did you specifically make to solve the problem?
  • Results: As a consequence of your action, what outcome occurred? 

You can use this approach in your resumes and to answer job interview questions.When writing your prior work experience, it is best to use resume action verbs at the start of each sentence. Words such as Lead, Drove, Learned, Executed, Initiated, all stand out to hiring managers that you were a doer, and feed perfectly into the STAR method framework. 

If you have never seen the STAR method before, this might be a bit overwhelming. I will give you an example of a bad bullet point that I helped a client re-write to better communicate their impact. 

  • Designed a six sigma project in the test dummy lab at the proving grounds 

Let's break down this sentence with the STAR method. The situation relates to a problem. From this bullet point, it appears the problem is related to organization of equipment in a lab. The task was to run a six sigma project, which is a common engineering framework for making a manufacturing environment more efficient. The action made by this particular individual was to design the six sigma study. Looks pretty good so far, but it all falls apart at the most important step of the framework. You see, the applicant forgot about the result. What was the impact from their work? They may have developed the skill of designing six sigma studies, but that is not enough! They did not properly communicate the result of their study. If a hiring manager was to read this, they would be unimpressed. To help this applicant out, I added just a few words to their resume which made all the difference. 

  • Led a design for six sigma project for optimizing the amount of test dummies in use, saving $250K/year 

For starters, I changed the hook of the sentence to include a more powerful action verb. Led indicates that this applicant was the lead engineer on this project. Next, I removed the section about where the project was executed. The hiring manager does not care if this was at the proving grounds or not. Those few words are a waste of space and are far more valuable to be replaced with the quantifiable impact. After a discussion with this applicant, I learned that the six sigma study he ran saved the company a quarter million dollars a year in equipment and labor. This type of impact is huge and exactly what hiring managers are looking for. Consider this framework for all work experience related bullet points on your resume, focusing heavily on the quantifiable impact. If you are still in a job and are looking to make a transition, before you leave try to gather information on what impact you have had in your tenure. 

Remember, to get more job offers, you need experience that is unique and valuable. Even if you are in a job you hate, you can find meaning by working to develop quality experience that will differentiate you from other applicants, getting you more interviews and better salary offers. One of the first clients I worked with for our resume refinement program followed this STAR method framework and nearly doubled their salary when they made their first career transition. You too can see remarkable results like this one, but only if you have the experience to back it up. 

Resume Formatting Secrets: Optimizing Layout for ATS Compatibility

Next, format is king. As previously mentioned, your resume is going to get processed by an ATS. This algorithm is programmed to pull out important details from your resume such as your education, contact information, and relevant work experience. If your document is formatted poorly or uploaded as the wrong file type, your application could be thrown in the garbage, no matter how qualified you are. 

To help you out with formatting, these are my top 3 tips. 

Put the most impressive aspect of your resume at the top
  • Like writing a hook for an ad, you have to grab the attention of the hiring manager. If your resume does make it in the hands of a real person, they are going to spend limited time reading it before moving on to the next. Some studies have suggested that hiring managers spend as little as 6 seconds per resume! Consider what you have done that is going to make you stand out against other qualified applicants. If your first few bullet points are not your most impressive accomplishments, you are most likely getting thrown directly into the trash. 
Utilize Microsoft Word to build your resume, using its built in headers to distinguish between key sections 
  • Microsoft Word is the go to software as many of these algorithms are built to read .doc and .docx files. Using the built in headers will also help the algorithm grab the key words more quickly. When using Word, make sure you do not use any additional formatting tools like tables. Write it like a traditional document using headers and bullet points and you will do just fine 
Break your resume into these 4 key sections
  • Work experience: Show what you have accomplished in prior work that is related to the job you are applying to now 
  • Leadership experience: Display your leadership ability and give confidence to the hiring manager you will be a positive contributor to workplace culture 
  • Skills: Carefully review your skills to ensure they display all technical keywords that you possess. If the job description says they use Microsoft product suite, make sure you say you are proficient with word, powerpoint, excel. If it says google, change these to docs, slides, and sheets. The point is to tailor your resume to what the job is looking for without outright lying. Remove any soft skill buzzwords from your skills section like “highly motivated” or “team player”. These skills will be displayed in an interview. Anyone can claim to be highly motivated and hiring managers are sick of people inflating their resumes with statements like these 
  • Education: Clearly indicate if you have the appropriate education for the job, stating when you graduated and what your GPA was. If your GPA is under a 3.5, you can get away with not including it on your resume. If it is above a 3.5, you will stand out as a high performer. In reality, if you are applying to a job that is higher than entry level, no one cares about your degree. Put education as the last section of your resume for this reason. They primarily care about your work experience 

That covers it for formatting. With those 3 tips, you will be better off than 80% of applicants. Now it is time for the truly difficult task, making your resume relevant to the job you are applying for. If the ATS likes your formatting, it is going to be on the hunt for keywords that match the job description. It is your responsibility to review the job description and find opportunity areas on your resume to change your current wording to include more of the key words. If you do this properly, your resume will reach the top of the list for a hiring manager to review. 

The problem is, this takes a ton of time. 

There is a dual expectation in the job application process that is unfair to you. 

Apply to a lot of jobs, but customize your resume for each job you apply to. How can you save time while applying to jobs?

That is where ResumeAI comes in. As I mentioned earlier, all of my research led me to the conclusion that I must customize every application, and send out many applications. There is not enough time in the day to spend 30 minutes per resume optimizing it for a job. Because of this, I made ResumeAI: a feature designed to optimize the keywords of your resume to match the job description. Take advantage of this powerful algorithm to save time while perfecting your resume for your next job application. You can try for free with this link: 

Decoding the ATS Process: How to Rise to the Top of the Candidate Pool

The process section is the applicant tracking system, or ATS for short.  

Recall these are used by companies to get the best candidates more quickly. Companies get thousands of applicants and must filter some out in order to find the good ones. They are suffering from a needle in a haystack type situation where they must quickly find the most valuable candidates instead of wasting hours searching through a pile of garbage. The ATS can be used to your advantage if you have a competitive resume. You can become the needle they are looking for, instead of the mounds of hay that are in the way. 

These algorithms will extract information from your resume based on the key words and formatting of your resume, ranking you against other candidates. If you do not rank well by the standard of the algorithm, you may never get yourself into the hands of the hiring managers. 

The Output: Understanding Hiring Managers' Decision-Making Based on ATS Resume Evaluations

That plays into the next part of the system, the output. The hiring managers get your resume with comments from the ATS to see what % match it believes you are for the job. With the input from the ATS and a few seconds of review, the hiring manager will make a decision if you are worth reaching out to. 

Interpreting Application Feedback: What Your Job Application Outcomes Really Mean

That is the last part of the system, feedback. There are only 3 possible outcomes from you submitting a job application. You must understand what all 3 of these feedback loops mean, as it will better educate you on how to change your input. You either get approved, denied, or no response at all. 

  • If you get approved, that most likely means it is time for a phone screening. This is a great sign, and means you are 1 step closer to landing the job. Keep applying if this is the case as you want to get multiple offers to have leverage in the salary negotiations  
  • If you are getting no responses, that is a decent sign that your application is still under review. Either that, or you applied to a company with poor hiring managers who are lazy and do not process a timely response for you 
  • If you get rejected quickly, that means you have a lot of work to do. The ATS put you at the bottom of the list, and the hiring manager did not even bother spending the time to look you over. If this is your situation, I recommend you go back to earlier in this video and take notes on how to update your resume. If you are really stuck, sign up for a free coaching call with our team to help you in the process of writing a better resume. 

Action Plan for Job Seekers: Leveraging ResumeAI for Optimal Application Strategy

Like everything else in life, it is important to focus on what is in your control, the environment and the input. You have no control over how the ATS works or what a hiring manager will do when they see your resume. What you do control though is where you apply and how good of a resume you input into their ATS. Follow the advice laid out above to update your resume, then start playing the numbers game with ResumeAI. 

ResumeAI is here to save you time and increase your application to interview ratio. Try ResumeAI for free today to see just how many ATS optimizations are added. By uploading your resume and pasting a job description, you will have a completely revised resume within 30 seconds of submission, putting you on the fast track to landing an interview. 

Good luck landing those interviews!

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