AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

Companies don't hire the same way they used to anymore! Rather than reading through hundreds and even thousands of applications these days, they parse resumes. This means that they put your resume through an Applicant Tracking System, which will look out for keywords and key phrases to find the best candidates for the job.

In fact, nearly 40 percent of employers use an Applicant Tracking System, which means that “most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at," and 75 percent of resumes are never seen by a real person, Josh Bersin, principal at HR consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte told CIO

What does all of this parsing-resumes business mean? Let's dive into how parsing a resume works and how to get past resume parsing in the job-hunting process.

How does parsing a resume work?

Parsing a resume means that recruiters and hiring managers will put your resume (and every resume they receive) through an Applicant Tracking System, which can perform the following tasks:

  • Sort through resumes to determine which ones are the best fits for a particular position
  • Enable companies to track where candidates found their job posting
  • Allow companies to post listings to multiple sites and job boards with a single submission
  • Break down the data in resumes in a standardized format where it can be quickly reviewed
  • Add notes to candidates
  • Send out tests for those who make it through and rejection letters for candidates who don't
  • Schedule interviews for applicants who make it through

"Applicant tracking systems were first used by large corporations that receive thousands of applications, but smaller businesses are now using them just as frequently," according to Jobscan. "Just as companies use software applications to keep track of relevant information on their customers, using similar software to organize information on prospective employees makes sense for employers."

In short, applicant tracking systems help companies find, sift through, eliminate, track and recruit employees. They automatically process resumes submitted by applicants. Sometimes, they also use social media to recruit prospective employees, as well. Basically, they're a massive time- and money-saver for a lot of companies. But they can be a total pain for job seekers who don't know how to make sure that their resumes are ultimately seen by human eyes!

What does it mean to parse a file?

Parsing a file refers to putting it through the Applicant Tracking System. 

When you apply for a job online, your contact information, relevant experiences, your educational background, your resume and your cover letter are all uploaded into the preferred system's database and, from there, can then be transferred from one part of the system to another if you move along through the hiring process.

How an ATS parses a resume

When you submit your application online, it will go through a portal that's the Applicant Tracking System. There are several types of Applicant Tracking Systems — iCIMS Recruit, Crelate Talent, ClearCompany, Recruiterbox, Greenhouse and more!

While all of these Applicant Tracking Systems have different features, they all function in virtually the same way. They scan resumes for keywords and key phrases, organize resume information into easy-to-read, standardized formats and more.

Getting past an ATS parser

Getting past an Applicant Tracking System isn't easy, but it is doable! Make sure that your resume meets the following standards:

  • Your resume is packed with keywords and key phrases that mirror the language used in the job advertisement.
  • Your resume uses clear fonts and symbols.
  •  Your resume is overall clean and easy to follow.
  • Your resume is written in clear, simple English that's easy to read.
  • Your resume doesn't have any grammatical mistakes.
  • Your resume doesn't have any intricate symbols that could confuse the Applicant Tracking System.

Remember that the most important thing is for your resume to be easy to read in all regards.

"Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria," Oracle Resumes President Dustin Polk told CIO. For example, Serif fonts have small marks added to their letters, while the recommended Times New Roman R. Sans serif fonts don’t.

Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for resume writers TopResume, also told CIO that symbols are important to keep an eye on.

“Opt for the circular-shaped symbol or something similar,” she said. “Avoid using arrows or other intricate symbols for your bullet points, as many applicant tracking systems will translate those into a garbled mess.”

Basically, be clean, neat and to the point.

What skills should I list on my resume?

Always list your top skills on your resume and order them by priority. Make sure that your skills mirror the language of the skills for which the job advert is calling.

You might also want to include these top skills on your resume, as well:

  • Communication Skills (Both Verbal & Non-Verbal)
  • Time-Management Skills
  • Teamwork Skills
  • Adaptability
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Creativity
  • Mentoring Skills
  • Networking Skills
  • Decision-Making Skills
  • Stress-Management Skills
  • Organization Skills
  • Planning Skills
  • Delegation Skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Listening Skills
  • Brainstorming Skills
  • Logical Reasoning Skills
  • Lateral Thinking Skills
  • Conflict-Management Skills

Ultimately, the best skills aren't unique to you or the company, since tons of applicants will have the share the same exact skills and tons of companies are looking for those same skills. But you can list these skills on your resume in such a way that they make you come across as incomparable talent! You can do this by mirroring language and by going into more depth about how those specific skills will help you to do that specific job in your cover letter.

To learn more about the top skills to include on your resume, check out our tips on resume skills!

What is a free form resume?

A free-form resume is a resume that isn't designed for parsing. It's a resume that someone who doesn't have Applicant Tracking Systems in mind writes.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.