Applicant Tracking Systems have multiple functions designed to work together to create time and efficiency measures in the hiring and recruitment process for corporations big and small. Although job seekers are learning the importance of an ATS-optimized resume, the Auto-Reject Function is another method that ATS Software uses to eliminate job seekers and it is independent of ATS resume scans. The auto-reject function is also referred to as “knock-out” questions or prescreening questions that over 80% of the top ATS software is using to eliminate less qualified candidates. This presents a problem because qualified candidates who are ignorant of how ATS software operates are being eliminated by the same auto-reject questions as unqualified candidates. The top 4 strategies to beat the ATS auto-reject functions are strategies you can do yourself or hire professional help to assist.
1. When in Doubt Answer Positively
An application for a job is not the time to doubt your skills or be conservative. Sometimes applicants doubt the level of their skills when completing the prescreening questions of an ATS and end up doubting themselves right out of a job they were qualified for. Doubt and conservative self-assessments make honest but qualified applicants undervalue themselves from a misconceived notion that answering conservatively would be more honest.
As Founder and Executive Advisor of RCF Resume, I have helped many now happily-employed job seekers over the years get more opportunities and better job prospects with the simple act of explaining how the value of their experience is adaptive, not one-dimensional and that claiming that experience not only helps them as a candidate but also employers looking for candidates like them. As an example I reviewed an online application with a client when the following question came up, “Do you have 5 years experience as a General Manager?” her instinct was to answer no because she worked the last 5 years as an Executive Director. I convinced her that answering “yes” was an honest response because her experience included nearly all the same skillsets and functionality to the job she was applying for but within a different industry. Although ultimately, she turned down the job, she landed the interview and was offered the position because the employer was interested in her skillset thereby proving she was a qualified candidate. Most people have one job title but may wear many hats covering multiple job functions and they have every right to claim that experience.
When you are applying for jobs through an ATS, never lie, but don’t err on the side of caution either. Applying online is not the time to be conservative with your experience or skill level. Err on the side of getting an interview—you can always further clarify your skills in the interview. As an example, if applicant Joe is asked to rank his skill level between 1 – 10 and he estimates his skill level is somewhere between 5 and 7 then Joe should rank himself as a 7. His response could be the difference of getting auto-rejected by the ATS if the employer chose to eliminate all candidates who ranked lower than 6, or it could mean he now ranks higher and gets more interviews than the conservative candidate who ranked themselves as a 5. He can always explain why he chose that rank at the interview if asked. The best strategy is to remain honest but to claim the upper hand when at all possible.
Alternatively, if Joe knowingly ranks himself as a 9 when he estimates his skill between 5 and 7 to pass the ATS, he might face the scrutiny of having to explain a level he is clearly not knowledgeable in. When his skill level falls short of his self-ranked score, he not only looks inept in the interview but he is viewed as someone unable to properly gauge their own skill level which is a big risk for a hiring manager. There are additional reasons why being honest with qualifications is important.
2. Apply to jobs you Are Qualified but NEVER Lie to Pass an ATS
While keeping the above tactics in mind, the easiest way to beat the ATS system is to focus your job searches on positions for which you are qualified. Never lie to pass the ATS because it can have more long-lasting ramifications. Besides the embarrassment of getting caught in a lie in an interview, if it’s discovered that you lied in your application in order to get the interview, some of the top ATS software has a “never hire” function which will then prevents your application from being considered for any job with that company ever in the future. In the Taleo ATS Setup Guide, they distinguish their Knock-Out Candidates as “Knock out – Candidate” (KO-C) vs “Knock out – Requisition” (KO-R) in which KO-C candidates are marked as not a good fit for the company as a whole and KO-R is not a good fit for the position.
As you begin to understand the Auto-reject questions you may be tempted to answer falsely so that you are not eliminated from the candidate pool. However, if by some chance, you do get hired despite the lie on your application and it is later discovered, be prepared for immediate termination. HG.org, a legal services firm asserts that lying on your application could even provide legal or even criminal grounds against you if the lie caused the employer damages. Instead, focus your job searches on positions you are qualified for and instead get an edge on other candidates by bolstering your skills through services like coursera.org or udemy.com, or outshine your competition by being better prepared for the open-ended short answer questions.
3. Do Your Research
There are some auto-reject questions that have predefined answers that you can’t alter but questions with open-ended provide a chance to shine if you do your research and know-how
to the best answer for that job. Predefined questions like, “Do you have a bachelor’s degree?” are yes/no and there is no way to work around them or answer better than someone else. However, for companies who include company culture knock-out questions to further identify quality candidates (i.e., by eliminating more candidates who do not fit into the culture) there is an opportunity to pass these questions by doing some simple research. Talk to people who work at the company, search for articles or company websites for an answer. For instance, if you apply for a job at Target and one of their application questions is, “Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?” when researching the Target website for information about the company culture, Target.com uses the word “team” repeatedly throughout their culture page and their careers pages as well. The same premise is true for open-ended short answer questions. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the mentality and values of the company before you answer. A company’s culture and core values will often provide insight into the direction you should answer.
Researching more on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the application process will also help you beat the software. Get the advantage by finding out more about the ATS auto-reject function and how an ATS-Optimized resume can help you from getting filtered into the candidate elimination pool. If ATS software is stopping your chances of getting more interviews and job offers then it’s worth knowing all that you can about it.
4. Hire Professional Help
Beat the ATS knock-out questions with the tips above or hire professional help. There are several resume companies that will provide an ATS-optimized resume to pass ATS Scans. However, getting help to pass the auto-reject function usually means talking to an expert. The best resume services to help pass the ATS prescreening questions will have ATS scanning services and interview preparation services. The ATS knock-out questions are often substitutes for the interview prescreening questions conducted by HR or recruiters and therefore should be answered as such. Interview Prep with an expert of ATS, resume writing, and interview preparation will also help ensure your resume is in line with your application. For instance, in the above example of the Executive Director applying for a General Manager position, in addition to the advice ascent to having General Manager experience, the candidate also received guidance to change the title on her resume to “Executive Director / General Manager” so that the hiring manager would be able to easily identify and reference her experience. During interview prep, get guidance on how to appropriately explain your position on the ATS auto-reject questions until you are confident in your assertions. Some companies like RCF Resume, also offer a service called online application assistance in which they help devise answers to common application short answer questions based on your experience and qualifications.
The Final Takeaway
Whether you find new methods to beat the ATS software yourself or hire a professional to assist, the most important thing to remember is that passing the ATS means getting interviews and therefore more job opportunities. If you don’t pass the ATS you will never get to demonstrate that you are the best candidate for a hiring manager. The interview is not the end goal so make sure you pass the ATS in a manner that you are able to substantiate your answers so that you ultimately get the job. So be bold, confident, assert your experience and beat the ATS, get more interviews and job opportunities.
As Founder & Executive Advisor of Resume Consulting Firm, Taral Flippen helps top professionals pinpoint and define their power skills; pass the toughest recruiter and software screenings, and stand out to get more job offers. She also trains and certifies top Resume Writers at RCFResume.com.