Job Search Resume

The Essentials of Getting Through an Applicant Tracking System


Gone are the days of hiring managers pouring over (literally) hundreds of resumes in search of the perfect candidate.  Here to stay are the days of automated software and advanced algorithms programmed to screen and select only the most qualified candidates for jobs.  Software in the form of various Applicant Tracking Software or Application Tracking Software (ATS) systems are becoming quite popular, especially with larger companies and corporations.  And for good reason.  Organizations that advertise many jobs while expecting excessive numbers of applicants find that these systems save time while ultimately reducing company costs.  Ideally, finding and landing the medical sales job of your dreams will be easier now, especially after reading this.

The State of Applicant Tracking Systems

Simply put: ATS systems are the preferred initial screening process used when reviewing resumes and to help weed out only the most qualified job candidates and they are especially useful when a job posting receives a lot of applicant resumes.  How preferred are they?  According to ATS Expert, Lara DeThomas, “70% of resumes are predetermined through recruitment intelligence software or application tracking systems.”

In addition, these systems are used by a majority of large medical device and pharmaceutical companies as part of a talent acquisition strategy and to manage job openings (MedReps) and it’s safe to assume that the medical and pharmaceutical industry has no plan to stop using the effective software any time soon.

How ATS Works

The main thing to remember is that they work, in large part, by filtering specific position-related keywords found in resumes.  Example: if a job is offered with the title of pharmaceutical sales representative, the ATS used is probably going to search for that exact phrase.

As long as you legitimately have many of the skills in the job description, customize your resume to contain the “key words” that are in the posting.  Don’t try to be fancy and use synonymous words, as only the exact words will allow the recruiter conducting the search to find your resume.  Repeat this for every job you apply for and truly customize your resume with key words that describe your skills and experience to get more traction in your job search.

Applicant tracking system algorithms can be a little finicky at times, so fancy fonts, colors other than black text on white background, and many graphics are un-readable.  Try sticking to plain and simple fonts with virtually no design elements.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged by reading job ads that you are not 100% qualified for.  DeThomas recommends applying for jobs where applicants have at least 60% of the qualifications.  Why?  Because even though hiring managers write job descriptions with all the qualities they would love to have, job functions change rapidly and they are looking for trainable candidates.  If you have 60% of the skills they need, they can teach you the rest.  It’s ok to be a bit wordy with your resume; you want virtually every skill you have to be proudly displayed and more importantly, you want the ATS to find it.

The Targeted Resume Approach

Generic resumes are quickly being replaced by the targeted resume, a resume tailor-made for a specific employment goal in a job search.  Targeting resumes isn’t just smart, it’s critical.  As DeThomas states, “the one-size-fits-all resume is becoming obsolete and it’s going to get lost in more and more recruiting black holes.”  In this day and age of advanced ATS systems, a targeted resume not only convinces the software that your work will benefit a specific employer and that you should be among the candidates invited in for a closer look, but when your resume is pushed through to the next round where it will be subjected to human eyes, it will highlight exactly what an employer is looking for.

So how should you go about developing a targeted resume?  Read below:

Prepare your core resume.  Write every factor in your background that you could potentially use to customize a resume: your experience, competencies, skills, and education in the form of a “standard” resume.  This is basically your working model, a resume you will never submit to an employer.

Research the requirements of a specific job.  Make sure that you know the details and requirements of each job you are creating a resume for.  Also, don’t confuse the job duties and the stated requirements.  Deal first with the requirements and then see how you can show experience or education that matches the most important job duties.  When you’re not responding to a specific advertised job but are posting your resume in an online database, attempt to attract interest in your candidacy by researching the most commonly requested qualifications for a given occupation or career field.

Customize each “spinoff” resume.  After compiling the requirements you must meet in your new, custom resume, review it to see if you can add secondary items mentioned in the specific job posting that further improve your chances.


Don’t Delay, Apply Today!

While application tracking systems may differ in their approaches, their end games are the same: the best and most qualified resumes advance past the initial screening and on to the all-important second round.

Adapting your resume for each position you apply for may take a little time and effort, but it definitely helps to make it very clear to hiring managers and whoever else sees your resume that you’re not only a good fit for the position, but that you’re the best fit for it.  Customizing your resume allows you to showcase the qualifications, accomplishments, and particular aspects of your work history that match closely with the requirements listed in the job description.

Just as DeThomas says, the job search process can be complex, frustrating, and exhilarating all at the same time. However, don’t ever let technology stand between you and a job you really want and are qualified for.  Now that you know how to beat the ATS, change your approach and you are sure to be successful in landing that new pharmaceutical or medical sales job.  For further reading, check out MedReps’ helpful article regarding the Do’s and Don’ts for the Applicant Tracking System.



Lara De Thomas, M.Ed., Application Tracking System Expert