Career Advancement

Make the Applicant Tracking System Your Ally

Product Managers and ATS
Written by Paula Gray

Strategies for Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers That Make the Applicant Tracking System Your Ally

You’re not alone.  Many product managers and product marketing managers find themselves in the job market today, either by choice or out of necessity.  Unfortunately, competition for well-paying, fulfilling product manager and product marketing manager jobs continues to be fierce as there are far more qualified applicants than available positions.  According to an article in Inc. (2015),[1] there are an average of 250 applicants for each corporate job opening, 25 resumes will be read by the hiring manager, and only 4 to 6 will be chosen for an interview.

A product manager or product marketing manager’s resume is a marketing piece that should be designed with the customer in mind.

Human resource departments large and small are more heavily relying on Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS for short, as a database for this deluge of resumes they receive for each position.  The ATS is a software application that allows a hiring manager to search, sort, track and manage the large number of applicants.  They key here is the ability it gives a hiring manager to search resumes by their chosen keywords and use filters to further narrow down the selection to a short list for review.

Understanding how to strategically build your resume and navigate the application process ruled by the ATS is crucial to creating a competitive advantage in today’s job market.

The hiring manager chooses the keywords they use in the ATS according to the needs of the position and the “world” in which they live.  It’s important to understand here that those keywords are derived from (listed from largest to smallest in scope): the industry, geographic region, organizational culture, and finally departmental structure.  So a product manager position for an anti-virus software company based in the Silicon Valley of the US will have different keywords than a product manager position for a financial services company based in Dubai.  Those two different hiring managers and corresponding job openings have very different needs and operate in two very different “worlds.”

Therefore, your resume, as a product manager, for example, will need to be different for these two companies even though they both are hiring a product manager.  Think of your resume as a marketing piece for you, the product.

Your resume should reflect the needs of your customer, the hiring manager, and use language and messaging that resonates with THEM. 

Many people think that they can have one version of a resume because that’s how they want to represent themselves.  But we don’t do that with our marketing copy at work.  In our marketing work we understand that our messaging is not about us/our product but rather it’s about how our product solves a need or want for our customer. You already know how to do this. Use the same strategy for your resume.

To strategically craft your resume, you’ll need to first study the company.  What makes the company tick?  Of course, you’ll learn about their business model but go much deeper than that to understand their internal culture, their pressures, their competitive environment.  Then turn your focus to the job description found in the job opening.  What words do you see repeated?  Is there a central theme to this product manager position?  For example, will this product manager position require frequent presentations or interface with senior management?  Or does it focus more heavily on financial responsibility?  Is this a product manager of an existing product(s) or is the emphasis on innovation and new product development?

Whatever those answers, they should show up in your resume.  Those key terms and phrases you see in the job description will be the keywords you need to incorporate into your resume.  Continuing with our example, you would ask yourself, where in my resume do I demonstrate that I’m comfortable presenting to and interfacing with senior management?  Where do I demonstrate that I have financial savvy? How can I highlight my experience with innovation and new product development?

What you are doing is tailoring your messaging to your audience, the hiring manager, who will use the keywords they listed in the job description to rank your resume based on how many you include in your resume.  They may put a higher priority on some keywords over others and on how many years of experience are attached to priority keywords.

As product managers and product marketing managers, you already understand the importance of messaging that resonates with customers.  Now give the same priority to incorporating that strategy into crafting your personal marketing piece, your resume.

Need Help?

If you would like a private resume coaching consultation to go deeper into building your competitive advantage in the job market, schedule an AIPMM Resume Review with me.  It’s free to all AIPMM members!


[1] Economy, P. (2015, May 05). 11 Interesting Hiring Statistics You Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/19-interesting-hiring-statistics-you-should-know.html

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.