How To Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System

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Online application systems have made it easier than ever to apply to a job—but harder than ever to get your resume noticed. How can you make the cut and get selected for an interview?

To make it past the applicant tracking system (ATS), you need a resume that sells your qualifications in terms a robot can understand. Learn how to use the right keywords, format your resume correctly, and nail the details that will get your profile to the people in charge.

Automated Systems That Screen Resumes

What is an applicant tracking system? To screen a large volume of resumes, many employers use software to help them conduct an initial screening of resumes. More than 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS, according to data collected by Jobscan. Many mid-sized organizations use one as well.

These systems screen out or reject many resumes submitted, either because the documents don't reflect the desired qualifications or because they are formatted in a way that the system can't understand.

ATS Pros and Cons

Applicant tracking systems can be an impersonal or puzzling hurdle for those seeking employment, but there can be advantages for job seekers as well as disadvantages. It's important to understand these in order to have the best chance of getting noticed.

  • Appropriate, accurate keywords should get the right candidates noticed.

  • Traditional page limits for resumes are less significant.

  • Well-tailored applications are less likely to lose out to generic applications.

  • Candidates who have done their homework are rewarded.

  • Formatting issues can lead to rejection.

  • System algorithms lack human ingenuity and instincts.

  • Tailoring application for the system can lead to loss of focus.

  • System can bypass quality candidates.

10 Tips to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

1. Choose the Right Keywords

Make sure your application contains keywords relevant to the job you're applying for. Review the qualifications listed and implied in the job advertisement. Make sure you also visit the company website to determine if a more detailed job description is available.

If there's not much information available, you can review similar job vacancies on major job sites like to gain further insight. Or, interview professionals in your target field and inquire about the keywords and jargon they would recommend using given the knowledge and skills that are most highly valued in the field.

Make a list of words and phrases used to describe the ideal candidate and incorporate them into your job application materials.

2. Use Critical Keywords More Than Once

Use the most important keywords more than once if possible, but don't go overboard. There will be no penalty for repetition and systems often tally points for each mention of a key asset, up to a realistic point.

3. Incorporate a Skills Section or a Summary of Qualifications

A skills section allows you to list keywords for skills that you might not be able to work into other parts of your resume.

4. Customize Your Resume for the Job

Generic resumes are the enemy of applicant tracking systems and will be the first documents screened out. Be sure to tailor your resume to each job you are targeting. Incorporate as many of the keywords and phrases that you have identified in the job description as possible, though make sure your writing still sounds natural and reads well.

5. Don't Leave off the Dates of Your Employment

Systems may be screening based on the amount of experience required for a particular job.

6. Keep the Format Simple and Avoid Fancy Graphics

Plain text Word documents are usually the most easily digested by automated tracking systems. PDFs can be troublesome for automated tracking systems. Use a font size of at least 11 points and margins of at least one inch on all sides.

7. Don’t Worry About Length

You can usually utilize a somewhat longer document than the traditional 1- or 2-page resume since length doesn't typically matter for applicant tracking systems. Most systems will generate a summary of your resume data for decision-makers and not yield your actual resume.

However, some employers will retrieve your actual document and view it online. To account for either case, use a simple but attractive format and avoid unnecessary and flowery language that will distract the reader from focusing on your most essential qualifications.

8. Pay Attention to Your Brand

Some employers also use software to search the web and assess your social media presence. Cultivate your professional brand online. Make sure the facts represented through your social media profiles are consistent with your resume and applications.

9. Remember the Humans

Develop and save a "human eyes only" version of your resume for small employers and when you are dropping off resumes or networking. You also should bring a few extra copies of your traditional resume to your interviews.

10. Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Regardless of how well your resume is designed for use with an ATS, you still should place a high priority on networking strategies. Given the flood of online resumes submitted to employers, it helps to have advocates inside organizations pointing out their view that you are a viable candidate.

Many employers have an employee referral program, and an endorsement by a member of their staff might enable you to bypass an ATS screen.

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  1. Jobscan. “Over 98% of Fortune 500 Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).” Accessed Feb. 10, 2021.

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