How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

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Most people write resumes to be viewed by other people. But, did you know that most resumes received by companies never make it to human eyes? Instead, most companies these days use a software called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to efficiently collect, organize, and filter out applications, so that the recruiter or hiring manager only needs to sort through a shortlist of the most qualified candidates.

More specifically, Application Tracking Systems take every resume submitted to a job posting and convert them into one standard format. They then rank each resume based on match to the job description. If you're wondering why you aren't getting any job interviews, the ATS may be the reason why.

99% of Fortune 500 Companies utilize an ATS as they cut down on the amount of time needed to sort through hundreds of applicants. Applicant Tracking Systems have become increasingly important as online job postings have become easier to access and apply to.

A study published by Glassdoor found that on average 250 candidates apply to a single corporate job posting. Of these 250 applications, roughly 10-15 applicants will be contacted for an interview. Recruiters simply don’t have the time and resources to read every resume submitted, so they rely on this initial ranking system to figure out where to start.


Recruiters can search by keywords and phrases used in resumes and reach out to the top “ranked” candidates who appear to be best fit for the role. In general, these resume keywords reflect the words or phrases used in the job posting. They could highlight specific skills, experiences, past employers, or locations.

The top 10 keywords that you may consider using include: design, operations, technical, training, sales, marketing, reporting, compliance, strategy, research. These, of course, tend to differ depending on the role. A good trick to increase hireability is to incorporate the exact words and phrases used in the job posting. Additionally, words and phrases used more than once in a single job posting are even more critical to use in your resume since it means the highlighted skill, ability, or trait is something the recruiter values and likely finds essential.

For example, if the job description includes the phrase “strong verbal and written communication skills” in the description, you may want to incorporate the keyword “communication” into your resume.


Similarly, job seekers should use standard section titles. Instead of trying to get creative and labeling your work experience as “where life has taken me”, stick to something more simple like “work experience” or “past work experience”. This makes it easier for the software to organize and categorize your resume.


Another quick and easy way to optimize your resume is by using ATS friendly fonts such as Cambria or Times New Roman (though many recruiters hate this font). This helps Applicant Tracking System software read and process resumes seamlessly. Using less standardized serif fonts can result in your resume not being parsed and automatically sent to the reject list.


Along the same lines, avoid using graphics such as pictures, columns, or tables. Applicant Tracking Systems scan documents for specific words and phrases. Most cannot process a picture or graph. Additionally, these graphics can take up a considerable amount of space on your resume, and thus it’s best to fill the page with keywords and phrases.


One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is formatting their resumes in .docx, PDF, RTF, and JPG formats. Although most Applicant Tracking Systems can process a range of files, not all companies use the same software and thus some are more “modern” than others. To avoid any problems and to ensure your resume will be considered, stick to a standard Word document.

These tips and tricks will help you get an ATS friendly resume to beat the bots and increase your chances of getting past the Applicant Tracking Systems into the hands of the hiring team. Ultimately, this increases your chance of getting an interview and being able to make a more personal connection with the company.

Similarly, many systems can aid with interview scheduling, communicating important information to potential hires, and onboarding functionality. These systems can also save resumes for later. If an applicant isn’t the right fit for a specific role but meshes well with the company, the hiring team can go back and uncover past candidates who may be better suited for a new or rather future job posting.

This makes it even more critical that job seekers work to optimize their resumes specifically for Applicant Tracking Systems.

If you’d like help optimizing your resume to get through the ATS AND recruiter screening process, check out our flexible plans.  We provide resume and cover letter templates and the support and guidance you'll need every step of the way, from career matching to resume optimization and interview prep to customized job and internship matching.

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