Group of business people sitting down holding their resumes waiting for their turn

How to Get Your Resume Past
an ATS

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 02, 2020

Over the past couple decades, technology has played a bigger and bigger role in the hiring process. Gone are the days where hiring managers sorted through hundreds of resumes by hand to pick potential candidates. The applicant tracking systems (ATS) have taken over that tedious, expensive and inefficient process.

Many job seekers are unaware that the majority of companies use an ATS to screen resumes before they’re ever seen by human eyes. As the technology becomes cheaper and easier to implement, the number of companies using these systems will likely increase.

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What Do Applicant Tracking Systems Do With Your Resume?

Applicant tracking systems are designed to screen your resume for education, experience and other factors depending on the job description. "A study by Capterra found that 75% of all respondents use some form of recruiting or applicant tracking system when hiring." Many of these resumes are rejected because they aren’t optimized for these scans. The resumes that are optimized for an ATS are more likely to be forwarded for human review.

9 Tips To Ensure Your Resume Gets Past An ATS

Having a resume that gets past an Applicant Tracking System is crucial for your job search. We’ll go over 9 tips to help get your resume past the filters. After you’ve optimized your resume following these tips, it’s not a bad idea to have it reviewed to see how it performs in an actual ATS.

1. Use a standard resume format

You need to use a standard resume format so that the ATS can read your resume properly. Stick to the traditional chronological, functional or hybrid resume format. Include the correct headers for each section so the ATS understands what it’s looking at. For example: summary, skills, work experience and education.

2. Avoid fancy designs and images

This ties into our first tip and it’s a common mistake many job seekers make. Avoid the use of fancy colors and design on your resume, as they may be difficult for the ATS to process. The same goes with including a headshot on your resume. Not only may it get rejected by an ATS, an image of yourself on a resume is unprofessional and a turnoff for most hiring managers. The font you choose also matters. Pick a professional font like Georgia, Helvetica or Times New Roman. This ensures that the ATS can process the text.

3. Send the correct file format

Although most of the systems can read all document types, you should always submit your resume in .Doc (Microsoft Word). Avoid sending .Docx or a PDF as it may be difficult for some ATS to process. You should always check the job description to see if there are instructions on the file type they want.

4. Use keywords correctly

The ATS scans your resume for keywords to determine if it’s a good match for the position. You should already be using keywords that are common in the field or industry you’re going into. However, each resume should be tailored to the job listing.

For example, if you’re looking for a marketing position and you see the following job description:

  • Acquire customers through direct marketing, paid search, SEO, SEM, partnerships and PR
  • Develop customer segmentation and go-to market strategy
  • Partner closely with our International Sales team
  • Build our brand awareness through social media

You want to ensure that you have most of these keywords in your resume. As long as you have the skills mentioned, some keywords you would want to include are:

Direct marketing, paid search, SEO, SEM, PR, partnerships, customer segmentations and social media.

You do want to mention a good number of keywords in the job description but don’t go overboard. Stuffing your resume with many keywords is just as bad as not having any. Find a good balance of keywords and tailor it to each position you apply for.

5. Spell Check

Microsoft Word alone won’t correct all of your spelling and punctuation errors. Have a friend, family member or even a professional proofreader look over your resume. A single grammatical error can get your resume rejected by an ATS. Most hiring managers will also discard a candidate for spelling errors so make sure your resume is error free.

6. Acronyms

Make sure you spell out acronyms on your resume at least once. For example: Registered Nurse (RN) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA). This is just in case the ATS is looking for a particular word and doesn’t understand the acronym.

7. Qualifications

Don’t waste your time applying for positions where you don’t meet the qualifications. The ATS is designed to weed out such candidates from the pool. If they require certain licenses, certifications or education that you don’t have, don’t waste your time and theirs by applying. However, there is a situation where if you don’t meet the qualifications, you should still apply: if you have fewer years of experience than listed on the job description. If a position asks for five years of experience and you only have three, go ahead and apply anyway. You always have the interview to explain why you’re a good fit for the position.

8. File Name

You should include your first and last name in the file name as well as “resume.”

For example: John.Smith.Resume.Doc

Many times a hiring manager will return to the database to search your name in the system if there is interest. They will have trouble finding it if it’s under something generic like “resume” and they usually won’t go through the trouble of renaming your file.

9. Job Title

Including the job title on your resume will help an ATS understand that you’re a match for the position. You can even change up the title on your resume depending on the listing.

For example, let’s say you were an experienced accountant with the “Accountant” title on your resume. If you were applying for a position titled “Senior Accountant,” you could go ahead and change your title to that. The resumes the ATS feels are the closest match are shown to the hiring manager first. This is a great way to tell the ATS that you’re the perfect match.

With a growing number of companies now using an ATS, your resume needs to be optimized for these scans. Following these tips will help your resume get past the filters and into the hands of a hiring manager. Remember that your resume has to be written in a way that’s effective for both the ATS and human review.