Nearly all resumes submitted online today are scanned with an ATS. To earn more interviews, you need to appeal to these computer scans and this article will show you how to pass applicant tracking system scans. There are 10 things you need to consider.
We'll cover everything you need to know about these Applicant Tracking Systems and how to get your resume past the most popular ones including BambooHR, Zoho, or Workable.
What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?
These Applicant Tracking Systems, colloquially referred to as the "resume robots," are used by recruiters and hiring managers to collect, track, and sort resumes. If the ATS determines that the resume is an appropriate match for the position, it rises to the top of the review pile. If your resume doesn't meet certain qualifications--such as formatting errors or lack of keywords--it may never reach a human audience.
Let's learn a bit more about who uses these systems and how they work, as this will help us craft a resume that can work seamlessly with all ATS tech.
How do companies use applicant tracking systems?
The use of Applicant Tracking Systems has increased dramatically in the last few years: as shown in the image above, over 95% of large companies and over 50% of mid-sized companies use an ATS.
So what does the ATS look for in your resume?
The ATS algorithm scans for keywords that are related to the advertised job. It also scans for information related to your work experience and education. If the ATS determines that your resume is a good match for the position, it gives you a high ranking. This ranking improves your chances of being seen by a recruiter and ultimately landing the interview.
Here is a popular ATS resume analyzer called Taleo, which demonstrates how an employer sees candidates for a particular job opening:
As you can see, the ATS judges the candidates to the best-matched position and are given a higher ranking.
Why is it so important to optimize your resume for an ATS?
Your resume is up against a lot, so optimizing your resume for ATS scans will give you the best chance of getting noticed by an employer.
Let’s take a look at some numbers. Here are some statistics that show what your resume is up against when you apply for a job.
So out of 250 resumes sent, 75% are deleted by Applicant Tracking Systems. Of the remaining candidates, four to six will be interviewed. Only one person will get a job offer.
Enough with these scary statistics--let's move on to how you can work with these systems to pass into the hands of a recruiter or hiring manager!
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 tips to get your resume past the ATS!
10 Tips For Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
1. Use resume keywords correctly
This is one of the most crucial elements to not only get your resume past the ATS, but to ensure that it gets a high ranking as well.
The software is designed to scan for keywords that relate to the job and industry. A good place to start would be the job description. If you’re going for a job within a particular industry, you should already have identified the major keywords that relate to that industry or the position that you seek.
If you need some guidance, you can look at a few job descriptions which will help you decide which keywords to include in your resume.
Let's take a look at a job description for an accounting position and see what keywords we can use:
Position: We are seeking an Accounting Assistant to report and record ticket sales, prepare deposits and reconcile bank accounts. Dealing with any ticketing accounting situations is a major function of this position.
Prepare and verify daily reports
Complete daily income/sales report and prepare daily journal entry
Daily deposits of ticket sales receipts
Reconcile bank account for ticketing office
Communicate with ticketing managers and others working on the ticketing systems problems
Prepare authorized refund vouchers
Compile monthly reports
Prepare monthly balance sheet schedules
Bachelors in accounting
Familiarity with Oracle and Microsoft Excel is a plus
From this job description, we can include the following keywords on your resume:
Bank account reconciliation
Prepare daily, weekly and monthly reports
You can include these keywords in a core competencies or skills section.
Example of using keywords for an ATS scan:
One thing that's just as bad as not having the correct keywords is over-using them. Many applicants try to stuff as many resume keywords as they can in hopes of hacking the ATS and earning a high ranking.
Nice try! It won’t happen. The ATS will reject an overstuffed resume as quickly as it would a resume with insufficient keywords. Work on finding the right balance in your resume.
2. Format your resume correctly for ATS
Stick to a traditional resume format at all times. This ensures that your resume can be scanned by the ATS and that it is easy for a recruiter to read. There are three basic resume formats acceptable for use in the USA and Canada:
Reverse chronological (most popular): This is the most popular resume format and is ideal for someone who has a good work history and is staying in the same line of work. We wrote a post on how to write an awesome chronological resume here.
Functional: This resume format is ideal for those who have large employment gaps or plan on switching industries. A functional resume format allows you to lead with skills and qualifications instead of work experience. You can also find our article on writing a good functional resume here.
Hybrid: This is a combination resume format of a reverse chronological and a functional format. It allows you to use the best features of both formats. However, if you have large employment gaps or very little experience, you should avoid this format.
Example of an ATS-friendly resume format:
To make sure your resume will pass the ATS scan, use ZipJob's free resume review tool:
3. Send the correct file type
Applicant Tracking Systems need to be able to scan and read your resume. The safest way to ensure that your resume will be read is to submit it in a .doc or .docx file from Microsoft Word.
Even though many of the systems are now advanced enough to read a PDF, you should still send a .doc file to be on the safe side. A PDF may preserve your formatting, but it is not as easy for older applicant tracking systems to parse. A .doc file is the preferred file type for both ATS and many recruiters.
You should also always check the job description to see if the employer wants a certain file type. Oftentimes, employers will specify a certain file type, so you should always have a .doc and a PDF version of your resume on file so you can answer the job description.
If no file type is specified and you're applying to the job online, assume that your resume will be entered into an ATS and send a Word doc.
4. Label sections on your resume correctly
You need to ensure that the system can read all the sections of your resume correctly. Label your resume sections properly, using standard headings such as work experience, education, and interests.
Verify that the location, position, and length of employment information that you provide is clear and consistent throughout your resume.
If your layout is not done properly, the ATS may have trouble identifying where you worked, what you did, and how long you were there.
Example of a good work experience format:
Ensure all other labels on your resume are correct--"Summary," "Skills," "Work Experience," "Education," "Certifications," and so on--so ATS can understand the start of each a new section.
Here is a post on headers and sections to include on a resume.
5. Use a popular and professional font for ATS scanning
Stick to a professional font that an ATS can process.
This is not only important for enabling the ATS to process your application correctly, but is also vital for retaining a recruiter’s interest. You have to remember that if a recruiter reviews your resume, it will be a major turn-off to see a font like Comic Sans.
Examples of good fonts to use on your resume:
Times New Roman
We have a post on the best resume fonts here you may want to check out so you can choose the right one for your goals. You'd be surprised how strong some opinions on font choice are!
6. Avoid fancy designs, colors, and images
This ties in with formatting, but it's something we need to mention because we see it so often.
Tip: Don’t put fancy colors, images, or fonts on your resume. Not only does it create a problem for the ATS, but recruiters hate it as well!
Here is what career expert Allison Green says:
“There have always been a small number of job applicants who do this, and it is a really, really bad idea. It makes them look naive and unprofessional, raises questions about why they think you’d want to see their photo, and just generally … no.”
Source: Allison Green on Ask A Manager
There you have it. Stick to a professional resume format as discussed in tip #2.
7. Avoid spelling and grammar errors like the plague!
58% of resumes contain spelling and grammatical errors, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
Spelling errors can cause a resume to be automatically rejected. The majority of recruiters will also dismiss a resume even if it contains only a single error.
Microsoft Word's spell check is not enough to correct all of your spelling and grammatical errors. You should read over your resume a couple of times and even have a friend or professional look it over.
ZipTip: print out your resume to proofread it.
8. Spell out all abbreviations
Be cautious about abbreviating words, titles, or certifications on your resume. If you do abbreviate, make sure you spell out the abbreviation as well.
Examples of abbreviations on a resume:
CPA (Certified Public Accountant): Right
You don’t need to spell out abbreviations every time, but make sure that you spell it out at least once. This ensures that whether the ATS is scanning for the full word or the abbreviation, your resume has both. The ATS may also be unable to recognize certain abbreviations like "CPA" instead of "C.P.A." When in doubt, reference the job posting and copy the style used there.
9. Make sure that your resume file name is correct
Yes, what you name your file matters. Even though it might get through the ATS, recruiters will often ignore unprofessional resume names.
Use your first and last name, or a combination of the two. You should also add either the word “resume” or the position you seek.
Examples for resume file names:
This is also important because if recruiters need to go back and find you in the system, they can easily do so by searching your name in the database. This also holds true if someone is referring you for the job. Your resume needs to be easily found should the recruiter want to pull up your file.
Most recruiters won’t do the work for you and rename the file, so make sure you have the correct file name!
10. Make sure you are qualified for the job
To sum it all up, make sure you meet the qualifications of the job posting. Blindly sending out tons of resumes is a waste of your time.
It’s better to take your time and go through each job description to verify that you’re qualified. The ATS is designed to see if the candidate is a good match for the job and verify that he or she has the qualifications needed.
However, don’t be discouraged from applying for jobs where you meet most of the qualifications. If a position asks for two years of experience and you only have one, go for it anyway!
Your resume has a lot to contend with in 2021, but with these 10 tips, you can rise to the top of the pile and get noticed by hiring managers. Write first to pass an ATS scan, and second to impress an employer. With some simple tweaks to simplify formatting and incorporate keyword-rich experience, you can't go wrong!
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.