How to Get Your Resume Past the ATS Scans (2024 Updated)

Marsha Hebert, professional resume writer
The partial figure of a man in a blue gingham shirt sitting at a wooden table working on a laptop. An open notebook sits beside the computer.

There is one thing that has become a thorn in almost every job seeker’s side – that’s the applicant tracking system, or ATS, that companies use to weed out candidates. Not only does it scan your resume, but it also scans through your cover letter. 

Knowing how to get your resume past the ATS scans involves getting everything right, from the proper use of keywords and achievement statements to the font and margin size. It all boils down to whether your resume is legible to a computer. Don’t forget, though, you have to balance beating the bots with impressing a human being. 

Enter the true frustration. How do you write a resume so that it gets past the ATS scans and wows the socks off the human hiring manager? 

This article will 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

The best part? The resume you end up with as a result of these tips will also be what a hiring manager expects to see. 

What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

Once upon a time, people would find jobs by creating a document that listed their work history and the responsibilities they had at each position. Then, they’d scour the classified section of the local newspaper to find openings, or they’d literally get outside and go from door to door. It also wasn’t unheard of to be hired on the spot. 

It’s a bit easier to apply for jobs these days. Because of how easy it is to apply for open positions, employers started to become inundated with applications. There isn’t a human being alive who has the time to go through hundreds of resumes.

So began the world of having resume scanning software weed through applicants. 

When you apply for a job online, your resume is almost certainly going to go through an applicant tracking system first – even if you apply to a job at a mom and pop type place. These systems are programmed with keywords and qualifications (like how much education the company wants applicants to have). 

The job of the ATS is to determine whether your resume is an appropriate match for the position. If you meet the programmed requirements, your resume is added to the database. If you don’t, the ATS could reject your resume altogether. This means your application ends up in a digital la-la land, never to be seen again.

Expert Tip

ATS rejection is one of the main reasons job seekers get ghosted by companies. The ATS kicks your resume out; the human beings at the company don’t know you exist, so you hear nothing back. 

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 application tracking software determines that your resume is a good match for the position, it gives you a high ranking. 

The ranking is usually a star rating, depending on which ATS the company uses. After your resume makes it past the ATS scans, it isn’t dropped into the hiring manager’s inbox. Your application is added to what amounts to a chart where each candidate is ranked based on what the ATS found during the scan. The higher your ranking, the higher up on the chart your name will appear, improving your chance of being seen by a recruiter and ultimately landing the interview.

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 break it down using some numbers.

  • Employers get upwards of 250 resumes for a single job opening

  • Approximately 75% of those are rejected by the ATS

  • This means that around 60 of the original 250 get to the hiring manager

  • The hiring manager isn’t reading your resume; they’re skimming it and will only call about 6 people for an interview

  • And, of course, only 1 person will get the job


Tips to get your resume past the ATS scans

So, we’ve spent half of this article just teaching you about the ATS. While it is important for you to have that background, you’re probably ready to know exactly what you have to do to get your resume past the ATS and into the hands of a hiring manager. 

1. Use resume keywords correctly

One of the most important things you can do is tailor your resume with the right keywords. 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 are seeking.

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:

  • Accounting Assistant

  • Prepare deposits

  • Reconcile bank accounts

  • Accounting situations

  • Daily reports

  • Refund vouchers

  • Cross-functional communication

  • Balance Sheet

  • Microsoft Excel

  • Oracle

The keywords you dissect from the job description can appear anywhere in your resume, but the easiest place to add them will be in the core competencies or skills section.

2. Make sure you are qualified for the job

Part of tailoring your resume with the right keywords from the job description is making sure that those keywords align with your career history. Blindly sending out tons of resumes stuffed with keywords that don’t match your experience is a monumental 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!

3. Format your resume correctly for ATS

Before you even start writing your resume, you have to pick which format you’re going to use. It’s critical that you stick to a traditional resume format because this ensures that you can get your resume past the ATS scans 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 of a reverse chronological and a functional format. It allows you to use the best features of both formats. When you want to focus your application on skills and career achievements, this is the format to use.

Expert Tip

To make sure you get your resume past the ATS scans, use ZipJob's FREE RESUME REVIEW tool.

4. Avoid fancy designs, colors, and images

When you do a search online for resume formats, you’ll find a metric ton of formats that have double columns or headshots. These over-formatted resume styles will not get past the ATS scans. 

In fact, using this type of styling can be THE THING that gets your resume rejected because the ATS sees images, text boxes, charts, and icons as funky characters. To the ATS, this reads as a document that has errors. ~REJECTED~

5. Use a popular and professional font for ATS scanning

While we’re talking about format, let’s discuss fonts, too. 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. 

Examples of good fonts to use on your resume:

  • Calibri

  • Arial

  • Helvetica

  • Tahoma

  • Trebuchet

  • Veranda

  • Garamond

  • Times New Roman

We have a post on the best resume fonts that you may want to check out so you can choose the right one for your goals. 

6. Be an achiever, not a doer

Now that you have your list of keywords, you’ve picked the right format to ensure that your resume gets past the ATS scans, and you have your document set up with the right font, it’s time to start typing. 

It’s crucial that your resume tells a story of accomplishment. By reading about your accomplishments, the hiring manager can tell what you have to bring to the table for their team. Use numbers to highlight your achievements every chance you get.

For example, instead of writing:

  • Responsible for reconciling bank account 

You should write:

  • Reconciled 4 separate bank accounts each month

Here, you’re getting in the right keywords regarding reconciling bank accounts, but you’re going above and beyond by writing the line as an accomplishment statement. When you put the keyword into context, your resume gets past the ATS scan and impresses the hiring manager. 

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.

Expert Tip

Print out your resume to proofread it.

8. 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. 

You should also always check the job description to see if the employer wants a certain file type. 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.

9. Don’t think you can outsmart the ATS

A lot of people think they can get their resume past the ATS scans by stuffing keywords or copying and pasting the job description into their resume using 1 pt white font. This practice, along with repeating keywords as many times as possible, is called keyword stuffing. You can’t trick the ATS because it can read small fonts and white text. It’s likely also been programmed to recognize when keywords are stuffed by calculating how many times a phrase appears. 

Not only can the ATS recognize these tricks, but most of them will convert the text to black so that it shows up on the hiring manager’s side. So, even if you do manage to get your keyword-stuffed resume past the ATS, the hiring manager will see. 

Get your resume past the ATS and impress a hiring manager

Your resume has a lot to contend with in 2024, but with these tips, you can get your resume past the ATS scans and rise to the top of the pile to get noticed by the human beings at the company. Write first to pass an ATS scan and second to impress an employer. With some simple tweaks to simplify formatting and incorporate a keyword-rich experience, you can't go wrong!

Still not sure if your resume has what it takes to get past an ATS scan? Find out by getting your free resume review today!

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Marsha Hebert, professional resume writer

Written by

Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer

Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.

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