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How to Get Your Resume Past Applicant Tracking Systems

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If you’re sending out a resume for a job opening, there is a great chance your resume is being scanned by an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). So what are ATS systems and how can you get your resume past an ATS?

Here’s How an ATS Works

These Applicant Tracking Systems, commonly referred to as resume robots, scan your resume for keywords, experience, and education before the document is ever seen by human eyes. If the ATS determines that the resume is an appropriate match for the position, it is approved for human review.

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 beat the bots.

 

How Many Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems?

How Many companies use ATS

 

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 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 called Taleo, which demonstrates how an employer sees candidates for a particular job opening:

Applicant Tracking System

As you can see, the candidates the ATS judges to be best-matched to the position are given a higher ranking.

Why is it so important to optimize your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems?

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.

What your resume is up against

Source: Inc.com

So out of 250 resumes sent, 75% are deleted by Applicant Tracking Systems. Of the remaining candidates, 4-6 will be interviewed and one person will get a job offer.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Enough with these scary statistics – how the heck do I get my resume past the bots?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 tips to get your resume past the ATS!

(You can also check out article after on how to get a free ATS resume test!)

10 Tips to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

  1. Send the correct file type.

pdf-word-icons

Applicant tracking systems need to be able to read your resume. The safest way to ensure that your resume will be read is to submit it in a Doc file.

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 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. Often times, employers will specify a certain file type, so you should always have a .doc and .pdf version of your resume on file.

  1. Format your resume correctly.

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:

  • Reverse-chronological (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. However, if you have large employment gaps or very little experience, you should avoid this format.
  1. 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 subheadings such as work experience, education and interests etc.

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. Here is an example of a good layout for work experience:

Work Section Example

 

Ensure all other labels on your resume are correct. “Summary, Skills, Work Experience, Education, Certifications…” so ATS can understand the start of each a new section. Here is a post on headers and sections to include on a resume. 

  1. Use a popular and professional font.

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.

The best fonts to use for your resume are:

  • Arial
  • Calibri
  • Georgia
  • Helvetica

We have a post on the best resume fonts here you may want to check out.

  1. Avoid fancy designs, colors and images.

 

Design on Resume

Okay, this ties in with formatting – but it’s something we need to mention because we see it so often.

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

There you have it. Stick to a professional resume format as discussed in Tip #2.

  1. Use 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.

Responsibilities

  • 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

Qualifications

  • 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
  • Journal Entries
  • Balance Sheet
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Oracle
  • Prepare daily, weekly and monthly reports

One thing that’s just as bad as not having the correct keywords is over-using them. Many applicants try to stuff as many keywords as they can into their resumes in hopes of beating 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.

  1. Avoid spelling and grammar errors like the plague!

Spelling Errors

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 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.

  1. Spell out abbreviations.

Avoid abbreviating words, titles or certifications on your resume. If you do abbreviate, make sure you spell out the abbreviation as well.
Example:

CPA -Wrong

CPA (Certified Public Accountant) – Right

You don’t need to spell out every abbreviation, but make sure that you spell it out at least once.

This ensures that if the ATS is looking for either the full word, or the abbreviation, your resume has both. The ATS may also be unable to recognize certain abbreviations.

  1. Make sure that your 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:

JohnS.Resume.doc

JohnSmith.Resume.doc

John.SalesManager.doc

This is also important because if a recruiter needs 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. 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!

  1. Make sure you are qualified.

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 are 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 2 years of experience and you only have one, go for it anyway!

I hope you found the article useful. Please share it on social media or with anyone you know who might be looking for a job.

We also offer professional resume writing and a Free resume review. 

We have also prepared a little summary should you want to come back and go over these tips.

Summary

Most companies now use applicant tracking systems to scan your resume. These applicant tracking systems use software to scan your resume and decide whether you’re a good fit for the position.

Over 75% of resumes are deleted by the applicant tracking systems and are never seen by the employer. An applicant will likely never know that his or her resume has been deleted, so it’s important to optimize your resume for these systems.
Follow these 10 tips to help get your resume through the ATS

  1. Ensure you’re sending the correct file type – Always send a .doc file unless stated otherwise. The ATS can easily read this format and it’s also the preferred file format for recruiters.
  2. Resume format is very important – Stick to either a functional, reverse-chronological, or a hybrid format which is easily processed by the ATS.
  3. All sections of your resume should be labeled correctly- The ATS needs to know what each section is. Make sure you use the correct labels such as work experience, education, certification etc.
  4. Stick to a popular and professional font – Stick to simple fonts the ATS can process such as Arial, Calibri, New Times Roman, and Georgia.
  5. Don’t use designs and images on a resume- Avoid designs, colors and images on your resume as these can confuse an ATS.
  6. Keyword optimize your resume – Always use relevant keywords that target the industry or job description.
  7. A single spelling error can mean rejection – Spelling and grammatical errors may cause your resume to be rejected. Have a professional or someone you know proofread it.
  8. Abbreviations should be spelled out – The ATS may be unable to recognize certain abbreviations. Be sure to spell out an abbreviation at least once. (Example: “Certified Public Accountant” CPA).
  9. Make sure the filename is correct – The filename should include your name in case the recruiter wants to search for you in the database. (Example: John.Smith.Resume.doc).
  10. Be sure you meet most qualifications – Make sure you meet most of the qualifications for the position. If you don’t, the ATS will usually automatically reject you.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Sammy says:

    Great job with this guide. Very useful!

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