How to Pass Applicant-Tracking Systems
The dreaded applicant-tracking system (ATS). Chances are if you’ve searched for a job in the last decade you’ve applied to a job where the employer used an ATS to narrow down the pool of candidates for a position. While all job candidates worry about impressing a hiring manager, they forget that the ATS is often the first gatekeeper they must surpass before a human ever sees their qualifications. Having a resume that scores well when passed through an ATS can be tricky, but there are a few simple tips to keep in mind:
- Mirror keywords/phrases from job advertisements.
How do you do this? Scan job postings carefully and highlight the relevant keywords and phrases that you find. Once you’ve found them, be sure to mirror that language in your resume. But don’t just simply copy and paste the wording verbatim! And be sure you can back up your claims with evidence.
- Write out all acronyms one time before using the acronym in your document.
Sometimes an ATS will scan for an acronym and sometimes it will scan for the whole phrase. Your best bet is to include both versions in your resume.
- Use clean, simple formatting.
This is not to say that you can’t integrate splashes of color or occasionally use more stylistic elements. But be careful in how you format your resume. Sometimes ATSs can’t parse content within text boxes or tables, and sometimes it can. In most cases, it’s best to not use Microsoft Word’s header and footer function, as it can also cause issues as an ATS scans your document.
- Integrates lots of keywords/phrases, but don’t forget about human readers.
Yes, it’s imperative to include the right keywords and phrases in your resume to score well in an ATS, but as you incorporate keywords, remember that a human doesn’t read a document the same way an ATS does. Make your keywords/phrases count by enveloping them into meaningful “resume” sentences—brief yet compelling pieces of information. Your resume must be readable for humans; otherwise, what’s the point of getting past an ATS?
- Streamline and modify job titles if needed (but be honest!).
Job titles often differ from one company to another, and sometimes employers use very specific titles internally for one reason or another. Keep this in mind as you prepare your resume. Maybe you’re the Head of Domestic and International Customer Affairs – Eastern Region at your current employer, but that might mean nothing to an ATS, if you’re applying to a Director of Customer Service position.
Research suggests that roughly 75% of recruiters and hiring professionals use ATSs. And for any given job opening, you’re probably facing hundreds of other candidates when you apply. Give yourself a leg up on the competition by learning how to get past hiring gatekeepers, especially the dreaded ATS.