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How to ensure your résumé gets past an ATS

When you’ve put time and energy into perfecting your résumé, you want to make sure it’s being seen by the right people. With technology playing a bigger role in recruitment, it’s essential that you consider the role of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) when writing your résumé.

Neglect this, and you risk your application being filtered out by the computer system. While this may sound daunting, with some thought and extra care, it’s easy to do. Follow our advice below to help you beat the bots.   

I spoke to Alice Greedus, Career Expert at Résumé-Library, who walked me step by step through the best way to “get past an ATS.”

Know how an ATS works 

To master something, you need to have a solid understanding of how it works. Therefore, you must know exactly how the recruiter will be using this software if you hope to maximize your chances of success.  

An ATS is computer software that handles a number of recruitment needs, including sorting through résumés. But how does this actually work? Simply put, résumés will filter through the software, which searches for key phrases and criteria.  

The computer will then rank the résumés in order of relevance. The idea is to save the recruiter time, while matching them with the best candidates.  

Recruiters will usually conduct a number of keyword searches to help them get the best results from an ATS.  

If you’re careful and selective about the information you put in your résumé, you don’t need to worry about the ATS hindering your chances. Instead, think of this as a way to help you get your application in front of the hiring manager.  

Make use of keywords 

Recruiters use keywords for their ATS search. Therefore, if you hope to get your application seen, you must do so too. Neglect this step and you risk your résumé being lost in a sea of applications.  

Start by analyzing the job listing. You need to read through this carefully and highlight the key skills and qualities the employer is looking for. As an example, they might be looking for someone who is organized, so you would then use that keyword in your résumé.   

Once you have a better understanding of what the recruiter is looking for, you need to incorporate these keywords into your application. But be careful not to overdo it, each paragraph must flow and look professional.  

Tailor your résumé for every role 

A generic résumé that looks like it was plucked from an Internet template won’t get you far. To get past an ATS you must tailor it for every role you apply to. So, even if you think you’ve perfected your resume for one role, you might need to make some adjustments for another company.  

Phrases that don’t really say a lot about your abilities such as “team player” need to be revamped with the company in mind.  Do some research into the company to help you get a better idea of its core values. Then you should be able to think of ways you can reflect these in your résumé.  

Pay attention to language and formatting 

While the ATS is a clever tool, it still requires your résumé to be laid out in the correct way. Therefore, you must include titles for each section. For example, these might be Skills, Qualifications, Experience, and Hobbies and Interests.  

Having these categories will make sure that the computer picks up the right information from the right parts of your résumé.  

Alongside this, ensure that you have a simple format. Avoid any complicated graphics because the software picks up words not images.  

What’s more, you should avoid any styles that use unusual bullet points or fonts, because the ATS may not register these properly. Follow the rule that everything should be kept simple; use easy-to-read fonts such as Calibri or Arial.  

In summary 

Don’t let the ATS scare you off. Instead, think of it as a tool to help the hiring manager find you! Follow this advice to help you create a résumé that will beat the bots and end up in front of the hiring manager.


Join Dana Manciagli’s Job Search Master Class® now and get the most comprehensive job search system available! 

Thunderbird School of Global Management Alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job". With her 'Career Mojo' column, Dana is the sole syndicated career columnist for the Business Journal nationwide. Her remarkable profile includes a career in global sales and marketing for Fortune 500 corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Kodak. She has coached, interviewed and hired thousands of job seekers. This article was originally published on her website.

Read More from Dana:

It’s a Good Year to Look for a Job

Networking Reluctance: 3 Keys to Overcoming It

Tips for the New Graduate – and Job Seeker