Beating the Robots: How to Get Your Resume Past Applicant Tracking Systems

Employers receive hundreds of applications for every job posting. Since the late ‘90s, more and more employers have begun using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help parse the stacks of resumes and cover letters. You may be asking, what is ATS? ATS is a form of software that allows employers to quickly scan applications for the keywords or attributes that are most important to the role. The ATS will scan the application materials and provide the employer with a report, sorted by weighted rankings for each candidate. Candidates are scored based on how closely they match the qualifications, the frequency of keywords used, and the uniqueness of keywords used. How do you get to the top of the list and into the hands of the employer? Follow these four tips to help get your resume through the system.

  1. Stick to traditional formatting. Sometimes we try to stand out by using creative headings for our experiences; however, this can cause the ATS to skip over that section completely. If you label your education section as “Academic Achievements”, the ATS will skip the section and won’t recognize that you do meet the minimum educational requirements for the position. It is best to stick with traditional headings such as education, work experience, certifications, campus involvement, and skills.
  2. Headers, footers, and tables. Most systems are unable to read headers and footers. If you include your contact information or any other important information in these areas, they likely will not be scanned by the system. Similarly, some job seekers like to use tables to format sections within the resume. Like headers and footers, many systems are unable to pull information from tables. ATS are also unable to interpret graphics or charts. If anything, using graphics will confuse the system and will increase your likelihood of being rejected. 
  3. Font style and color. Typically, any serif or sans serif font is deemed acceptable for professional documents, including your resume. However, some ATS are better at interpreting sans serif fonts than serif fonts. This is because sans serif fonts have a more distinguished space in between letters than their serif font counterparts. Stick to fonts like Arial, Verdana, or Tahoma rather than Times New Roman or Cambria to avoid confusing the system. ATS are also typically unable to read resumes in color, so stick to a traditional black-font resume. 
  4. Use the right keywords. The most important thing to get past the robots is to use the right keywords. The ATS relies heavily on these keywords to identify the best candidates for any given role. You may have heard that you should tailor your resume to each position for which you apply. While this process may seem cumbersome, it is especially important to get through an ATS. Scan the job description and pick out the most important keywords. You can use a tool like Wordle or Tagcloud to see which words are used most frequently in a position description. Incorporate these keywords into your resume.

It is important to use the same phrasing the company uses. If the position description lists that you must be proficient in Microsoft Word and you simply list Word or MS Word, the system may not pick up on the keyword. If the position is looking for someone who is strong in data analysis, use data analysis in your resume as opposed to saying analyzed data. Use industry and company-specific jargon in your resume, even if not found in the position description, as they may be keywords picked up by the ATS. If you’re not sure what types of industry keywords to include, try scanning the company website or talking to someone in the field. 

Avoid using acronyms or abbreviations alone in your resume. First, write out the word, followed by the acronym. For example, if you have a CNA certification, you don’t know if the system is looking for “CNA” or “Certified Nurses Assistant.” In order to increase your chances of getting to a human, include both the full name followed by the acronym in parentheses.

The most important thing to remember when preparing a resume is tailoring to the specific position. Whether it is going through an Applicant Tracking System or directly into the hands of the employer, it is important to show your unique qualifications for that position. Check out the UGA Career Guide, pages 34-35, for more examples on tailoring application materials.

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