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How to Get Your Resume Past an Automated Applicant Tracking System

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About 75% of recruiters use an applicant tracking system (ATS) for their hiring process—and an even higher percentage (around 99%) of Fortune 500 companies do, as well. Understanding how an ATS works can help you improve your marketability to potential employers and stand out from other candidates in the hiring pool, ultimately pushing your resume past the ATS and into the hands of a human recruiter.

How does an ATS system work?

An ATS—sometimes called resume screening software—is a technology that companies use to automate certain aspects of their hiring process. An ATS will scan and review resumes and CVs, accept job applications, and manage candidates looking for a suitable position in a company.

Top employers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications for their open positions, so an ATS is a viable solution to manage that influx and help companies remain EEOC-compliant. Here are the features most applicant tracking systems have:

  • Candidate sourcing
  • Resume storage
  • Filters
  • Keyword search
  • Applicant communication
  • Job-posting management
  • Automated email customizations
  • Interview tools
  • Analytics and reporting

How to write an ATS-friendly resume

An ATS-friendly resume can prevent your applications from being rejected before a human recruiter gets to look at it. Here’s what you should keep in mind before you apply for your next job:

Choose an appropriate ATS format

An ATS may only review your resume if it is formatted correctly. The simplest way for an ATS to read your resume is in reverse chronological order. Your most recent and relevant work experience should be listed at the top of the resume, followed by less recent or less relevant information listed toward the bottom.

Use standard headings and avoid tables, columns, headers, and footers

Standardized heading sections allow the ATS to understand what content will come next on your resume. Use plain and simple language in your headings, as the system may not recognize gimmicky or unusual headers.

Even an advanced ATS will have trouble scanning tables or columns on a resume because information could get jumbled together and confuse the ATS. Avoid tables, columns, headers, and footers to keep your resume ATS-friendly and organized.

Choose the right file type

Two common file types applicants use for resumes are .docx or .pdf. PDFs generally keep your formatting intact, but .docx is a better choice for making your resume ATS-friendly. If the employer asks for a PDF or other file type, it’s best to follow their instructions. But when possible, avoid all other file types when submitting a resume.

Include keywords from the job description

A well-written resume will include specific keywords that match the job description of the role you’re applying for. However, avoid stuffing your resume with keywords just for the sake of it. Use keywords in the right context that fit the job description and describe your past work experiences.

Use an appropriate font

Some applicant tracking systems only accept certain fonts on resumes. Use a legible and commonly used font to make your resume readable. Examples of acceptable fonts include:

  • Calibri
  • Arial
  • Times New Roman
  • Helvetica

Use simple and concise bullet points

Opt for short bullet points and start sentences with strong action verbs. Bullet points emphasize the most relevant information and convey your skills and accomplishments faster than long, drawn-out sentences.

Keep a clean resume design

A complex or artsy design may work well if you’re applying for a graphic design position, but in general, an ATS-friendly resume has a simple, clean, and professional design.

Just as job-seekers desire a clear and readable job listing page, recruiters want to find important information about you and your experience in an organized document. There are many professional design templates available online that you can use to create your resume.

Consider scanning your finished resume

After completing your ATS-friendly resume, consider running it through an online testing website, such as Jobscan, Resymatch.io, Resume Worded, or Skillsyncer. These sites will determine whether or not your resume would pass a standard ATS.


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