Optimizing Your Resume For An ATS

By Liana Daren

When you are job hunting, the first step in the door is getting your resume in front of the eyes of the hiring manager. However, nowadays there is an additional hoop you have to go through before a human being can see your resume.

That additional hoop is called an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). An ATS is software, which performs the function of per-screening the candidates on the basis of defined criteria. So, you not only have to prepare a stellar resume, it should also be optimized for ATS.

Brief description of an applicant tracking system:

Applicant tracking systems are software applications that allows recruiters to handle their needs & information electronically.  These applicant tracking software make handling large amounts of applicants a smoother process.

Employers choose the type of applicant software they use based on their needs.  For example a recruitment company would need an applicant software that can align multiple employees to multiple jobs in different industry.  A smaller company would only need a system that aligns candidates with their specific requirements for the position they want to fill.

Applicant tracking software pays close attention to specific factors such as keywords, your skills, former employers, years of experience & schools attended.  The following tips will help you adapt your resume to be properly read by this applicant tracking software.

what is applicant tracking system

Prepare your resume for an applicant tracking system


Start by speaking the language of the employer

Read the job description or the employment ad carefully and identify the important terms or phrases used to describe the position or the attributes of an ideal candidate.

Use these words in your resume because ATS will be programmed to search for those keywords when sifting through the resumes.

There are tools available to help you identify the right keywords from the job description. You can use services like Wordle or TagCrowd for this purpose. You just need to feed the job description in the tool and it will highlight the important and most frequently used words.

Pay attention to special skills required by the employer. Highlight these skills in your resume because this is normally directly related to job performance. A candidate possessing the right skills may be more desirable than the one with more education and training.  Always keep this type of logic in mind when applying through recruitment software.

Customize your resume

Once you have prepared a stellar resume, it seems the right and convenient thing to use it for all jobs. However, remember that even the job openings for similar position are often not alike because of the difference in requirements of the employers. You have to customize your resume for every job application.

Thoroughly read the job description and identify the specific requirements of the employer and then tailor your resume according to it. You don’t get a second chance to submit the resume so do it right the first time.

No images or graphics

ATS gathers textual information from the resumes and if you use images or graphics to highlight or present information, it will not be able to understand it. ATS looks for keywords and phrases identified by the employer as relevant for the job so if any information is hidden in graphics, it will be lost on the software.

Use common headings

ATS recognizes the commonly used headings for different sections of the resume such as ‘Education’, “Experience’ etc. So, make sure you don’t use any novel headings just because you are feeling creative and want to appear cool.

Don’t stuff keywords

Often people think of ways to fool the ATS by using means such as stuffing related keywords in the resume as ‘white text’. Most modern ATS can recognize white font and may actually discard resumes on this basis. This tactic basically seems sneaky; therefore, it is better to avoid it.

Avoid using special characters

Remember that ATS is software and works according to specific directions. You should avoid doing anything that may confuse the system. This includes using special characters to highlight information or to draw attention.

Proofread, proofread, and proofread

If I can give you only one advice regarding resumes in general, it would be to proofread your resume several times before sending out. Errors involving spelling, grammar and punctuation are cardinal sins. Spelling particularly is important for ATS because unlike a human being it can’t judge by looking what you actually wanted to write. If you misspell the keywords, the system will just toss your resume because it will see it as irrelevant.

You may be the best candidate for the job but if your resume is not optimize for ATS, you may not even be considered because you wouldn’t be able to get past the gatekeeper.

Author Bio:

A career guide by profession, Liana Daren takes great pleasure in helping people with finding their passion that ultimately leads them to the right career path. Apart from counseling, she also works part-time as an editor at a firm that offers food technology coursework help.


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