Beat the Applicant Tracking System and Land the Job You Want

The easier it is to apply for jobs, the harder it is for employers to give your resume the proper amount of attention. Competitive jobs receive hundreds – sometimes even thousands of applicants, and most hiring managers have no way of analyzing them all.

So many have turned to an Applicant Tracking System, or “ATS.” An ATS is a database that collects all submitted resumes. This database can then either be searched manually, or be programmed to determine the best applicants using an algorithm set up by the company.

More Than a Template: Beating the ATS

Most large companies and many popular organizations use applicant tracking systems to analyze submitted applications. It saves them time, and it allows them to search from that database in the future if a new job opens up.

In some ways, these systems are actually advantageous for job seekers, because they can identify great resumes without any employer bias, and open up job opportunities in the future. But in other ways they can add to the difficulty, because computers are not people, and they can’t always understand information that isn’t clearly defined for them.

That is why you’ll want to create a resume that is designed to beat the ATS.

Job seekers often spend more time thinking about the best resume template rather than thinking about how to write a resume for an applicant tracking system, yet it is critical that you spend time perfecting a resume for these databases. If you want to beat the ATS, consider the following:

  • Use Keywords and Phrases

The most important strategy to beating the ATS is to use keywords and key phrases. For example, if an employer wants someone with SQL experience, they’ll likely program the ATS to rate those that have “SQL” in their resume higher. If you have that experience, but your resume does not have the words SQL in it, you will not get the job.

The best place to find these keywords and phrases is to look at the job description. Often the employer will tell you what they need, and you can then add those terms to your resume if you have that experience. You can also review the job advertisements of competitors and similar jobs, all of whom will have similar requirements.

  • ATS/Applicant Tracking System

In addition to choosing the right keywords, you should also make sure you remember to use more than one version of the keyword. This is especially important with acronyms.

For example, if you used an acronym (for example, SEO), use the spelled out version as well (search engine optimization). Computers don’t know that SEO and Search Engine Optimization are the same thing, so if the computer is only programmed to read one of those keywords your resume will not be found.

  • Do Nothing Fancy

Confusing templates, unusual section headings (for example, calling your work history “Job and Volunteer Experience” instead of something simple, like “Work Experience), and any strange symbols or formatting issues can all cause problems for some applicant tracking systems. There is some evidence that the ATS can’t handle accent marks as well, so be careful about names with accents.

You should still have a great template, because someone may still view your resume someday. But otherwise keep everything simple so that these programs can easily read your resume.

  • Add a Skills/Professional Summary Section

It’s often hard to find space to add all of the keywords you want. That is why it may be a good idea to skip the objective statement and add a professional summary section, as well as a brief skills section. These are places you can plug keywords that don’t fit neatly in your job history.

  • Write For People, Too

Above all else, don’t forget to also write for people to see it. If you created a resume that is flagged for review by the ATS, eventually human eyes will see it, and you will still need it to have an attractive template, truthful information, excellent grammar, and more.

Applicant tracking systems have changed company recruitment dramatically, and that means your resume needs to adapt. But if you identify keywords correctly and create a resume that is ATS ready, you are going to have a better chance of getting the job than your competition.

Author: Sia from