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Back to Work: Resumes and Applicant Tracking Systems

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How to get your resumes seen by Applicant Tracking Systems! 

What is an Applicant Tracking System? 

An applicant tracking system is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs from receiving resumes to hiring employees. An ATS can be implemented or accessed online at enterprise- or small-business levels, depending on the needs of the organization; free and open-source ATS software is also available. An ATS is very similar to customer relationship management systems, but are designed for recruitment tracking purposes. In many cases they filter applications automatically based on given criteria such as keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience and schools attended. This has caused many to adapt resume optimization techniques similar to those used in search engine optimization when creating and formatting their résumé.
Source: Wikipedia.org 

  • Nix the headers in your resume. According to Time, headers and footers jam the algorithms. 
  • Mirror wording from the actual job description in your resume. Yes, this means that you may need a custom resume for every job. While you do not want a word-for-word match of the job description, if a nurse job description calls for someone with triage experience or primary care experience, for example, be sure that your resume contains those keywords. Similarly, if the job description asks for specific software experience, include your experience with that software. 
  • Nail your keywords. There is lingo in every profession. Whether it’s software, skills, certifications, licenses, responsibilities, or even procedures, there are words that matter in your profession that need to be included in your resume. Here are a few tips for getting the right combination of keywords and phrases into your resume. 
  • Use acronyms and spelled out form of titles, professional organizations, certifications, and other industry lingo, etc. If you have experience in electronic medical records, include the acronym EMR as well, for example. You have no idea which keyword the robots are scanning for. Using both allows you to be covered either way. 
  • Repeat important keywords related to your skills two or three times in the resume, or more depending on the length of your resume. Do not stuff keywords in your resume, however. Not only are the new scanners savvy to this tactic, but it’s a real turn-off to the people who actually read resumes if your resume does get past the scanner process. 
  • Discuss keywords with an insiderLifehacker suggests. Sometimes, going straight to the source helps. Look for an employer or HR manager in your field and ask them what skills or levels of experience they’re looking for in their candidates. 
  • Give job-related keywords depth within your resume. You don’t want them listed in one single section of your resume if possible. Sprinkle them throughout your resume, instead. 
  • Dive deeper into your keywords. For instance, when discussing skills you have, include the basic skills, but don’t forget to dive deeper to mention specific and advanced skills. Some programs are looking for both the basic and advanced skills so include them both. Go in depth and discuss all the relevant skills. 
  • Use bullets rather than paragraphs to describe your work. Not only are bulleted lists easier for human eyes to read, but they are also easier for screeners to navigate than long paragraphs describing work history and responsibilities. 
  • Avoid creative wording and descriptions. Screening robots are like Joe Friday. They only want the facts. More importantly, they only want specific facts, in this case, keywords and key phrases, and they aren’t interested in alternative phrasing. 
  • Use the company website for keyword guidance. Employer websites offer a lot of information on company culture and what they value in their employees. Even lifestyle information can be important to include on your resume. 
  • For instance, the Wall Street Journal suggests that if a firm has an obvious interest in the environment, it’s a good idea to include volunteer work you’ve done for the environment or organizational memberships you have that promote the environment as these keywords may have relevance in the screening process. 
  • Include your address. Many programs will kick your resume to the curb without a postal address. Locations may even be included as keywords in the screening process. Just make sure you don’t only include it in the header or footer, which most algorithms ignore completely. 
  • Replace the career objective section with a bulleted qualifications summary. It’s an easy way to work relevant keywords into the resume without appearing to be using “stuffing” tactics and it eliminates a section that is superfluous and unnecessary. 
  • Don’t use graphics, logos, or tables in your resume. Essentially, resumes embedded with fancy graphics, images, tables, and logos confound and choke resume filtering software. Confounded robots reject resumes. Aside from the fact that graphics and logos on resumes aren’t entirely professional (unless perhaps you’re a graphics designer or similar), the likelihood of rejection should be sufficient deterrent to avoid them. 
  • Choose your font wisely. Use sans-serif fonts — like Verdana or Tahoma — instead of serif fonts like Times New Roman or Cambria that some screening software will actually reject, as Lifehacker recommends. Avoid script fonts completely. Also pay attention to font size and avoid using anything smaller than 11-point font, according to Business Insider. 
  • Use social media to your advantage. Go to the company’s LinkedIn page and check out their employees. Look at the descriptions of their jobs as well as the company’s description. If you have similar skills and qualifications, list them on your resume. 
  • Submit resumes in text format rather than PDFs or MS Word. Word causes all manner of parsing errors and PDFs have caused problems in the past with application tracking systems. It’s wiser to stick with text, which has no known parsing problems with screening software. 
  • Don’t place dates before work experience on your resume. While this may look better, it confounds the robots. Instead, begin with the name of the employer. Move on to your professional title and the date range. Don’t forget to include all titles you held at your employer and the dates you held the titles. 
  • Dare to go long on your resume. Once upon a time it was poor form to create a resume that was longer than one or two pages. The new normal is to create longer resumes that allow you to include the keywords you need to get noticed. 
  • To complicate things, while writing your resume to make it past the robots, it’s important to remember that the hope is that it gets read by a real flesh and blood person. For that person, you will first need to have crafted a resume that is entirely readable and coherent, that is free of resume errors (Read Big Interview’s post on 13 Resume Mistakes that Make Your Resume Look Dumb). 
  • You will also need to back up all the claims you’ve made in your resume. In other words, you must not exaggerate your capabilities in order to appease the robot gatekeepers. 
  • That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention a course you took at a high-profile university. Even if you didn’t get your degree from that school, the fact that you completed coursework at a school that may rank higher within the algorithm is still resume-worthy information that makes you a more interesting candidate to the software and the person who may someday sit in on your interview. 
  • Caveat! Don’t attempt to game the system. Businesses invest a lot of money into their applicant tracking systems, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. Attempting to include “white words” to get in more keywords and keyword stuffing are maneuvers recognized by these systems consistently. Sneaky resume tactics can cause the resume-filtering software to move the resume that employs them to the bottom of the electronic search pile — or even worse, reject it! 

For more information on Applicant Tracking Systems, visit: 

Big Interview