Four Tips on How to Beat The Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Four tips that will help you beat the applicant tracking system, ensure your resume gets seen and land you more interviews

Are you applying for jobs through online applications and getting no response?

It could be because 98% of Fortune 500 companies and a growing number of small and mid-size businesses use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to reduce costs and save employee time. Unless you know how to beat the applicant tracking system and get your resume in the hands of a hiring manager, your resume could end up discarded before it’s seen by a person.

To beat the applicant tracking system, you need to know what an ATS is and what it does. Suppose your dream IT job becomes available. The human resources department, recruiter or hiring manager will post the job responsibilities, required experience, and skills either on sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter or on their company website.

As people apply, the system scans the resume and application, then creates a comparison of the keywords (as well as a few other items) entered by the employer/recruiter against the words that are in your resume. It then determines a percentage match and ranks all resumes that applied in the order of who matches the most to those pre-defined keywords.

An ATS is by no means a perfect system; it is simply coded software designed to help companies sort through numerous candidates/resumes.

So, how can you stand out and ensure the system highly ranks your resume? Here are my top 4 suggestions.

Tailor Resumes with Keywords

When hiring managers/recruiters enter the job description in the applicant tracking system, they are asked to enter keywords, education/certification requirements, or skills that are important to them. To have your resume listed at the top, you must customize your resume to match the keywords, job titles, and experience outlined in the online job description. One very important thing to remember when tailoring your resume is to use exact keywords and titles in the job description you’re applying for. It may seem minor, but many systems won’t recognize the plural or varied tense of a word.

If human resources are looking for a “project manager” but your resume says “lead projects,” the applicant tracking system will likely not find your resume to be a match.

Submit Your Resume in .Doc or .Docx Format

Submitting in a MS Word format may be counterintuitive to what you have heard in the past, but some applicant tracking systems are not programmed to “read” a PDF document very well. When you submit a resume, applicant tracking systems essentially scan the resume and turn it into a searchable text document. Some systems do this better than others. Don’t take the chance; apply with a Word version of your resume.

Resume Formatting Should be Simple

When applying online, Keep It Super Simple (KISS.) Try and keep this in mind when formatting your resume so that the ATS can search your resume easily. Do not add a fancy monogram, a profile picture, or any other embellishments. Don’t add tables or columns.

Keep your fancy formatted resume for when you get in front of a hiring manager.

Additionally, only label resume sections with popular heading titles like “Professional Experience,” “Experience,” “Professional Summary,” or “Education.” By using commonly used category headings, the ATS can accurately categorize your qualifications as a potential employee.

When applying online, Keep It Super Simple (KISS)

Spell Out Acronyms

The Information Technology field often uses abbreviations and lingo related to skills, software, and certifications. Although it is possible some acronyms are in the ATS as keywords, your best bet is to spell out any title, organization/association, technology/tool, or certification followed by the shortened version and acronym in parentheses. The following are a few examples:

  • Consulting and System Integration (C&SI)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Quality Assurance (QA)
  • Team Foundation Server (TFS)
  • Helpdesk Institute (HDI)