Tips to Optimize Your Resume for the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)


Last week, we spoke about the surge in the implementation of the Applicant Tracking System by companies for the purpose of hiring candidates.

Below are a few insider tips on how to ensure that your resume scores high on the ATS.

1. Customize your resume to suit the job description

A job description is typically created using specific words related to the skills and requirements of the job. For the specific position being sought use the language from the job description. Even in your cover letter, describe tasks that you may have performed which are similar to the ones demanded in the job description.

2. Format your resume appropriately

The ATS software does not accept any tables, graphics, images or special characters.

ATS software is only trying to read and understand your resume. Images and graphics don’t get picked up by the software and aren’t searchable inside the database. Typically tables will not stay formatted or in the correct order. Tables are read up and down rather than side-to-side, causing the information to become distorted.

Always supply the resume in the format and method requested by the company. Try not sending your resume’s in PDF unless requested. ATS lack a standard way to structure PDF documents, so they could be easily misread.

3. Use appropriate keywords

Instead of using generic keywords, find unique key words that appear in the job posting you’re responding to and use those words across your resume. However, be careful not to fill your resumes with key words where they do not fit in. If the resume passes the ATS but does not make sense to the hiring manager, it will still be rejected

  • Include verb phrases and skills written in the job description on your own resume. These are very likely to be the same keywords and phrases the hiring manager has programmed the ATS to pick up—“project manager,” “Final Cut Pro,” or “social media marketing,” for example.
  • Try services like Wordle and TagCrowd to help you figure out which keywords to focus on. Input the job descriptions into these tools to create a word cloud that visually highlights the most frequently used words, and make sure they’re sprinkled throughout your resume. – The Muse

Don’t just add a list of keywords at the end of your resume. Instead, include a section by the name Specialties, Key Skills or Professional Summary in your resume, listing common, relevant phrases or key words. You might want to include words from your list and repeat ones used in your summary throughout your resume as it makes sense, in context.

4. Proof your documents

Proof-read your resume to avoid spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Also, keep in mind that special characters like arrows, shapes, charts, etc aren’t identified by the software. The ATS will skip important key words if they are misspelled or appear in special characters.

As with all written material, it always helps to have a second pair of eyes to review your resume.

5. Professional description and Contact details

Some professionals recommend adding a professional description which is basically a summary of your professional achievements which are in line with the job description. Also, always mention your contact details at the top of your resume. These details are always within the radar of the software.

Career objective sections are kind of a waste of space. Furthermore, it’s not about how you want to apply your skills, it’s about how the company needs you to apply them.

Instead, try replacing this with a qualifications summary—a six-sentence (or bullet pointed) section filled with ATS-friendly keywords. Even better, use those six sentences to concisely present the crème of the crop of your achievements, major skills, and important experiences. By doing this, you’re killing two birds with one stone: You’re appeasing the ATS with keywords, and you’re also giving the hiring manager the juicy, important bits right at the top where he or she can quickly scan and understand the value you would bring the company.

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