Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software applications that scan your résumé to determine if a recruiter should read it. Unfortunately, about 75 percent of résumés go unread by a human eye thanks to ATS. More than 90 percent of employers utilize ATS to filter through applicants before going to the next stage of the process. Here's how to get your résumé to rank highly within ATS so that it will be seen by the right people.
ATS cannot read all formats or file types. Most HR professionals recommend avoiding PDF, Pages, and other types of document files apart from Microsoft Word. Having a plain text (TXT) version is also helpful to upload as a backup.
The way you create your résumé also matters. Not all ATS programs read headers, footers, text boxes, charts, or graphics, so it is best to avoid this type of formatting. If those creative elements are used, key components of your résumé might be skipped over such as contact information or complete sections of your résumé. Instead, stick to simple formatting.
Keywords. Keywords. Keywords.
Because many ATS software applications rely on exact character-matching, a candidate must use the exact words from a job description. Otherwise, it is likely their résumé will not be picked up by the ATS. For example, if the job description — particularly in the Qualifications or Requirements section — is looking for a software developer with knowledge of Java and Python, you would want the words “software”, “Java”, and “Python” to appear multiple times in your résumé. This means including those keywords not only in your skills section but in your projects and experience sections. Often, ATS software rates your application on how closely you match the keywords in the job description.
How can you identify important keywords? Read through the job description and highlight any skills, technology, software or repeated words, especially in the ‘qualifications’ section that match your own skills and credentials. This is often the best way to get a sense of what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Incorporate those highlighted words and phrases as they appear in the job description in your résumé and cover letter.
Warning: don’t just copy and paste keywords and phrases into your résumé - the ATS will catch that too!
It should still be human-friendly, too.
Remember, the ATS is the first step. Once you’ve successfully navigated the ATS, your résumé will likely be reviewed by multiple people, so it should still look aesthetically pleasing and easy to skim. Use simple features like strategic use of spaces, bold, italics, columns, and underlining to create a flow to your résumé that makes it easy for a recruiter and hiring manager to read. Be sure to incorporate your keywords into high impact phrases that describe how you uniquely contributed in previous roles.