When you’ve submitted countless applications without hearing a peep from any potential employers, it can be demoralizing. Perhaps you picture a recruiter pulling up your resume, scanning and then quickly discarding it, and wonder what you’re doing wrong. Don’t take it personally. There’s a good chance the employer hasn’t even seen your resume. Why? Because most submitted resumes are filtered out by an applicant tracking system (ATS) before a recruiter or hiring manager reads them. So what exactly is an ATS, and what steps can you take to get your resume through these digital filters and into the hands of a human being?
An ATS is software used in the early stages of the hiring process to collect, track and sort resumes. When a company is looking to staff a position, a recruiter or hiring manager will create a job description or candidate profile using the ATS, entering information such as the job title, required experience, formal qualifications and key skills. As job seekers submit their applications, the software sorts and ranks them based on how well they match the profile. This is usually determined by the presence of specified keywords in the resume and cover letter the software is trained to look for. The ATS then produces a shortlist of candidates — these are the resumes the recruiter or hiring manager is most likely to read.
According to ZipJob, more than 95% of big companies, and around half of mid-sized companies, use an ATS. So, when you submit your resume to a large company or through an online portal, it’s almost certainly headed into an automated screening system. When you consider jobs posted online can attract hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes, it’s easy to see why companies use these systems. Filtering out applications that don’t meet predetermined qualifications saves employers significant time and effort, especially when they can use new types of artificial intelligence (AI) to parse resumes with even greater speed and accuracy. Does that mean skilled candidates can get rejected if their resumes aren’t written and formatted with ATS readability in mind? Unfortunately, yes — but there are some simple steps you can take to get your resume ATS-ready.
Consider the most common mistakes applicants make: Keywords that are wrong, missing or misspelled Formatting that’s too complicated for the software to process Qualifications that don’t match the job requirements With these in mind, here are five tips for preparing your resume to face even an AI-enhanced ATS. 1. Scrutinize the job description for keywords — and use them. Using the same language in your resume as in the job description will greatly increase your chances of moving on in the hiring process. Delve into that job description to create a list of keywords, noting the education, skills and responsibilities that are must-haves for the role and accurately describe your own abilities and experience. Using the keywords exactly as they appear in the job description is another way to align your resume with the job profile. If a job calls for a candidate with “attention to detail,” include that phrase rather than “detail-oriented” or “attentive.” 2. Include both the acronym and long-form version of keywords.    ATS software will not detect abbreviations if it’s looking for long-form keywords and vice versa. To give yourself the best chance of getting your resume noticed, use both, spelling out essential keywords at least once. For example, if you’re an accountant with enterprise resource planning system experience, include “ERP (enterprise resource planning).” 3. Use a chronological resume format. An ATS works by parsing or extracting essential data from your resume. This means putting your resume in a format the ATS can read easily. The most ATS-friendly design is the chronological resume, which leads with your work history and lists your current and previous positions in reverse chronological order. 4. Keep it simple. To move your resume smoothly through the ATS process: Use a professional font such as Helvetica, Calibri, Garamond, Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman. Avoid tables, columns, headers and footers, which can cause significant parsing errors. For the same reason, don’t use charts, logos or graphs.  Save your file as a .docx, which is compatible with most ATS systems. You may also be able to use .pdf, so always check the submission guidelines for acceptable file types.  Proofread your resume carefully, as a spelling error or words left out can result in rejection. Get a friend or a trusted colleague to check it for you if possible. Use conventional section headings like “Work experience” and “Education” instead of “My background” or “Where I went to school.” This will help the ATS easily identify and categorize the information on your resume. You may wonder if you’re stripping away all your uniqueness and personality in the process. But remember, your goal here is to get your application past the software into human hands. So, in this instance, the simpler, the better. You can — and should — have other versions of your resume ready to hand directly to a hiring manager which showcase your qualities more imaginatively. 5. Be selective about the jobs you apply for. By applying only for jobs that match your work experience, education and skills, you’ll rank high on all tracking systems. Remember that keyword search you did? If getting the right keywords into your resume is challenging, you’re probably not well-suited for the role. Many tracking systems also store information such as the number of times a candidate has applied to the company and how many active applications they have — all of which is visible to employers. So it’s worth being selective about the roles you go for at any organization to show you’re serious about landing the right position.  Get more resume-writing tips from Robert Half. The advantage of using AI-powered applicant tracking systems is obvious for employers: their recruiters and hiring managers can work faster and smarter. But savvy job seekers can also make automation work to their advantage. By understanding what the system is looking for and avoiding common mistakes, you can craft a resume that maximizes your chances of landing that prized interview. You don’t have to face the robots alone, either! You can always choose the human touch by working directly with a recruiter from an agency like Robert Half. They can provide tips for your resume, coach you for interviewing success, point you to hidden opportunities and help you kick off your job search.