5 Tips to Get a Résumé through Applicant Tracking Systems

Between online job boards and mobile apps, applying for jobs can be done with the click of a button. But a simplified and streamlined application process could increase the likelihood that quality résumés will be missed if they do not include the correct search terms.


Source: marchmeena29 / iStock/ Getty

Today’s employers can receive up to 250 résumés for a single job opening To help handle the influx of applications and automate the review process, many companies have turned to applicant tracking systems (ATS)—human resources software designed to filter résumés. In fact, nearly all (98%) Fortune 500 companies, along with a number of small and midsize companies, utilize ATS software, according to Jobscan.
While ATS software can help employers automate the recruiting process, it has a number of drawbacks for applicants. Oftentimes, a dedicated ATS is programmed to search for certain keywords or skills and may weed out résumés without them. For larger companies, more applicants could mean that résumés are never seen by a hiring manager or recruiter until the top few are selected by the ATS.
As a senior career counselor at the University of Phoenix, part of my job is to help provide resources to educate people on the various ways to position themselves for success on the job hunt. Recruiters who are working directly with jobseekers should consider the following five tips to help the candidate’s résumé get through an ATS.

 1. Meet Qualification Requirements.

 Whether computer software or a human being handles résumé reviews, there are no tricks that can overcome a lack of experience. No matter how well a résumé is written or what keywords it contains, applicants will not be competitive candidates for a position if they ultimately do not possess the skills and experience required for the position. Even if the résumé passes through the initial ATS vetting process, it will likely be discarded when read by a hiring manager.
As a rule of thumb, candidates should only apply for a job if their knowledge, skills, and abilities match at least 75% of the qualifications required for the position. If a position offers on-the-job training, this may not apply. However, ultimately, qualified individuals have the highest likelihood of landing the job and will be better suited to discuss the position in the interview and handle the responsibilities on day 1.

 2. Incorporate Keywords.

 Keywords are hard skills and industry-specific jargon that directly relate to the desired position. For example, job descriptions for accountant positions may include keywords and phrases such as “Sarbanes-Oxley” (SOX), “financial statements,” and “general ledger.” Oftentimes, ATS software may be programmed to look for these keywords in résumés, or hiring managers may filter applications for them.
Without these keywords, a résumé could be lost among the masses. To ensure that proper keywords are incorporated, review the job description, job posting, and the roles and responsibilities of professionals in similar roles.
A successful candidate’s résumé will not only contain this language but also demonstrate specific evidence of the context in which such knowledge and skills have been applied in previous positions or through curriculum.

 3. Eliminate or Minimize Irrelevant Information.

Much like the importance of using keywords in a résumé and ensuring qualifications meet those expected of the candidate, removing irrelevant information is just as important. The rule of thumb is to keep résumés to 1 page in length if you have 10 years of work history or fewer, but 2 pages are fine as long as the information is relevant and supportive of your career goal.
Including all work experience (especially any that is not relevant to the position) can bog it down and add unnecessary length. This information does not directly reflect your qualifications for the position and thus should be removed.
Elaborate on directly relevant experiences that support your current career objective, and emphasize transferable skills when lacking direct experience. For example, 3 years as a barista in college may not seem to apply to a role in marketing, but the communications, customer service, and time management skills learned demonstrate applicable professional skills.

 4. Keep the Format Simple.

 Simple résumés are king when applying to companies that use ATS software. People have long been told to create unique résumés that stand out in the stack of identical templated sheets of paper. But unlike humans, computers do not look for résumés with a glossy sheen or colored text. Even heavily formatted résumés that contain such things as images, charts, and text boxes are likely to be discarded.
To keep résumé formats as simple as possible, there are a few guidelines to follow. When creating your résumé, always use a Microsoft® Word file (.doc or .docx). PDF documents might be misread by an ATS. Avoid using multiple columns or headers and footers. These can cause scanning issues. Lastly, include headings for every section, and use common titles (e.g., Summary, Experience, and Education) to help the ATS recognize to which section information belongs.

 5. Place Dates Last.

 Résumé format is more important than just creating a simple, clean document. The traditional format may be simple and boring, but it works—stick to it. Employers look for and expect a certain layout and flow of a résumé, similar to how a script is expected to be written in a proper format. ATS is programmed to review résumés in a similar fashion, so it is best to keep a traditional layout.
The experience section of the résumé is one of the most important when it comes to formatting, particularly when writing dates. Dates should always come after company information. Below is the preferred format for the experience section:
Company Name—City, State        Date Range
Position Title
Following these guidelines is a good first step in preparing for potential interviews and may increase the likelihood of landing a job. While not every company will use ATS software, it is smart to format a version of a résumé in this manner, especially when applying online. Emphasize to jobseekers that the key to acing an interview is being prepared and meeting the expected qualifications.

Steven Starks is a Senior Career Counselor at University of Phoenix. He has been with the university for 11 years, also serving as a career coach for 5 years and a senior academic counselor. Starks is a National Certified Counselor and a featured career coach with Previously, he worked in the mental health industry, providing individual and group therapy for clients struggling with severe mental illness, abuse, and trauma. Starks holds a master’s in Psychology from the University of Phoenix and a master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Walden University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *