Job applications: Applicant tracking systems (ATS) 

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are software that help employers and HR professionals manage the hiring process.
July 29, 2022

If you have ever applied through a portal, you have dealt with an ATS. It allows an employer to search by the specific criteria they requested: for example, degree, amount of experience, specific skills, etc. They can search resume components for this information. 

Optimizing your resume for an ATS 

To optimize your resume so an ATS filters through it correctly, follow these best practices.  

  • Follow the instructions regarding the file type (i.e. .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt) to submit. 
  • Keep formatting simple. Avoid tables or graphics. ATS cannot read graphics and it misreads tables. If you want to include graphics for visual appeal when a human reads it, do not put text in the graphic. 
  • Submit a longer resume if the option is available. Submitting a slightly longer resume allows you to pack in more relevant experience, keywords and phrases, which could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system. Keep in mind, though, that your resume will eventually be read by a person, so aim to be concise. 
  • Strategically incorporate industry terms, keywords and skills from the job posting. Make sure it makes sense, as the actual recruiter who will read it later will frown on any repetitive or nonsensical use of these words. 
  • Save your resume with a file name that is useful and meaningful to the recruiter. This helps the recruiter find your resume quickly. For example, “YourName.Job.Posting.123.” 
  • Call your work experience “Work Experience.” Software may completely skip over your work experience because you did not label it as such. 
  • Start your work experience with the employer/organization name. Applicant tracking systems look for company names first, then your title, then the dates you assumed that title. 
  • Make sure to spell check. ATS will skip keywords that are misspelled. 

Tips for formatting your resume 

  • Use standard fonts. Examples include: Arial, Arial Narrow, Calibri, Courier, Georgia, Lucida, Palatino, Tahoma, Verdana 
  • Avoid using special characters (like arrows) for bullets 
  • Do not hide keywords in white font in your resume 
  • If you are using a creative resume, ensure it is ATS readable 
  • Use keywords logically and in different places on your resume 
  • Avoid using borders, shading or symbols 

Resume hacks 

  • If you are working with an obscure job title, use an equivalent to match with the terms the hiring manager is likely to search for in the ATS. For example, if the job title is “Guest Experience Facilitator,” a top equivalent would be “Customer Service Representative.” Using the equivalent that is listed first will catch the attention of humans and computers. 
  • Save time customizing. Word cloud generators can identify keywords from job descriptions. Copy and paste 5 job postings into a word cloud to see the most common keywords: jasondavies.com/wordcloud.  
  • Use a free resume analyzer to compare the posting with your customized resume: jobscan.co.