Nine tips for getting your resume past the bot that reads it first

Are you sending out endless resumes, and not hearing back from anyone, even though you’re pretty sure you’re qualified for the jobs for which you’re applying? It’s possible that your resume isn’t making it past the electronic gatekeepers, also known as Applicant Tracking Systems.

You’re probably already aware of this, but most medium to large-size companies use these systems these days – software that sorts through applications and chooses those that move on to the next level, to be seen by human eyes. These bots are trained to look for certain things in resumes.

It’s understandable. Some companies can receive hundreds of applications for one posting, and nobody wants to waste time going through a bunch of unqualified candidates. But the ATS can be pretty hard to impress. And many employers have admitted in the past that qualified candidates often get rejected because of them.

That said, there are things you can do to make it more likely to get your resume past the ATS. Here are nine of them.

Do not send a generic resume. This should be obvious. But tailor your resume to the specific job in question.

Use several of the exact keywords and phrases in the job posting. There have been recent developments, making Applicant Tracking Systems more sophisticated, but they are still looking for keywords. You might think it looks smarter to use synonyms, and you should use those also, but the system is looking for at least some of the words in the posting. If the description asks for “problem-solving and time management skills” say you have “problem-solving and time management skills.”

Oh, and sometimes the “ATS” is actually an intern or entry-level employee doing a manual search for the words. So include them. Don’t include all of them, though. The system might flag anything that looks too stuffed with keywords. It’s a fine line. Confusing? Sorry. Life is confusing.

Have a “Skills and Qualifications” section in your resume. This is one way you can use to literally list the skills and qualifications as seen in the posting, rather than having to find a way to fit them into your work history, where you should be listing accomplishments. Still, use your “Experience” section to demonstrate how you embody all the great skills you’ve listed. Your resume can’t be nothing but a list of words.

Find more words they might be looking for. An idea from this Fast Company article: visit the LinkedIn Profiles of people with similar jobs to the one you’re applying for and make a list of the strongest words in their profiles. Find the ones that closely match your own skills and qualifications, and incorporate those also. These could also be keywords.

Omit the “objective” section. The ATS doesn’t care about your life goals. Include a “summary” section instead. Use it to describe yourself in dynamic language that shows you will bring value to the company. If the job is a leadership role, make sure you include language that demonstrates that you’re an experienced leader. You can also probably get some keywords in there too.

Avoid cutesy job titles. You already shouldn’t be calling yourself a “ninja” or “rock star,” but if you still are, stop it now. If the ATS is looking for a “marketing manager” it might not recognize a “marketing ninja” as the same thing.

Use basic formatting and simple characters. Unless you’re applying for a position that requires graphics (like, maybe a graphic artist), don’t include graphics or images of any sort. Use a sans serif font. Apparently, some older systems have trouble with serif fonts. And if you have any bullet-pointed lists, use round bullets instead of arrows or other characters so the ATS is sure to recognize them for what they are. Use one-inch margins.

Save as a .doc. There is some debate over which file format is best for getting past the ATS, but I would use Word and avoid PDF unless the job posting specifies to use PDF or something else. Many older systems can’t read PDF, and it’s safe to assume that lots of companies are still using older systems. Some recommend using .txt or other formats, but then you lose all formatting. And assuming you do want your resume to be seen by a human at some point, you need to have bold headings in there to make things make sense.

Spell out all acronyms. This is a good idea whether you’re writing for a human or a bot. The ATS (applicant tracking system) (see what I did there?) won’t know what a lot of acronyms mean and the actual words may contain valuable keywords and information.

This is not an exact science. But these tips should help.


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