Optimizing your Resume for ATS: How to Apply and Win a Seat at the Job Interview Table

This article is about making it through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)—the digital gatekeeper for job seekers—and standing out from the competition.

Does Applying for Jobs feel like Entering a Black Hole?

Today’s job market is more competitive than it has ever been. The average job posting has over 1,000+ applications in a matter of days, making it nearly impossible for qualified job seekers to get their resumes in the hands of a recruiter. On top of it all, over 75% of resumes are rejected by today’s applicant tracking systems (ATS) due to not following simple formatting requirements. When embarking on the Wild West journey of resume writing, multiple factors, including complying with modern resume writing standards, come into play. You may be wondering, “How do I even begin?” Don’t worry; we’ll help you navigate through this convoluted process.

What is ATS?

Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS, are software systems recruiters use to collect, scan, and rank your resume for their vacant job openings. To simplify it, ATS makes life easier for recruiters but almost impossible for job seekers. You’re probably wondering what you need to do to make it past the gatekeeper and into the hands of a hiring manager. When an applicant uploads their resume, applicant tracking systems parses the resume’s content into the application and matches the draft’s content with the job posting requirements.  You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point?” As far as resumes go, every employer in every field is looking for something different. If you’re a job seeker and want to have the best success with your resume, it’s best to stick to the guidelines.

The Do’s of an ATS Resume

Accomplishments, Achievements, Rewards 

Like an interview, you want your resume to showcase your skills and prove that you have precisely what a hiring manager is looking for.

When explaining your daily responsibilities, use descriptive terms to explain how you positively impacted the business. For example, instead of saying that you organized files within the front office, say that you implemented a filing system that enhanced organization for everyone in the front office. While both descriptions are technically accurate, the latter makes you stand out from the competition and sounds much more appealing to hiring managers.

Choose powerful verbs to highlight accomplishments. Did you earn rewards, win a promotion, spearhead projects, lead teams, facilitate training, or host presentations? A good rule of thumb is highlighting your top five achievements under each job so the hiring manager will read them first. Then, remove your former job description and replace boring words with impactful language and action verbs that will surely impress any recruiter. 

Bullet Points

When ATS scans a resume, it reads each bullet point like a new sentence. Suppose your resume has large blocks of text on the resume instead. In that case, ATS will have trouble deciphering every piece of information, making it challenging for you to make it past the first round of reviews. So, include five to eight bullet points under each job with relevant keywords under each position within the past ten years. Turning this practice into a routine will make writing your resume much more accessible, enjoyable, and effective in the long run.

Submit the Correct File Format

You read that right; the type of file you submit also impacts your resume’s ATS compatibility. After completing your application, please pay attention to how the job portal instructs you to submit it. If you see different file types that are accepted, stick with uploading only .pdf or .docx documents, as they are among the most accepted. Applicant tracking systems typically find it easier to read and scan .docx resumes, so stick with this file type. Use .pdf as a second option.

Write out Acronyms

We have used, worked with, or created jargon for our specific industry or position. If you use a familiar abbreviation, include both the acronym and the complete word on the resume. When ATS scanners parse your resume’s information into a database, sometimes it will take one or the other based on the job description. Including only one choice could be the difference between landing an interview or receiving an automated rejection email.

Use Basic Language

Even though it can be tempting to get creative with section headers on your resume, uncommon language can confuse an applicant tracking system. Stick with the basics, such as Summary, Skills Overview, Work Experience, Work History, and Education.

Include a Skills or Key Competencies Section

A skills section allows you to include relevant keywords in another location on the resume aside from the professional statement at the top and your professional experiences. Including a skills area on the resume makes the ATS’s job more straightforward, making your application more impressive.

The Do Not’s of an ATS Resume

Formatting is Everything!

With ATS, formatting is everything. Having a resume built like a wall of text will do more harm than good. Although it may seem tricky to let employers know who you are through bulleted lists and small phrases, resumes are not here to serve as your life story. Generally, walls of text do not pass ATS standards, which can negatively impact the possibility of employers seeing your resume. Rather than focusing on putting everything down on paper, narrow it down to the specific words and phrases the job application is looking for. It’s good practice to research job postings that match the job title you are applying for; scan 10 to 15 similar postings and jot down the descriptive words that often appear.

Review the job descriptions to see what employers are looking for; usually, the most valuable information will be under “Requirements” or “Preferred Qualifications.” There, employers will put specific keywords they want in the ideal candidate. Rather than listing your most critical soft skills that outline your personality, focus on the hard skills the job description wants. That way, your resume will be on its way to being tailored exactly how a hiring manager wants to see it.

Save your Photo for LinkedIn

When you have a headshot that you are proud of, you may be tempted to present it front and center on your resume. Unfortunately, adding a photo to your resume will not help your job search. ATS systems are very straightforward, meaning they will likely not understand a photo file and your resume will not be scannable.

To get the best ATS results, keep your resume in a clean, simple font and minimize the use of graphics, charts, and symbols. Avoid design elements that make your resume look like it was built on a preexisting template. Put your professional headshot on LinkedIn or your personal website.



About Equiliem

Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive. 

Across the U.S., leading companies in healthcare, government, light industrial manufacturing, professional services, and energy rely on us for their workforce solutions. Our recruiting and HR services include contract and direct hire staffing, Payrolling/EOR, Independent Contractor Compliance, and Managed Services.

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