How to Optimize Resumes for Applicant Tracking Systems ATS Ranking

by | Oct 15, 2019

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) eliminate ~70% of job applications within seconds of submission.

Here’s advice on how to rank well within ATS, improving changes of review by a human in HR.

Job searchers should know that approximately 40% of employers utilize an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates for a job posting. Although an ATS does “track” where contenders are in the hiring steps, its first action is to use technology to separate the great applicants from those who are supposedly not a good fit. Employers do not have the time or resources to use humans to filter and reject the roughly 250+ resumes submitted for every job posting.

How a resume is composed, not the duties and accomplishments it communicates, is what the algorithm uses to determine which ones get moved on to the stage where a human reviews them. The impact is that many organizations have thousands of applications saved in the “less relevant” digital archive, having never been reviewed. Some industry experts suggest a human never reviews 70% of resumes/CVs.

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How Applicant Tracking Systems Operate

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After you apply, the ATS scans your application for keywords, typically hard skills, that correspond to ones in the job narrative. For example, if you are applying for a position in sales enablement, it helps your ranking if your resume contains the word “enablement.” Alternatively, if it contains demand generation, content marketing, sales training, or other close-in but nonmatching words, your resume is less likely to be forwarded to a human for review. Advanced ATS software can better use synonyms to factor contextual keyword matches such as sales and business development; however, many rely on exact keyword matches.

Most companies using applicant tracking systems acknowledge that many qualified candidates get automatically sorted out of the early-stage review by the technology bot. That is a very infuriating data point for a job searcher. Corporations need automation to help sort through hordes of applications, yes, but poor systems are a problem for employers and candidates alike. Without a major change in how these companies hire, though, the onus of fixing it lies with the job seeker: How do you adjust your resume so applicant tracking software won’t sort you out?

How to Optimize a Resume for Applicant Tracking System Software

  • Ensure the primary hard skill keywords in the job listing are on your resume, especially the job title.
  • Use sans serif fonts like Arial, not serif fonts like Times New Roman that have small lines or strokes added.
  • Use multi-syllable words – a resume with a higher reading grade level may score better in an ATS.
  • Edit your resume for EACH application, copying words from the text in the job post and pasting them into your resume and cover letter. It’s a time-consuming but necessary task.
  • Do not use fancy formatting (boxes, images, outlines, colors, headers, footers, page numbers) that an ATS cannot read and will reassemble into bizarre hieroglyphics.
  • Use rounded bullets, not diamonds, arrows, or other unique characters that an ATS will translate into jumbled, unreadable clutter.
  • Submit in Microsoft Word or Google Docs format; avoid uploading Apache Open Office or Apple Pages formats.
  • If submitting a resume in PDF format, ensure it was converted from Word and NOT a scan of a paper document.

Ten-Second Human Review

If your resume makes it past the technology, the human recruiter who reviews it will likely only invest ten seconds or less looking to see if and how relevant it is to the critical requirements of the job. That is a sobering statistic, given the average applicant invests three or more hours submitting each application. You need to make sure your resume is human-friendly. A professional resume should be written and optimized for both machines and humans.

As certified resume and profile writers, we write resumes that can help move you past the job application black hole, also known as the ATS, and on to a human in talent acquisition for review. Learn more about our professional resume writing service.

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