Beat the Resume ATS

You read a job description, you see all the ways you would be a perfect fit for the position and for the company, and you do what any logical person would do – you apply!

You submit your resume accompanied by an extensive list of project examples and references – you think to yourself “man, I have this job in the bag!” Next thing you know – they didn’t call or email you back! And if they did, it was only to tell you they went with someone else!

Unbelievable, right? Unfortunately, it’s a situation even the most qualified professionals face. How can that be? You can thank modern technology for that. Companies across just about every industry use what’s called the ATS, or otherwise known as the Application Tracking System. In fact, according to a study performed by Capterra, approximately 75% of large companies use this parsing system. So what exactly does that mean? – A human being is not reading your resume. We know how bad you want to get that job, so keep reading for our 3 hacks to beat the bots. 

1. Keywords are KEY

The importance of keywords on your resume surpasses every other tip you might receive about passing the ATS.  If you’re submitting the same exact resume for every job you apply to, you’re only setting yourself up for rejection. The ATS is scanning for very specific keywords listed throughout your resume, so it’s important to keep this in mind as you tailor your resume to match the job description. From Amanda Augustine’s article for Top Resume, keywords are “soft skills and hard skills you possess and the expertise you’ve acquired,” and have a very specific function on your resume for both the humans and the bots reading your resume. While a hiring manager might connect your expertise with the job role requirements, an ATS probably won’t make the same connections using common sense. Since you have to prove yourself to the ATS first, you might as well make it as clear as possible that you are the ideal candidate. Yes – that means copying the description word for word if you have to on your resume (as long as it’s true and you do have the skills you are listing).

While we’re on the subject of keywords, it’s important to remember not to go over the top with keywords. In this Muse article from Mark Slack and Erik Bowitz, the pair of resume experts explain it’s good practice to repeat “important skill-related” keywords “two to three times (and no more)” in order to remain relevant to both the ATS and to the hiring manager who will eventually review your resume.

2. Formatting

Keep in mind that however advanced and intelligent one of these parsing systems is, at its core (guess what), it’s not a human. Designing your resume as such will only hurt you during your job searching process. The following are three common mistakes job-seekers make when writing a resume:

Borders and Graphics

Our UI/UX developers, graphic designers, and other artistic professionals almost always fall into this common temptation to dress up their resume to reflect their creative capacity – which is a really good thing! – Just not for the ATS. The fancy borders and styles will most likely read as number codes, and clutter your once fresh resume. Keep it simple for the initial application, but keep a “human-eyes-only version” on file in the event that you get called in for an interview, as suggested by Alison Doyle in her article “How To Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System.”

Headers and Footers

If you put important information (such as contact information), the ATS will not be able to detect anything typed in these sections. If possible, it’s best to leave these sections blank.

Fonts and Capitalization 

Remember that the ATS works off of a specific algorithm, and can be confused by fancy fonts, characters, or symbols. Mixing font sizes and types can also leave your resume among the hundreds being tossed out by the ruthless Application Tracking System. Capitalization also carries weight for the ATS algorithm. Never use ALL CAPS unless it’s something like a section header.

For more on resume formatting for ATS clearance purposes, download our FREE resume guide here. Including a thorough description of how the ATS works, complete examples of resumes that pass and don’t pass the ATS, and instructions on how to fix your ATS, our resume guide is your complete resource for navigating the ATS – now with an improved look. Download it today to get started.

3. Objective → Qualifiers

Everyone knows you’re a hard worker and that you’re dedicated. Adding it to your resume in a Career Objective section is a waste of space. For your next application, try replacing this section for your Career Qualifications, or a summary of hard skills that reflect your technical abilities and immediately match the job description’s keywords. As suggested by James Hu in his article for The Muse, your “soft skills will be assessed later in your cover letter and during the interview.” Adding these (important, but not important yet) soft skills is a poor use of space on your resume that could be better utilized to reinforce your keywords.


Resume writing can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re walking into, so using these hacks can help you get that much closer to the job of your dreams. For more resume help, talent resources, and personal branding tools, sign-up on Skillgigs to fast-track your job-searching process.


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