How should you optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems

How should you optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems


Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are software programs that organizations use to electronically manage the recruiting and hiring process. According to research, over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS to screen and evaluate resumes of job applicants. The global ATS market is expected to reach over $11 billion by 2035. With the vast majority of large companies using ATS, it’s become vitally important for job seekers to optimize their resumes to get through these automated screening systems.


Why ATS Optimization Matters

Applicant tracking systems are used by over 90% of Fortune 500 companies to screen resumes before they ever reach recruiters or hiring managers (source). Studies show that the vast majority of resumes – up to 76% – are rejected by ATS software and never make it to human eyes (source). Even qualified candidates can easily get screened out if their resumes don’t contain the right keywords or formatting optimized for the ATS algorithms.

Tailoring and optimizing your resume specifically for getting past ATS screening significantly increases your chances of progression to the next stage. While you should always customize your resume for each job application, taking the extra step to optimize for ATS compatibility boosts your odds that the right human recruiters and hiring managers will actually see and review your resume.

Formatting Tips

When formatting your resume, keep applicant tracking systems in mind. Most ATS software cannot interpret fancy formatting, columns, tables, images, headers and footers. The safest bet is to stick with a simple, plain text format.

Use standard fonts like Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Helvetica, Garamond, or Times New Roman in 11 or 12 point size. Avoid stylized fonts. Stick to black font color.

Format your resume with clear headings and uniform white space between sections. Avoid things like text boxes, columns, tables, headers and footers so the ATS doesn’t jumble your content. Name the file in a logical format with your first and last name.

Keeping your resume clean and scannable ensures the applicant tracking software can easily read and parse your resume data. Steer clear of fancy formatting and layouts that can confuse ATS scanning.

Keyword Optimization

One of the most important things you can do when optimizing your resume for an ATS is to research the job posting for relevant keywords and then incorporate those keywords naturally into your resume. The ATS will scan your resume looking for keywords that match the qualifications, skills, and experience listed in the job description. If you don’t have enough matches, your resume may be filtered out before a human ever sees it.

Start by carefully reviewing the job posting and highlighting any keywords related to required or desired skills, experience, qualifications, education, certifications, etc. Then, work those relevant keywords into your resume organically. Don’t just copy and paste a list of keywords – make sure they flow naturally within the context of describing your own background.

For example, if the job requires C++ programming skills, you could say “Proficient in C++ with experience developing applications using object oriented concepts and data structures.” This highlights an important keyword like C++ in a natural way within your experience. With strategic keyword optimization, you’ll boost your chances that the ATS ranks your resume as a strong match for the job opening.


Highlight Relevant Experience

When applying for a specific role, it’s important to customize your resume to highlight the most relevant experience first. Review the job description carefully and compare it to your work history. Identify which positions and responsibilities match up best with the required and preferred qualifications listed.

For example, if you are applying for a project manager job, and have previous experience managing projects, highlight this towards the top of your work experience section. Use bullet points to concisely describe your project management experience, accomplishments, and examples that align with the job description.

Numbers, facts, and figures can help capture an ATS’s attention. Quantify your experience when possible by including metrics like the budget size of projects you managed, number of team members you led, percentage of goals achieved, etc.

While you still want to include other roles that display a progression of responsibility, make sure the most relevant experience stands out by organizing your work history strategically.

Customizing your resume to each application by putting your best foot forward will help ensure the ATS doesn’t overlook you due to lack of perceived fit. Emphasizing the right experience first increases your chances of advancing to the next stage.

Additional Tips

Here are some other tips to optimize your resume and boost your chances of getting past ATS screening:

– Spell out all months and years instead of using numerical dates or abbreviations. For example, write “March 2017” instead of “3/17.” This helps ensure the ATS can interpret dates correctly.

– Avoid using abbreviations or acronyms unless they are very common. Spell everything out fully to maximize comprehension.

– Submit your resume as a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) rather than a PDF. ATS systems can better scan and parse Word documents.

– Use simple, scannable formatting without complex tables, text boxes, columns or graphics. Too much formatting can confuse the ATS.

– Keep your resume layout basic and consistent. Stick to standard heading styles and structure that are easy for ATS to understand.


Optimizing your resume to get through ATS screening and be seen by human eyes may seem daunting. But with some simple tweaks to your resume’s formatting, keywords, and highlighted experience, you can beat the bots.

Focus on using standard fonts, avoiding fancy tables or columns, and sticking to a simple, scannable format. Make sure to research and organically incorporate relevant keywords from each job posting. And customize your resume for every application, highlighting your most relevant skills and accomplishments.

With these modifications, you’ll boost your chances of landing more interviews. Don’t let applicant tracking systems derail your job search. A few small resume adjustments can help ensure you get past the first bot hurdle and on your way to your next great opportunity.

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