If you’re resolved to get a new job this year, you’ve likely spent the last few weeks updating your resume. Chances are an applicant tracking system (ATS) will be the first pair of “eyes” to view your application. In fact, according to 2018 research from Jobscan, 491 Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to perform the initial review of each resume based on keywords to filter or rank applicants.
An ATS is a type of software used by companies to assist with their recruitment and hiring processes. Corporate recruiters use an ATS to automate the extraction of information from an applicant’s resume and build a digital applicant profile that can be searched, filtered, and ranked. The goal is to speed up the process of culling applicants who are underqualified and identify top candidates.
While the benefits for recruiting professionals are clear, less-sophisticated ATSs can create hurdles for job seekers. Some highly qualified candidates fall through the cracks and are wrongfully eliminated from the applicant pool because their resume has formatting issues or lacks the correct search keywords.
Here are few tips you can follow to optimize your resume for modern applicant tracking systems.
Let Keywords Be Your Secret WeaponSome ATSs are simply a repository for downloadable resumes, but a top ATS will allow the recruiter to search applicants by specific keywords. According to outplacement platform GetFive, to get a top-ranking resume you need not only a large quantity of keywords, but also high-quality keywords. “Some keywords are weighed more than others and resumes that include these will instantly stand out,” the company explains.
Candidates who can predict the correct resume keywords will have the best chance of being included in recruiter search results. GetFive recommends looking at the job description to identify the most important titles, hard skills, and other keywords to include in your resume. Take note that these keywords must be formatted to echo the original job description exactly. For example, to an ATS, there is a difference between “Microsoft Word,” “MS Word,” and “Word.”
Skip Abbreviations and Spell Out Acronyms“Abbreviations can be missed if they are not programmed into the ATS,” notes GetFive. Even if an acronym is well-known, like IBM, it may not be recognized or categorized correctly by an ATS. While it’s OK to use popular acronyms to show that you’re familiar with a specific role, industry, or trend, it’s important to also spell out the full words to make sure your information gets pulled and ranked appropriately.
Apply Simple FormattingThe recruiter won’t necessarily view the file that you upload to an ATS. Instead, most systems parse the document into a digital profile to make things uniform and searchable. This means an applicant’s formatting choices can cause errors or hide data, explains Jon Shields, an expert focused on uncovering the hidden obstacles faced by today's job seekers. For example, he says that some ATSs struggle to read tables or text boxes on a resume and exclude any data contained within.
Similarly, the Jobscan blog recommends using left alignment for your resume text. While non-standard alignment might appear to give your resume a formal or edgy appearance, it could prevent the ATS from parsing content correctly. Also, any typeface that is unusual or a nonstandard size runs the same risk. Try to use fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Verdana, Tahoma, or Calibri.
Use Standard HeadingsIt’s also a good idea to use standard section headings, because some ATSs auto-populate fields based on the resume to create a digital applicant profile. “The ATS algorithm has to be able to recognize common resume sections in order to do this accurately. This means you shouldn’t get cute with heading titles,” says Shields. Use basic headings like “Work Experience” or “Professional Experience” that are included in typical ATS programming. Over-customizing your resume headings by using phrases like “About Me” and “Accreditations” can make it more difficult for an ATS to parse your resume.
Bottom line: Applicant tracking systems are here to stay. Optimizing your resume by following these tips is a key step to moving past the resume bots and getting a face-to-face meeting with an actual hiring manager.