Beating the Applicant Tracking Systems:

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These Resume Deal Breakers Could Be Hurting Your Job Search

If you have not conducted a job search in a while, you may be unaware of how much employers now depend on beating the applicant tracking systems (ATS). The ATS helps them narrow down candidates for their job openings. In fact, one report indicates that 98% of Fortune 500 companies are using such systems to support their HR efforts. 

An ATS is a software application that electronically manages different aspects of hiring and recruiting. This software makes those functions easier and more efficient for HR managers. Such systems typically use technology. Artificial intelligence and natural language processing to automatically score and sort resumes before they’re ever read by human beings. 

As a result, according to one study, 75% of submitted resumes never make it through the process to the point at which they’re reviewed by read people. 

What does all that mean? That you must use strategy when creating your application materials so they have a better chance of making it through that digitized screening to the interview process. The place where you can convince employers in person that you’re the ideal candidate.  

“It’s safe to say that the robots have become a necessary evil that job seekers need to contend with,” writes Amy Elisa Jackson on  “Automation and machine learning have become a recruiter’s best friends. They help to sift through hundreds or thousands of applications. Think of ATSs as the gatekeepers to your dream job. You’ve got to get past them first in order to succeed.”

Need help in constructing a resume that can power through multiple bots to secure you that interview? Try to avoid these resume mistakes that could hinder your campaign. 

Not Crafting Different Resumes for Different Job Types

 Yes, it is more work to create multiple resumes targeted to different kinds of jobs. But chances are, your job search is going to be aimed at different positions that call for slightly different qualifications. You’ll have much better luck meeting ATS criteria if you can closely match the language and structure of your resume. Match it with the specific job or category of jobs you’re seeking. “Generic resumes are a big no-no,” advises Jackson. “Gone are the days when you could send out a dozen cookie-cutter resumes and get a callback, or as my colleague describes this job application approach, ‘spray and pray.’”

Not Inserting The Most Relevant Keywords

In the past, candidates simply listed their skills, abilities and experiences on their resumes. They’d typically use language that was direct, descriptive and logical. That is still a good place to start, but simply not enough. To beat search engine optimization tools, you’ll want to infuse that language with the specific keywords the employer’s ATS will likely be screening for to find optimal candidates for your target job. 

Brainstorm a list of possible keywords using the job description itself. Info from the employer’s website or other job postings. Industry buzzwords and skills and abilities you know to be important to the job. Google the job title to look for other relevant terminology you may have missed.  Pay special attention to the hard skills that come up more than once. Skills such as degrees, certifications, software types, methodologies, spoken languages, and other easy-to-quantify abilities. You may wish to include both full names and abbreviations. 

Then look for ways to craft your resume descriptions to more closely align with the keywords (and key phrases) that seem to be most critical, while still remaining truthful and accurate in those descriptions. You need not use every one; be somewhat selective based on your true strengths. And do try to work them in naturally instead of plunking them in where they do not necessarily fit.

Using the Wrong Font & Font Size

Simply put, the bots that do the work for applicant tracking systems can be thrown off by fonts they do not fully recognize. If you try to be too creative, your information may be scrambled or just overlooked. As such, we recommend sticking to a 10- or 12-point font on your resume and adhering to one of the following fonts: Cambria; Garamond; Georgia; Palatino; Times New Roman; Arial; Calibri; Helvetica; Tahoma and Verdana.

Choosing Eleborate Borders and/or Shading

 Make the design of your resume simple and easy to read by using a plain template and one-inch margins that are easy for ATS systems to read and interpret. Err on the side of plenty of white space to draw more attention to your text itself and keep bots on track.

Arranging Text in Large Blocks, Images, Charts, Graphics or Special Characters.

ATS systems work by breaking down the info they see and dividing it into their own sections. They also read top to bottom, never left to right. As a result, they can easily become “confused” by images, unusual configurations or side-to-side chunks of information, in which case your most important will get lost in the shuffle. 

Incorporating Overly Busy Design

Now is not the time to get creative or try to attract attention with extra info or design elements. Stay away from elements that are irrelevant to the position you’re trying to gain. Once your other strategies help you through the screening process, you can mention to interviewers your full range of extra qualifications.

Adding In a Headshot

ATS systems cannot parse images, so putting in your photograph only boosts the chances your resume will not make the cut. 

Making sure your resume is streamlined for today’s applicant tracking systems does take extra time and effort, but it should pay off when you start getting more (and better) responses to your online job applications. 

“Yes, this feels like a lot,”  advises Regina Borsellino on  “But the main thing to take away when it comes to creating an ATS-friendly resume is that it will help even if you’re not going through an ATS. At the end of the day, what an ATS is looking for in a resume is not that different from what a person is scanning for? If you make a resume that beats the ATS, chances are it’ll impress a whole lot of humans, too.”

Bottom line: In today’s digital world, you must optimize your resume with the keywords and formatting that will boost its chances of being found by applicant tracking systems. Take time to use the strategies that could take you one step closer to your target job.