10 Surefire Ways to Beat The Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Ever wondered why your job application got rejected right away? Maybe your resume isn't ATS friendly. Read our guide to optimize and beat the system.
1/24/2020 8 min reading time Karin Lykke Nielsen @KarinLykke
10 Surefire Ways to Beat The Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Love them or hate them, there’s no way around them. The Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS for short, are here to stay. The good news is that there are ways to beat them. We’ve used our extensive research skills (so you don’t have to) and researched surefire ways to beat the ATS. The results are covered in this list.

However, first I want to make a quick introduction to ATS. If you already know all there is to know about them, you can just skip this part and go straight to the list. If you’ve never heard the term ATS or Applicant Tracking System, you should read on here.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

In short, an Applicant Tracking System is a piece of software that recruiters use to screen their candidates. The ATS receives your CV or resume, crunches it up and then spits it out. If you pass the test, your resume will be forwarded to an actual human being. If you don’t, sadly your resume will be rejected without ever having real human eyes looking at it.

Applicant Tracking Systems scan your resume for keywords, experience and other yummi content. What’s important to remember is that it’s not only the information that your resume conveys that’s important in relation to the ATS. It’s also the way in which your resume is written that decides if you’re in or out.

When should you take Applicant Tracking Systems into consideration?

Since most large companies use some sort of ATS in their screening process you should more or less always assume that somewhere along the road your resume will be met by a bot. As a rule of thumb, if you’re submitting your resume via a job board it’s very likely that it will be scanned by a bot. That means, if you’re sending your resume over email, to a smaller company, it is much less likely that you’ll be hit by an ATS.

So before you write your resume, make sure you know how the company is collecting the resumes from potential employers. And then take appropriate actions. If you have to submit it through a board, be sure to follow all precautions to get by the initial ATS screening.

Okay, now to the fun part. As promised, here is a list of ten surefire (and highly actionable) ways to beat the ATS.

1. Use relevant keywords

When you write your resume, make sure you use relevant keywords. Relevant keywords refer to the skills and qualifications described in the original job ad. For instance, if the job ad lists good communication skills as necessary, make sure your resume contains those exact words. It’s also important to note that some ATS are very rigid. They will not be able to connect different versions of the same expression. So if the job ad says the ideal candidate needs to be skilled in Microsoft Word it will do you no good to write that you’re skilled in MS Word or just Word. You must write the exact same wording as in the job ad to be sure you’ll pass the ATS. For the same reasons you should write out all acronyms as well.

Pro tip: You can use the same keyword more than once, but make sure to factor in that eventually a human being will read your resume. Too many repetitions of the same keyword and your resume might come off as insincere.

2. Use the right font

Sometimes the problem is neither with you nor the ATS. It’s your choice of font. A lot of the ATS out there have trouble deciphering fonts with serifs such as Times New Roman or Cambria. Fonts with serifs have little marks added to the letters and the ATS can’t process these. This means your resume risks getting rejected because of a minor issue like choice of font. If you want to be sure, choose a sans serif font like Arial or Calibri. Why is it important? It’s important because, if you’ve spent time writing out your skills exactly like it says in the job ad, and the ATS doesn’t recognise the S in Social Media skills as an S, your resume might get rejected for no good reason.

3. Always tailor your resume to the position

One of the most important ways to beat the ATS is to always tailor your resume. A standard resume that you send out to all potential employers is the worst possible scenario for the ATS. These will be among the first documents that will be discarded by the system. Use your unique skills and relevant keywords to stand out from the crowd. 

4. Keep a simple format

Even though you may want to add a lot of fancy graphics, try to keep your resume as simple as possible. Pro tip: All our templates are kept in a simple design to increase your chances of getting past the ATS screening.

5. Remember to add dates to your resume

Some job positions require a certain amount of experience and the ATS may be screening for this. So it’s important to add the exact dates to your resume. And remember the tip from number 1 to always write out words. This also goes for the year so always write 2022 and not just ‘22.

6. Keep headers and footers empty

When it comes to beating the ATS, it’s best to leave the headers and footers of your resume alone. Don’t add your contact information there. Why? When you create fancy headers and footers, you risk the ATS interpreting them wrong and it won’t recognize your text as text.

7. Keep your bullet points round

This one is in the same league as number 2 (use the right font). You’ll want to make sure your bullet points are a classic round. This means no fancy arrows, no squares or other creative symbols. Some of the ATS won’t be able to interpret them and your resume will end out as a mess.

8. Use standard headings for your resume

While it can be tempting to stand out from the crowd by creating an interesting heading for your resume, we would advise against it. Some ATS are looking for specific headings (all standard) and if they do not find it, your resume risks rejection. Standard headings could be “Professional Summary” or “Career Summary”. Don’t over-customize it with headings like “My Work Experience” or other similar phrases. Keep it simple.

9. Choose the right format

While there are many ways to format your resume , there are only a few formats that the ATS will recognize: Chronological (the most popular), functional, and hybrid (a mix of chronological and functional). Any other format than those three and you risk getting rejected right away by the ATS. All our resume templates on Jofibo are flexible so that you can choose freely between the three formats.

10. Left alignment

Making sure you use left alignment for your resume text will increase your chances of getting by the ATS. The reason for this is that anything in your resume that is not conservative (like fonts, bullet points, alignment) will make it more difficult for the ATS to parse your resume content and thus sort it correctly.

That’s it, folks

Alright, that’s it. That was our ten surefire ways to beat the Applicant Tracking Systems. I hope you feel better equipped to take on the task of writing a killer resume that will make it all the way to a human being. May the odds be ever in your favor.

PS. If you want to increase your odds, check out our resume templates and create your own professional resume.

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