How to Write an ATS Compliant Resume

What is ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking Software.  ATS is used to shortlist resumes and candidates, taking on the brunt of the work on behalf of us humans.  Large corporate companies and recruitment agencies commonly use ATS because they receive a massive influx of resumes from candidates.  A human will eventually read the resume, but it needs to make it past the ATS first!

If you are not aware of ATS and how it works, this can impact on the success of your job search.  If your resume is not ATS compliant, your applications can be met with deafening silence and your candidacy will disappear into cyberspace.  This can happen to the absolute best and most closely matched candidates.  If your resume is too complicated or you fail to follow a few key points, the ATS is unable to scan and read the content of your resume.  With complicated formatting, such as footers, columns, borders, and symbols, the ATS will jumble the information, which usually means your application will not progress any further. 


Why do companies use ATS?

Many recruitment agencies and large corporates rely on ATS due to the high number of resumes coming through from candidates.  The ATS is a software program which scans your resume and job application for key words and shortlists or culls your application.  If your resume makes it through the ATS gateway, it will be reviewed by the recruiter, Human Resources or Hiring Manager - a human! 


How does ATS work?

Our high-tech world is moving fast; therefore, we must be prepared and think ahead.  Job hunting a strategic game.  Ensuring your resume and application competes with the other candidates is essential. Knowing a little about ATS and how it works will ensure your resume and job application is competitive.  ATS is programmed to scan for keywords relevant to the job advertisement, categorising candidates in order of relevance.  In other words, the ATS is making decisions about whether your resume is a match before it even lands in the hands of a human.  ATS eliminates hundreds of man-hours, traditionally spent receiving, checking, and sorting resumes into the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile.  ATS can shortlist or cull candidates based on employers, key skills, training institutes, universities, and qualifications.


How do I make it past the ATS?

Here are some resume writing tips for making it past the ATS:

  • Borrow keywords from the advertisement and ensure they are used throughout your resume, cover letter and within any key screening questions. Recycle and use the company's industry terminology and jargon.  Show them you are an industry expert or have detailed knowledge of the industry and the product or service they provide.  Only use text – ATS does not recognise graphics, and honestly, they are rarely used these days anyway.  
  • Career Objectives can be tedious and repetitive to read, but usually an expectation. Look at the Career Objective as an opportunity to provide an introduction which merges into your future career goals, with a few added extras such as your key strengths.  Your career ojective will enable the ATS to pick up more keywords.
  • Include detailed, measurable career achievements. This approach gives you the freedom to include a few more keywords and gives you the option of adding some facts and figures to quantify your performance.
  • Spell out acronyms at least once. ATS is most likely programmed to look for the full version or entire description of your qualification, training or industry terminology.  The ATS may not be set up to recognise shortcut methods for explaining degrees or acronyms for professional memberships.
  • Do a thorough spell-check and look out for grammatical errors. The ATS may miss a keyword if it is spelt wrong.  Grammatical errors are a bad look once a human is reading through your resume.   


Final Note 

Remember that once your resume makes it past ATS, a human (who will most likely be looking to meet you), will be reading your resume; therefore the presentation is still key, and excellent written skills are also essential. 

There are a few methods for improving the chances of your resume making it past the ATS; however, never underestimate the power of networking and reaching out to make personal contact with the recruiter.  Picking up the phone to chat with the listed contact person can be an excellent strategy for standing out and can help you bypass the ATS and fast track your application to the top of the pile.  Do not be shy – pick up the phone.  But do not badger recruiters!!  They are busy, and you should respect that you are one of the hundreds.  Plan what you would like to say, have questions ready and a purpose for the call. Give yourself a time limit.  Showing that you respect the recruiters time, will give the recruiter a good insight into your team work and communication capabilities.   Good luck!


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Linked Articles - How to Write a Professional Resume