72% of submitted applications are never read by an actual person. And, 62% of employers who use this software admit some qualified candidates are likely being filtered out of the vetting process by mistake.

Does that surprise you? We know very well technology has its faults, but we also know there are usually ways to work around the kinks. These systems scan resumes to determine if a candidate’s qualifications match up with what the company wants in an employee. “Qualified candidates” are selected based on information pre-entered by the employer. What’s even more difficult, is each ATS has its own standards and guidelines and, many times, these “rules” won’t be listed when you submit your resume.

If you’re missing certain keywords, including difficult to read formatting, job titles or headlines, or have fewer qualifications than another applicant, then it’s unlikely your resume will ever be seen by a person and you won’t get the job. Fortunately, there are things you can do to optimize your resume and increase the chances it gets into the hands of the hiring manager.

Customize your resume with these simple tips that will help you think like an Applicant Tracking System.

Do you know the number of #applications that are never seen by human eyes? The answer may surprise you. @ClearCompany

#1 SEO 101

Before we even make it to the ATS, let’s briefly dive into how to use simple SEO tactics to find the perfect job for your professional skills. When employers write job descriptions and set up their applicant tracking systems, they use specific keywords to describe job functions, titles, requirements and skills they’re looking to attain. Without knowing every employer’s “secret” keyword list, we have to adopt some basic SEO skills to get our search going. 

To get started, filter through this list of top 500 resume keywords for 2018. For industry specific keywords, use tools like SEMRush to identify high-volume search terms that could lead you to job opportunities suited for your skills and experience.

#2 Check and Double Check for Typos

This should be obvious. Not only does it make it harder for the ATS to identify what you mean, but 40% of employers said it only takes one typo in a resume for them to disregard a candidate for a position with their company. After you’ve run your resume through spell-check and gone over it a few more times, consider having a friend or two look over it as well. 

Tip: In order to catch more typos on your own, read your resume backward. It interrupts the flow of reading and helps you focus on individual words.

#3 Keep Things Simple

It can be tempting to jazz up a resume with lots of colors, fonts, even a picture here or there, especially if you’re looking to hire in a creative role. You want your resume to stand out, right? Unfortunately, for companies that use an ATS, extra design only detracts from the resume. In a recent survey, over 40% of employers said they are put off by too much design. To keep a simple resume, don’t add more than two colors and avoid mixing fonts.

Classic ATS formatting tips:

  • Many ATS can’t read tables. Meaning if you put resume content into a table in an attempt to make it easier to read, that info will not be accurately parsed through to your “candidate profile” in the system.
  • While some ATS will suggest preferable formats, Microsoft Word’s resume format is the safest go-to. Saving your document as a PDF will ensure it maintains the format no matter what.
  • Just like non-traditional job titles (discussed in tip #6) some applicant tracking systems struggle to read non-traditional section titles. Keep it classic with headers like: Professional Experience, Work Experience, Educational History, References, Skills and Contact Information


Tip: Consider putting headers in all capital letters. That makes it easier for the ATS to categorize and identify information.

8 must-have tips to use on your #resume today to get past that #ATS: @ClearCompany

#4 Use Keywords

When writing or updating your resume, keep the job description nearby where you can see it. Pull the most important words from it and use them in the resume. The ATS will identify the relevant information first, and make it more likely that your resume will actually be seen by a real person. According to Dr. John Sullivan, author of the article "Identifying Keywords to Put on Your Resume," if you don’t include at least 50% of the job description keywords in your resume, don’t expect an interview.

Keywords are important in getting the ATS’s attention, but beware of “keyword stuffing,” a term used when candidates pick a high-volume word and place it an unnatural amount of times throughout their resume. This results in getting flagged by the ATS and sends the resume down the ATS black hole. Find the keywords you’d like to use from the job description and use them 2-3 times. Read what you’ve written out loud and if it doesn’t sound natural or flow well, remove or add as needed.

Tip: While it’s important to include enough keywords, adding too many is also detrimental. An ATS will most likely disregard your resume if it has more than a 95% match to the job description. 

#5 Only Use Relevant Information

A common mistake when applying for jobs is to include every job you’ve ever worked and every skill you possess, without regard to what the job actually entails. It’s an understandable mistake: you want to impress the recruiter, and it seems the best way to do that is to have a lot of job experience.

However, companies aren’t really interested in jobs that are not relevant to the job you’re applying to. An ATS only identifies relevant information, so adding extra will not help you. Additionally, recruiters only spend an average of 3.14 minutes looking at a resume. Extra information will only detract from the most important skills and jobs.

Tip: If there is anywhere you can add some possibly irrelevant information, it’s in your skills section. Make sure to add in anything you think might be useful to the position. 

40% of employers said it only takes one typo in a #resume for them to disregard a #candidate. @ClearCompany

#6 Make it Unique

As a part of using only the most relevant information, you should be making every resume that you submit unique. There is no one-size-fits-all resume. It’s going to take a lot more time, but the effort will be worth it. On average, every corporate job attracts 250 resumes. Even if the ATS eliminates 75% of the applicants, that leaves over 60 people to contend with.

Tip: A great way to be unique and get through the ATS is to include a customized cover letter. You have more opportunities to include keywords and show off your personality.

#7 Mind Your Job Title

Unique job titles like “Coding Ninja” or “Marketing Guru” show you have a personality on LinkedIn or your personal career website, but need to be made more formal on a resume. Each organization will have their own titles for jobs internally. Use the same keyword trick you used on tip #3 to customize your job title for the company you’re applying for. A company’s ATS will catch your resume if your job title matches their job description exactly. Switching Director to Manager could make a huge difference!

#8 Prepare for Humans, Too

We dedicated this post to put your best foot forward with technology, in hopes we would make it to a person in the end, so write for that person too! Read your resume out loud to see if it reads naturally, or if it sounds overly formal. Your tone of voice will be dependent on the tone of the company you’re looking to hire with as well. The more customization you can reach, the more “human” your resume will read.

Tip: Leave additional wordiness for the cover letter if you start getting a little text-heavy. (Typical rule of thumb: keep your resume to one page, one side, including nothing older than 10 years).

Applicant Tracking Systems can be frustrating for job seekers, but they ensure the right person is being interviewed for the right job. For those applicants that wouldn’t quite fit, the ATS saves both them and the recruiter time and effort. If an ATS could help your company hire more efficiently, check out ClearCompany’s software solutions.

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Sylvie Woolf
Sylvie Woolf
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As Director of Client Service, Sylvie actively works to scale and grow our business, while driving value and customer success at every level. Sylvie directs our department's remarkable team of specialists who consult with and support ClearCompany’s diverse clientele, delivering best-in-class client service. Sylvie serves as a strategic partner to executives within our client base, ensuring that our platform not only assists with administrative concerns, but also solves for large-scale business needs.

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