Resumes & Cover Letters

Understanding the ATS that stands between you and your next job

Written by Guest Contributor

Google now receives 3 million job applications per year. That’s a lot of resumes, so how in the world do they go through all of them? Enter the Applicant Tracking System, otherwise known as the ATS.

Applicant Tracking Systems have been around for some time. However, it wasn’t until recently when it saw rapid growth and expansive adoption. If you’ve ever used a service like ZipRecruiter, then chances are you’ve run into this hiring algorithm before. But how does this affect you? Well, statistics show that 75% of resumes are ignored because of hiring bots. What’s more, is that nearly half are discarded because of incorrect formatting.

If you’re in a fit of panic at this point, breathe. There are ways around the ATS, and even using it to your advantage.

What’s an applicant tracking system?

So to start, what’s an ATS? An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a software solution to recruitment and hiring. It turns your resume into a format readable by a machine, which then analyzes it, and organizes it into a database. Usually, the ATS will give applicants scores based on their resume’s relevance to the job posting. Once all this is complete, recruiters use the system to browse through submissions of a given position. Think of it as a search engine, but for hiring managers.

Which companies are using an ATS?

If you’re looking to work at a large company, such as a FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google), then there’s a high likelihood that they’ve adopted an ATS.

These huge tech companies are getting tens of thousands of resumes every month. So to make life easier for recruiters, they integrated artificial intelligence and software into the recruitment process. But ATS isn’t limited to just Fortune 500 companies. Small to medium size companies now use ATS as well. If you’ve ever applied via ZipRecruiter or some other online job site, chances are you’re dealing with ATS. In fact, ZipRecruiter started off as an ATS company.

40% of employers (99% when it comes to Fortune 500 companies) use ATS’ to hire employees. Meanwhile, only 25% of resumes submitted are reviewed by a human. 43% of resumes are discarded simply because they’re incompatible with an ATS.

So how can you get past the algorithm? Let’s go over some ways to optimize your resume.

How to optimize your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

At this point, you’re probably looking for ways to “beat the system”. Lucky for you, there are. Here are some tips that will give you a competitive edge when it comes to ATS.

Avoid using lavish templates
If you’ve ever written a resume, you’ll find many beautifully designed templates. Many of these feature eye-catching charts and creative ways to deviate from your typical resume. While these templates are visually appealing to the human eye, the ATS has difficulty processing the content. This is because the ATS cannot process images. To avoid losing any crucial details in your resume, it’s best to avoid using lavish templates.

According to Amanda Augustine, a resident career expert at TopResume, “Avoid images, charts, and other graphics. While these may look nice to the human eye, resumes with embedded images become a garbled mess, or get completely omitted from your application, after it passes through the applicant tracking system.”

To avoid these situations, be sure to use ATS optimized resume templates. Otherwise, your resume may run the risk of incompatibility issues and lower the chances of a human review.

Font choice matters
Just like images, computers don’t read words or texts as we do. While we may have no issues reading in Times New Roman, ATS’ may have a hard time registering the extra ticks added to letters in Serif fonts. Instead, we recommend going with either Garamond or Droid Sans.

Use the right keywords
Like we discussed earlier, the ATS “search engine” will display the most relevant resumes first. How does the ATS determine which resumes are more relevant than others? Keywords.

By having more relevant keywords in your resume than the next candidate, you’re telling ATS that you’re more qualified, have more experience, and are the perfect candidate for this position.

How do we find these keywords? One of the easiest ways to discover keywords is by looking at the job posting. Take note of which words are repeated throughout the posting and which keywords are specific to your industry.

For example, in a Digital Marketing Manager job listing for Amazon the terms email marketing, digital marketing, data-driven and demand generation were displayed a lot throughout the job ad (quick tip: you can quickly find the number of times a keyword comes up by using ctrl+f). This tells us that Amazon is looking for a “Data-driven digital marketer who has experience with demand generation and email marketing.” Now we know what skills we should possess for the position and needs to be included in our resume.

The key takeaways

There was a lot to unpack here, but here are the major takeaways:

  1. An ATS is a recruitment tool that organizes the information on your resume into a database.
  2. 40% of employers use ATS (and 99% of Fortune 500 Companies).
  3. Resumes are ranked by keyword relevance.
  4. Avoid templates that use images, charts, and other graphics.
  5. Format your resume for ATS and include keywords that pop out in the job posting.

If you’ve been feeling lost in your job search, we’re here to empower you and push you forward. It may just be something as simple as a formatting issue. Use the above knowledge to your advantage and land your next job!

About the Author: is a resume development tool built to help job seekers overcome hiring bots of the 21st century. Their free software auto-formats resumes so applicants can apply to jobs without worrying about Applicant Tracking Systems.

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