Smarter than a Robot: Overcome the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to Land an Interview

Technology makes our lives easier — except when it blocks us from landing a job interview. Of course, given an open position could receive hundreds of applications, it’s not surprising that companies often use software to help with resume screening. Commonly referred to as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), this software screens and ranks candidates based on how well their application and resume match with the position’s requirements. Great for HR staff, but not so much for job seekers whose resume writing style doesn’t fit exactly with what ATS is looking for. Fortunately, you can beat the system with a few simple fixes; here are some professional resume help tips to send you on your way to the shortlist.

  1. Opt for a Basic Design — Using a simple design may seem counter intuitive since we all want our applications to stand out when job searching. While creative formatting within your resume helps show personality, it also can cause ATS to misread or pass over information that would otherwise land you an interview. Avoiding artsy templates, colors, fancy fonts, tables and graphics in favor of more conservative formatting, style and typeface when resume writing can help you make it past pre-screening software. And as a bonus, a simple design makes it easy to assess your qualifications, which will help when your application makes it in the hands (or on the screen) of a real person.
  2. Write out Acronyms and Abbreviations — Hiring managers generally know what your field-specific acronyms and abbreviations stand for, but the system they use to screen applicant resumes may not. Play it safe by writing out acronyms and abbreviations in full, even if it seems unnatural to do so. To appease the ATS robot and hiring managers alike, top rated resume writing services suggest writing the phrase in full with the acronym following (e.g. “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)” as opposed to simply “SEO”).
  3. Include Standard Section Header Titles — ATS is programmed to recognize your section headers and scan content within those sections. If your section header isn’t named with the keywords for which the system is designed to scan, your information in that section may be passed over completely. Overcome this by using standard and simple section header names such as Professional Experience, Education, Certifications, Professional Memberships, Skills and Awards. An additional tip: capitalize the entire section header title to facilitate ease in section recognition.
  4. Use Keywords and Industry-Specific Language — When scanning resumes, ATS ranks candidates based on how closely their resume content aligns with the job description and position’s required and preferred qualifications. Increase your chances of ranking highly by including keywords that match the job description as well as industry-specific language when writing your professional resume. But remember, a real human will read your resume after you pass ATS, so avoid fluffing; use keywords and phrases authentically to create a top rated resume appealing to both ATS and HR staff.

Originally published at on June 23, 2016.