75% of resumes don’t make it through an ATS, is yours one of them?

Both recruiters and job seekers are frustrated by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Some great candidates have not made it through the system and you may well be one of them!

The reality is that there are close to 200 different applicant tracking systems that companies are using to find candidates and to make it even more challenging all these systems are customized to the specific company’s needs. ATS systems are here to stay and as a job seeker, you need to understand how they work so you can get through and have your resume get into the hands of a recruiter. In some cases, companies will only take resumes submitted through the system. Using an ATS system it automates tasks and manages talent, job postings and can do the work of 4 people.  Each year they are becoming more and more sophisticated.

The goal of this blog is to help you understand the ATS system and what you need to do to understand in order to succeed in submitting an online resume to an Applicant Tracking System. I am sharing the knowledge I gained from taking a course through the Resume Writing Academy called “ATS & SEO Navigating Alphabet Soup to Get Clients Found”  by Marie Zimenoff and Dr. Cheryl Minninck.

But first…..

How does the ATS system work?

Applicant tracking systems or ATS scan and store information in files in order to manage talent and prioritize those applicants who best fit the criteria. The recruiter will compile a list of hard skills and soft skills that are needed for the position and enter these keywords into the ATS. This triggers the search of resumes for those keywords, and the one with the most matching keywords will move to the next level of being viewed by a human. The ATS system can generate lists with those that most closely match the skills required. However, if not enough of the keywords are in the resume you don’t make it to the next level.

How do you know which key words the system is looking for?

To identify the keys words first look at the job posting. It will provide some of the key criteria for the job. Also, standard industry lingo and certification will be added. The number of keywords is up to the company and they can add as many as they choose for the criteria. It is important to note that very few resumes would have 100% of the keywords but the resumes are ranked based on the keywords so the higher the ranking the more likely to be seen by a human once the scan is done. The keywords should be interspersed throughout the resume but it is important to put them in the top first half page of the resume.

Some key words that could be used are:

Hard skills

Postal code or city – looking for someone who lives close by
Legally entitled to work in the country
Years of experience required for the job
Education level
Job title
Technical skills
Specific certification
Specific courses
Names of competitive companies (this can demonstrate similar experience)

* The words on the resume must match the keywords chosen exactly. For example, if they are asking for a Programmer and you were called Software Developer you may not come up. 

Soft Skills

Communication
Collaborate
Leadership
Project managed

What type of file should your resume be saved in? PDF, Word? Or Plain Text?         

ATS systems are constantly changing and evolving just like cell phones and so what was required five years ago is no longer required. When cell phones first came out you could not take pictures with your phone and today you can with most of the new models. This is exactly like what is happening with applicant tracking systems they are evolving and this is causing confusion in how to apply and get through the system.

In 98% of cases submitting, a resume in word.doc will be successful in making it through the ATS system. You do not need to save it in plaintext.

Five years ago you needed to submit resumes in plain text to be read by the ATS system you no longer need to do this.

In 2017 it is recommended that you save your resume in .doc to be 100% sure it can be read by all ats systems as opposed to pdf or plain text. Even if the systems state that you can submit in a pdf or a Word format, choose word.doc. Although word has progressed to higher levels, some of the ATS systems are still at word.doc. In some cases, even if it says PDF is acceptable, some of the ATS systems do not read pdf which is in a postscript format and not text format. (Within a very short time you will be able to save to word.docx )

If you are lucky enough to submit directly to an individual without going through an ATS system, I strongly recommend submitting as a PDF so it can’t be altered.

About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks

Dorothy is a professional resume writer in Vancouver, British Columbia and a career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your resume or LinkedIn profile needs a tune-up or you are unsure how to even start, contact Dorothy at dorothyk@fwt.bc.ca  or go to www.fwt.bc.ca. Dorothy is constantly seeking the latest and most current information on trends in resumes, cover letters, Linkedin, and also keeps abreast of the changing labour market.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Scroll to Top