How to get your resume past the robots – Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

The world of looking for jobs has changed and how you apply for jobs has changed drastically. One important factor, especially in this digital, paper-free society, is to know how to craft a proper resume. Yes, we have moved on from newspaper ads and letters in the mail, with recruiters now using LinkedIn, Twitter and online job boards to find their ideal candidate, but the majority of recruiters will still ask you for a resume.

This move to e-recruiting has created somewhat of an obstacle for the traditional job hunter, however. Have you ever submitted numerous resumes to online job postings only to hear nothing back except the automated ‘Thank You for your Application’ email? Do you feel like your application is going into a resume black hole, never to be looked at by human eyes? You’re probably right.

Wise words

HR robots, or “Applicant Tracking Systems,” are indeed now used by both small and large organizations to filter out applicants whose resumes do not match a specified percentage of the keywords identified by the employer. This is especially true for graduate, entry-level positions with reports suggesting that up to 75% of applications are automatically rejected. So, step one to keeping the HR robot happy is to make sure your resume includes keywords from the specific job description.

But that’s not all.

Can you read this sentence? What about this one? I can, you can, but the HR robot can’t. If you underline a word on your resume, the system can’t read it; it may as well not be there. The same goes for anything in italics, in a table, diagram or a header or footer.

Six rules for formatting

Here are my top tips to create an ATS friendly resume:

  1. Do not use headers (even for contact information), footers, templates, graphs, charts, accents, shading, underlining or italics.
  2. You can still use bold, capitals, bullet points and some colour (although keep it minimal and professional).
  3. Place dates for education and employment at the right-hand side of the document.
  4. Use standard name headings in the resume even if your company had a unique name ie Use “Software Developer” instead of “Software Nija” the ATS will not recognize Software Nijja as a job title.
  5. Customize each resume (time-consuming, but worth it) for the specific position, using language from the job description.
  6. Edit carefully. The ATS will not recognize misspelled words.
Don’t forget the people

After all that, you also need to remember that your resume also has to be suitable for human evaluation! Don’t be tempted to include keywords from the job description that you don’t actually possess, or create a completely stripped down text format document. If you survive the HR Robot, it will next be reviewed by an HR professional so must be visually appealing and error-free.

I did say it wasn’t going to be easy. However, it is possible and people do get work you just need to learn the new techniques.

About Dorothy Keenan and FutureWorks

Dorothy is a professional resume writer and career advisor with over 25 years’ experience in helping people find fulfilling work at all levels of the labour market. If you think your LinkedIn profile needs a tune-up or you are unsure how to even start contact Dorothy at or go to your profile can lead to some great opportunities for growth or career change.

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash