Online Resume Tips: How to Beat ATS Robots

When a resume is submitted online, it could undergo screening before it even reaches human eyes.

Many companies are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to filter through resumes, scanning them with algorithms that search for keywords and phrases and rate them for relevancy to the posted job description. If an application passes the ATS’ muster, it continues to the human resources department.

The ATS software, commonly referred to as “robots,” filters out applicants who don’t meet the necessary requirements – but how can applicants ensure their resumes make it to a human? Here are some tips to make it past the robots.

Use the Right Keywords

“Customize each resume to the position by highlighting the key qualifications (keywords) for the position,” said Dona Gaynor, Director of Career Management Services at Florida Tech. “Applicant tracking systems scan each resume for the highest match of keywords before they are forwarded to a hiring manager. I recommend that candidates use the same keywords listed in the job requirements to facilitate getting through the automated system, as long as they possess the qualification either through coursework or work experience.”

Keyword stuffing, or intentionally piling in keywords, can be detected by ATSs, and if it does make it past the software, a human will read it and more than likely be unimpressed, according to The Muse, so don’t overdo it when using keywords.

Use Your Resume Space Effectively

The career objectives section isn’t as compelling as it once was, according to The Muse. Consider replacing it with a summary of your qualifications, which can give you more room to add in keywords naturally. The summary should state why you are qualified for the job using exact keywords, as long as they do indeed apply to you.

Make sure everything is spell-checked. Since ATSs cannot identify intended meanings of misspelled words, an incorrect spelling, especially a keyword misspelling, can make a big difference.

“A resume that is concise (no more than two pages), well-written with no spelling or grammatical errors, with clear professional format and matches the requirements for the position” will help you stand out from other applicants, according to Gaynor.

Format for the Robot Audience

Common job-seeking advice says to make a resume memorable, but to make it past an ATS, a resume should actually be straightforward. Keep the design simple, and use standard fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, as an ATS cannot read a more complex font.

Keep resumes formatted with typical sections – experience, education, skills and qualifications, for example. Other sections can cause the ATS to miss your resume.

“Limit the use of graphics, tables and creative formatting because they can confuse ATS systems,” Gaynor said.

When submitting a resume through an ATS, try to submit it as a Word document, according to CNBC. Until recently, some systems could not read PDF files. If you prefer to submit it as a PDF, make sure it is a readable file and do not include charts or graphs.

“When in doubt, submit a doc file to applicant tracking systems and a PDF to recruiters,” said Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, in an interview with CNBC.

Connect Before You Send

Don’t just rely on your online resume to do the work for you. Before you apply, try to connect with job recruiters associated with the company you are applying to on LinkedIn so that your name becomes familiar to them. Your resume may get a boost past the ATS and directly into their hands instead of being screened out of the process. Recruiters are more likely to pull your resume from the system if they’ve heard your name somewhere, according to Forbes.

Also, many organizations have an employee referral program – by networking, you can get to know others who can directly refer your application to HR and bypass the ATS.

“I believe that it is important to have a balance of in-person networking at meetings or conferences as well as a strong and active profile on LinkedIn,” Gaynor said.

Any way of connecting outside of the online application is a way of making your candidacy stand out to employers and remind them that you are not just an electronically-sent piece of paper.


Each individual job will come with its own ATS algorithm, meaning that you should redo your resume to fit each job description. Go back and use the same process — fit keywords from the job description into your resume, proofread, use simple formatting and connect both before and after you send your resume if possible. It may be tedious to tailor each resume to the job description you are applying for, but it is worth it.

Though the rules for passing ATSs may seem daunting, following them can leave you with a well-rounded resume that is easy for employers to read and understand, and let them see the individual behind it.

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