Have you ever wondered what happens with your resume after you submit your application? You probably haven’t, as you thought the next step is for one of the HR people at the company to read it and make an opinion. Not entirely true, I’m afraid, because there is one more step your resume has to go through: the Applicant Tracking System.

The Applicant Tracking System, or ATS for short, is a recruiting software most companies use to triage the huge amount of resumes they receive every day. The system evaluates and identifies candidates suitable for one position or another inside the company, and does that based on keywords. They use very advanced and more and more sophisticated algorithms while also ensuring a certain level of fairness, treating all resumes the exact same way.

There are, of course, proven ways to go around these ATSs and increase your chances that the system will point out to your resume. Here are some tips you should consider:

Be at Least 60% Qualified

Apply for jobs where you have at least a little under two-thirds of the required qualifications. Recruiters and hiring managers always build a job description for the ideal candidate, but will nonetheless hire someone who shows promise and is trainable. 60% is the standard most companies go for and will set their ATS systems to track.

Use Specific Keywords

Before you start applying for a certain job, take a look through similar jobs from other companies to get a more general idea of what companies look for in your field. Then adjust your resume to contain several of those keywords and increase the chances for your resume to come up on top. The easiest way to do that is to simply add a paragraph containing about 10 to 12 terms, titled “Core Competencies”, where you can list your abilities, i.e. add your keywords.

Big companies, such as Target, request a very specific set of competencies from their employees, so from this point of view, it is always helpful to take a look at their job requirements before advancing to the actual application stage.

It is also recommended to use individual resumes for each job you apply for. Use a standard and modify the resume based on the words used in that job description. Two companies often call the same thing differently, so make sure you use their specific terminology.

Use Varied Terms

Owing to the technological advancement and sophistication mentioned earlier, ATS systems now also look for synonyms or abbreviations of certain terms. For example, a doctorate degree and Ph.D. could mean the same thing to an ATS. This gives you the chance to add even more keywords to your resume while maintaining a natural appearance and not turning it into a list of words.

Don’t Use Irregular Fonts

The advancement mentioned earlier has only gone so far, though, as most Application Tracking Systems won’t recognize fancy fonts used throughout the resume and may skip entire sections entirely. Use simple fonts, in black and white and short sentences. Think of it as doing a Google search: you always type in the exact thing you are interested in, not a story about it.

Tables, diagrams, and charts are also something you should definitely avoid. While they may look good, recruitment software works exclusively with words and will skip any graphics you integrate into your resume.


If you have the option, or if you were recommended internally by a friend or former colleague, give the company a call a short while after submitting your resume and ask if they had received it, or ask your friend to ask around HR for you. If successful, this will guarantee your resume has passed the ATS phase entirely. If it doesn’t work, you won’t lose much, as your resume will remain in the pool and have the same chances of being selected as before.

A less intrusive alternative is simply mailing a hard copy of your resume. This will attract attention and also show you are interested in the job the company has posted the application for.

Don’t think that if you use these tips you will, in any way, cheat the system. You are offering the same information as before, only now it is structured differently, to be easily readable by someone else. The fact that someone is actually a machine makes no difference. Find a balance between practicality and looks and you will hear the phone ringing in no time!


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