4 Ways to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

If you’ve ever conducted an online job search, you know how the process goes. You find a great job opening and create an account to start an application. Then you submit your resume, cover letter and manually fill in a dozen answer forms. An hour later, you hit send, only to never hear from the company. Many job seekers experience this incredibly frustrating silence and wonder why they are never contacted by a company after submitting their resume online. Chances are, your resume is never even looked at by a human within the company.

In today’s job search world, resumes are automatically parsed and saved into a database by a software called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This software allows companies to collect, sort, and contact job applicants in a highly efficient manner, contributing to the popularity of applicant tracking systems. The downside is that only jobseekers who understand how to beat applicant tracking systems wind up getting interviews.

Before you submit another resume online, use these 4 tricks to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems and increase your likelihood of getting a call back.

1) Avoid Spelling Mistakes

Whether your resume is being looked at by a human or a machine, spelling mistakes make you look like a poor candidate. However, spelling mistakes are far more costly when you’re sending your resume to an ATS, rather than a recruiter or hiring manager. While humans can empathize, and even forgive a spelling mistake, applicant tracking systems cannot. Applicant tracking systems rank candidates by the number of keywords on their resume that match the job description or a search query being run by the recruiter. If you misspell even just one word on your resume, it can prevent you from appearing in the search results or cause your resume to fall in the ranking. Have a proofreader check your resume for spelling mistakes before you begin applying for jobs.

2) Keep the Appearance Simple

Less is not always more but when it comes to optimizing your resume for ATS, the less unnecessarily fancy your resume is, the higher the chances are of your resume being correctly parsed by an applicant tracking systems. ATS can be easily confused by pictures, fancy characters, typefaces and even formatting, preventing you from appearing in keyword searches.

The ATS is most likely to parse and store your resume correctly if you stick to a standard resume format, font and file type. ATS-friendly resumes are typically chronologically formatted, size eleven or twelve font, written in a simple typeface (such as Times New Roman or Arial), and saved into a .pdf or .docx file. Opts for a simple, standard resume for any applications you submit online.

3) Match Your Resume Keywords

A resume without the correct keywords will automatically exclude you from the running every time. Applicant tracking systems rely heavily upon screening the content of resumes to identify the best matched applicants. To ensure your resume ranks well in the ATS, match the keywords on your resume to those listed on the job description. Then, when a recruiter runs a keyword search to quickly sift through the candidates in their database, the ATS will find that your resume contains the same keywords and pull up your profile for review.

While you can manually match the keyword on a job description against your resume, it can be a lengthy process and cause you to miss key terms. A resume optimizing tool can compare your resume against the job description and instantly generate a list of the terms that appear on the job description but are missing from your resume.
The results of a Jobscan resume analysis.

4) Tailor Your Application for Each Job

No two resumes or cover letters you submit should ever be the same. Each time you submit your application for a position, tailor it to the exact job you are applying for. Each job description is likely to be worded slightly differently, requiring you to re-write parts of your resume to match the wording of the job description. You can even save time by starting with a standard “template” resume and tailoring it each time you submit a job application. Simply optimizing your resume keywords for one job and then sending out that same resume for similar positions is unlikely to yield the desired results.

If you really want to standout, submitting a well structured and tailored resume is also important. Starting with a cover letter template designed to optimize keywords and highlight your accomplishments can also help you rank more highly in the ATS and get a step up on your competition.

Job hunting with the correct tools can help remove a lot of stress and uncertainty from the process. Next time you’re conducting a job search, beat out the other candidates by using your understanding of applicant tracking systems and resume optimization.

Image: Shutterstock

By James Hu

James Hu is the founder and CEO ofJobscan, an analytics tool that helps job seekers land more interviews by comparing one's resume against any job description for keywords and match rate. Jobscan's Resume Writing Guide and Resume Formats provide everything you need to know about resumes to standout to recruiters and make it past ATS. James has previously spoken on Fox Business News, Harvard Medical School, and General Assembly.