How To Optimize Your Resume For Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Applicant Tracking System

If you want your resume to be seen by a real person, you’ve got to make it past the Applicant Tracking System. Here’s how to crack the code and increase the chances your resume makes it to the hiring manager (instead of the digital trash can).

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This article on the applicant tracking system is part of the Coaching Collective series, featuring tips and expertise from Flatiron School Career Coaches. Every Flatiron School graduate is eligible to receive up to 180 days of 1:1 career coaching with one of our professional coaches. This series is a glimpse of the expertise you can access during career coaching at Flatiron School.

Submitting online job applications can often feel like you are throwing your resume into cyberspace with no idea where it ends up. 

When resumes are submitted online, they are likely going to be scanned with hundreds of other resumes to determine whether they are worthy of being considered. Only those that make it through the scan will even be seen by human eyes.

This scanning system called an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is an electronic tool for companies to identify and sort information on hundreds of resumes and make an electronic determination of which candidates have the skills and experiences they are looking for. 

The ATS automatically sorts the sections of your resume and identifies Experience, Education, Skills, Languages, etc.  If the system can’t identify and sort the information on the resume, even a well-qualified candidate will be overlooked. To put it bluntly, this electronic system is responsible for the fate of your resume. 

How To Create An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Friendly Resume

The answer here lies in both the formatting of your resume, and also how well the information in your resume matches the information in the Job Description. 

Formatting Your Resume

In terms of format, you need to consider the electronic screening by the applicant Tracking System, as well as the human that will see your resume should it make it past the ATS. All resumes should be submitted in either Word or PDF. 

A PDF will maintain the design appearance of your resume, but may not be compatible with older ATS software. If the instructions in the application list PDF as an acceptable format, then submit a PDF. Otherwise, a Word version is going to be much safer because it allows the ATS to extract the information on your resume more accurately. If you are emailing your resume directly to a recruiter or Hiring Manager, a PDF is the best choice. 

Other tips to consider in formatting an ATS-friendly resume are:

  • Do not put any of your important information in the header or footer. It is best to keep all information in the main body of the document.
  • Avoid inserting images and graphs into your resume
  • Avoid multi-column resumes, older ATATSsan only read single column
  • Stick to simple bullet points
  • Use a common simple font like Times New Roman

Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description

The second consideration in getting your resume past the ATS and into human hands is considering Keyword Optimization. This refers to making sure your resume includes keywords that are desirable sofor ft and hard skills for the type of position you are applying for. 

One way to do this is to analyze 5-6 job descriptions and identify skills and qualifications that occur frequently throughout job descriptions. Then, sprinkle these words into the Experiences on your resume. 

Another tactic for ensuring Keyword Optimization is to create a specific resume for each job you apply for considering the keywords seen in the job description. 

Let’s consider how this might work. You review a job description for a Full Stack Developer and see that it includes the following requirements:

  • Technical design experience
  • Start-up culture
  • Comfortable with full stack
  • JavaScript frameworks
  • Growth mindset
  • Self Starter
  • Team player

You then script the summary at the top of your resume to read something like this:

Full stack developer with a passion for technical design and a desire to contribute to the growth and future of a startup company. With experience in Javascript, Ruby on Rails, and SQL, I am a self-starter and team player looking to drive future growth and success through critical software design and development.

In addition, you sprinkle some of these phrases throughout your resume. When the ATS scans your resume, it identifies the following, and your resume is then more likely to make it to the top of the pile:

✅ Full Stack Developer

✅ Technical design

✅ Growth

✅ Startup Company

✅ Javascript

✅ Self-starter

✅ Team player

Test Your Resume Before Submitting

Once You’ve created your ATS-friendly resume, how do you know if you’ve done a good job? Several websites allow you to upload your resume and put it through a test ATS.  Jobscan, Resumeworded, and TopResume are a few popular choices, each offering a slightly different approach. 

Take the time to create a resume that passes these test websites. This will greatly increase the chance of success with your application.

Jobscan encourages tailoring your resume for each job. You simply upload your resume and copy and paste a job description you’re interested in applying for. Jobscan will then analyze your resume for formatting errors, key qualifications, hard skills, best practices, word count, tone, and more.

Resumeworded asks you about the level of the job you are applying for. Then it evaluates your resume against key criteria hiring managers are looking for. 

TopResume is a full professional resume writing service. You can request a free two-part review of your resume. TopResume sees what your resume is doing well and where it can improve from both a content and design perspective. In the second half of the review, TopResume shows you exactly what information an ATS will pull from your resume, what information it will be unable to identify and retrieve, and what top skills and keywords your resume currently ranks for.

Taking the time to create a resume that makes it past the ATS robot and into human hands will increase your chance of getting an interview. 

Remember- format, tailor, and test! 


About Kimberly McPoyle

Kim is a Flatiron School Career Coach based out of the Philadelphia area. She comes from a background in education. After spending 20 years raising 5 sons, she began working as an outside recruiter for mid-level software engineers and data scientists. Her passion for career coaching grew out of her excitement over developing relationships with her candidates and helping them find new and exciting opportunities. 

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of September 6, 2022. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

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