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Resume Tips for Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant tracking systems are used by employers to manage job openings. However, according to CIO magazine, these systems discard approximately 75% of submitted resumes for a variety of (what would seem to be) inconsequential reasons. For example, if you incorporate the “wrong word or phrase” or format incorrectly, your resume may not be selected for review.

The key to getting your resume passed on to an actual recruiter is to educate yourself on the way that applicant tracking systems work. You may be a perfect match for a job, but if you do not understand how these systems work, your resume stands a good chance of being passed over. The best offense is knowledge.

As a job seeker you can increase your resume’s chance of getting through an applicant tracking system by following these 5 simple steps:

  1. Use language found in the job description – As you are customizing your resume, look through the job listing/posting to determine the skills and competencies that are required. Identify industry terms, buzzwords and jargon that have been used most frequently in the description. Then put these key words and phrases (plus their acronyms, if applicable) into your resume. Put some thought into this process. Do not needlessly repeat keywords and jargon. Even though the system may select your resume, the actual recruiter who reads it later may frown on any repetitive, nonsensical use of these words.
  2. Keep formatting simple – Keep your resume neat, simple, clean and incorporate plenty of white space.

    • Use .RTF or .DOC (i.e. Word) file types. PDF documents are easily misread.
    • Avoid the use of tables and graphs. They are not read the same way by many of these systems as people read them. Instead of reading a table from left to right, an applicant tracking system reads it up and down.
    • Stick to standard fonts such as Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, Lucinda, Palatino, Tahoma, Verdana, Sans Serif
    • Avoid using special characters (like arrows) for bullets. Standard “bullet points” are fine.
    • Steer clear of borders, shading or symbols (of any kind).
    • Do not hide keywords in the white space of the resume. In other words, do not use the white font to make keywords you secretly added to the white space stay hidden from a recruiter.
  3. Submit a longer resume – With an applicant tracking system, the resume length does not matter as much as it might with a recruiter. The system will scan any resume, regardless of its length. Submitting a longer resume will allow you to pack in more relevant (key word being “relevant”) experience and keywords/phrases that could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system. However, be forewarned, creating a resume that is “too long” may negate it with a recruiter who is looking for stability in their applicants.
  4. Spell check, spell check, and then spell check again – An applicant tracking system will skip keywords that are misspelled.
  5. Save your resume with a relatable name – You want to save your resume with a file name that is useful and meaningful to the recruiter (not to you). You want the person to find your resume quickly and easily, and you want to make it very clear what the resume is for. So, for example, include your name (last name at minimum) plus the word “resume” and the title from the listing.

Most experts agree that applicant tracking systems are flawed, but approximately 50-75% of employers do rely on them to screen resumes. They save time by performing the initial screening of submitted resumes. So even if some perfectly qualified candidates are thrown out, these systems give recruiters and hiring managers a better, more manageable starting point.

However, you need to walk a fine line. The applicant tracking system will categorize the resumes for consideration, so you need to format your resume correctly. Remember, though, if your resume is passed on for review, a human will actually read it. Therefore, you need to create a resume that both passes the muster with the system, but does not offend (and in any way turn off) the actual recruiter.