Resume Reviewer Photo 3To increase job search success, all job seekers need to know what ATS is and how it works.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System.  It is estimated that 70%+ of companies now use these systems to screen incoming resumes.  If you apply for a position online it is likely you are applying through an ATS.

ATS is challenging because it involves computerized algorithms of chosen keywords and phrases to help find the right match between a submitted resume and an open position. The problem is no two systems are alike and you never know exactly what the system is searching for or how it weighs content.

If your resume is not formatted the right way, with the right keywords and phrases, it could rank as a poor match in ATS – regardless of your qualifications.  This is challenging for most job seekers (hence the reason online applications have such a low success rate).

Some advice to help optimize your resume for ATS application includes:

1. Use a version of the resume that is easy to read (some systems can not read PDFs for example).  It is recommended you use a plainly formatted version of your resume (no tables, charts, or graphics) because all formatting will be stripped.  ATS looks only at content, therefore no graphics will be ‘seen’ and it is best to use traditional headers in clearly defined sections (Work Experience, Education) so the system can locate key details.  The length of the resume also does not matter in an ATS.

2. Populate your resume with keywords from the targeted job posting.  This means customizing each application to address the reader’s needs.  However, don’t just stuff your resume full of keywords – the system will be searching for keywords used in proper context.  Good content is still very important.  Remember, once the resume makes it through the system an actual person will read it and the employer will be searching for clear skill demonstration – proof of skill – not just fluff.

3. Always follow the instructions of each individual job site when applying for positions, and supply a version that is compatible with ATS:  consider using a .txt resume or an unformatted Word doc.  Almost all ATS systems can read Word files.  The unformatted Word file is ‘the best of both worlds’ because it is both ATS-friendly and eye-friendly (once it makes it through the system an actual person will likely review it).

Keep your nicely formatted color/graphic Word or PDF resumes for distribution in-person or via email.

Look for more of my featured tips in this Globe and Mail article “Frustrated by the Modern Job Hunt? Learn How to Beat the Bots”.

Also Read:  The Role of ATS in the Job Search for more tips on how this system works and what you can do to ‘work’ with it.


Visit me online at: to learn more about my award-winning resume writing, interview coaching, and job search strategies for senior professionals located across Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the USA.



What Job Seekers Need to Know About ATS

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