ATS- Need to Know

What Job Seekers Need to Know About ATS

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 most major companies use these systems to screen incoming resumes. If you apply for a position online, you are likely applying through an ATS.

ATS is challenging for job seekers because sometimes systems are set up to seek out keywords and phrases in resumes to help find top matches between a submitted resume and an open position. Not all job seekers are skilled at writing a targeted resume. The other problem is not all 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 correctly, with the right keywords and phrases, it could rank as a poor match in ATS – regardless of your qualifications.

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


1. Use a version of the resume that is easy to read.

You should use a Word format optimized for the system (read more in Overcoming ATS Resume Myths). ATS looks primarily at content; therefore, there is a strong likelihood that any graphics will not be ‘seen’, so ensure you translate image/graphic/chart information into the body of the file. It is also 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, but keep in mind that many resumes are still reviewed by a person, and this person may not appreciate a long length.


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 search for keywords used in the proper context. Good content is still very important. Remember, once the resume is identified as a good match (by the system or a person), the employer will search for clear skill demonstration – proof of skill – not just fluff.


3. Always follow the instructions of each individual job site when applying for positions.

Almost all ATS systems can read .docx Word files, and some systems can read PDFs. Others will also allow plain text (.txt) uploads. The system should specify which formats it accepts.

An optimized Word file is ‘the best of both worlds’ because, when created effectively, it can be both ATS-friendly and eye-friendly. You want to ensure the resume is easy to parse in a system and easy for a human to read.


Want to learn more about this topic?

  1. ReadThe Role of ATS in the Job Search” for more tips on how this system works and what you can do to ‘work’ with it.
  2. Read “How to Write An ATS-Compliant Resume” to learn resume formatting requirements for ATS.



Adrienne Tom

Looking to take your executive resume or job search to the next level to get noticed and hired faster? I can help! Visit me online at to learn more about my award-winning resume writing, LinkedIn writing, and job search strategy services for top business leaders and executives located across North America.

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