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Cracking the Code of ATS - 10 Tips to Optimize Your Resume

Cracking the Code of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

10 Expert Tips to Optimize Your Resume and Get Past the ATS

Have you heard about companies ditching recruiters and using technology to manage the hiring process?

Well… while there’s some smoke to the fire, the rumor isn’t quite true.

Recruiters aren’t losing their jobs. Instead, many companies are cutting out the first step, using technology to handle the initial filtering process instead of hiring specialists.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

This technology is called an Applicant Tracking System or ATS.

This is how it works. The hiring manager identifies major hard skill keywords and criteria that they think are important in the job vacancy they want filled. This might include certain knowledge areas, specific qualifications, or a particular length of experience.

This info is put into the ATS. Then when someone applies online, the ATS automatically screens your resume against the requirements and tells the recruiter how closely you match.

Sounds great, right? The trouble is, many people don’t edit their resume to show how their experience and skills match what the company is looking for. Then they get upset when they get rejected. They might even blame the technology. But how will the ATS - or a recruiter - know you have it if it’s not there?

Over 90% of medium- to large-sized organizations use ATS. They’re a lot more efficient at quickly identifying good fits.

But even if the company isn’t using an ATS, their hiring managers are still looking for the exact same things in your resume.

In this blog post, we’ll share 10 immediately actionable tips that you can use to get your resume through the ATS and in front of recruiters.

Video: Are All ATS The Same?

Most companies these days use an applicant tracking system or ATS to screen incoming applications. But do they all work the same way? No! In this video tip, we share our top tips for the smooth reading of your application by any ATS, no matter which type the company uses.

10 Tips To ‘Beat’ the ATS

Tip #1

Most ATS are designed to read resumes left to right, line-by-line. So that means a clean, simple, one-column style works best. Which leads us to Tip #2…

Tip #2

Avoid creative resumes. ATS often struggle with these because of all the design elements. That means no columns, no text boxes, no fancy graphics if you want to avoid ‘reading’ errors. In fact, 21% of resumes submitted through an ATS include features that are unreadable to the software.

Tip #3

ATS can’t read between the lines, either. If you have the required skills and meet the essential criteria, state it explicitly, using the same wording. If the ATS doesn’t flag you as a good fit, your application may never land in front of the recruiter.

Tip #4

Linked to #3, ATS rate the hard skill keyword match between your resume and the job posting (soft skills, not so much). So, be sure to identify key hard skills mentioned in the job vacancy and incorporate them strategically into your resume.

Tip #5

You can’t trick ATS! You’ll see lots of advice on the internet encouraging you to ‘keyword stuff’ or hide extra keywords in (invisible) white font in your resume, so the ATS thinks you’re a good fit. Don’t. Not only will you get rejected once the recruiter sees that you don’t actually have the experience, but it wastes their time (and yours). If you have the skills, include them. If you don’t, look for better-fitting opportunities.

Tip #6

It might sound great to use creative headings (e.g. “Snapshot” instead of “Summary”) to stand out. But standard headings such as “Work Experience,” “Education”, and “Skills” ensure the ATS can effectively navigate your resume, ensuring all relevant information is accurately assessed and ranked.

Tip #7

Check your spelling: a misspelled skill can’t be ‘read’ by ATS. It may sound obvious, but carefully review your resume for spelling (and grammar) errors, especially crucial keywords. ATS rely on precise language to interpret and rank resumes accurately.

Tip #8

Include a key skills section in your resume to quickly tweak it for specific jobs. As mentioned, ATS sort and rank your application according to how closely it matches the key skills and criteria in the job posting. Although you should also have relevant skills sprinkled naturally throughout your resume, a key skills box ensures a precise match with the job posting’s language AND makes it easier to quickly edit your resume for each job you apply for.

Tip #9

Write out acronyms and abbreviations so ATS can check for both. For example, a recruiter may be looking for someone with the ‘Project Management Professional’ qualification. But if you just put PMP, the ATS may not have been asked to look for this acronym. Include both versions to ensure you’re not overlooked either way.

Tip #10

ATS ‘read’ Word documents better than PDF. While many ATS can handle both Word and PDFs, the less sophisticated ones may struggle to parse PDFs correctly. So unless stated otherwise in the job posting, use Word for online applications.


Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are nothing to be worried about. There’s really no rocket science behind the technology – they’re essentially looking for the exact same thing as recruiters (and no, they’re not replacing them!).

By tailoring your resume to ensure it (relevantly) includes the hard skills and essential criteria mentioned in the job posting, it’s more likely to rank higher when the ATS or recruiter reviews your application.

The 10 tips in this blog post will help you to optimize your resume quickly and with better results.

Key takeaways:

  1. Despite rumors, recruiters aren’t losing their jobs: many companies leverage Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to simplify the initial resume screening process, making it more efficient and effective

  2. An ATS is recruitment software that automatically screens resumes against specific criteria and keywords set by recruiters. It ranks applicants based on how closely they match the requirements

  3. ‘Beat’ the ATS by tailoring your resume to match job requirements: Many applicants get rejected because they fail to showcase how their skills and experience align with the company’s needs. Customizing your resume to reflect the job’s hard skill keywords significantly improves your chances of passing through ATS and catching the recruiter’s attention

  4. ATS often struggle with creative resumes, so stick to a simple, single-column format. Avoid using text boxes, fancy graphics, and multiple columns that may cause parsing errors

  5. Avoid keyword stuffing: Attempting to trick ATS by overloading your resume with irrelevant keywords or hiding them in white font is not a smart move. Many ATS can detect this! It not only leads to rejection, but also wastes the recruiter’s (and your) time.

  6. Using standard headings (e.g., “Work Experience,” “Education,” “Skills”) ensures that ATS can ‘read’ and categorise your resume sections correctly.

  7. Don’t forget to check for spelling errors: ATS rely on precise language for accurate resume assessment

Video: PDF or Word? How to Make Your Application ATS-Friendly

Confused by conflicting advice about if you should submit your resume in Word or PDF?

The Great Format Debate: The choice between PDF and Word has puzzled job seekers for years. In this video, we unravel the mystery and give you the insider scoop on what hiring managers and applicant tracking systems (ATS) prefer. Whether you’re emailing your resume directly or uploading it to an online platform, we’ve got the insights you need to make the right choice.

For more insights, tips and strategies related to this topic, be sure to read our other article: Applicant Tracking Systems – Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Related questions

How do I customize my resume for ATS systems?

To customize your resume for different ATS systems, carefully read each job description and customize your resume accordingly. Use the exact keywords and phrases mentioned in the job listing. Additionally, ensure your resume format is simple, avoiding tables, images, and non-standard fonts that could be misread by different ATS software. This increases the likelihood that your resume will be accurately parsed and ranked highly by various ATS.

What are some common ATS resume mistakes to avoid?

Common ATS resume mistakes to avoid include using complex formatting such as tables or columns, incorporating images or graphics, and neglecting to use relevant keywords. Additionally, using non-standard fonts or special characters can lead to parsing errors. Always opt for a clean, straightforward layout and ensure your resume content matches the job description closely to avoid these pitfalls.

Are bullet points ATS friendly?

Using bullet points in your resume can positively affect ATS readability when done correctly. Bullet points help in organizing information clearly and making your resume easier to scan. However, ensure the bullet points are simple and use standard symbols (e.g., dots or dashes) instead of special characters to avoid any potential parsing issues with ATS software.

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