Surviving Applicant Tracking Software

By now you probably know that your resume is often entered into a database and subject to search engine scanning for key words that match you the job you’re applying for. If you haven’t heard of it, the software is called Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) and it’s something like customer relations management software. In this case, though, the customer base is built from job applicants. It’s designed to reduce the hiring manager’s time in sifting hundreds or even thousands of resumes down to a handful. The manager creates a search algorithm to produce a first round of results, then can can run a new search against that subset to reduce the number even further.

ATS does more than just deliver resumes that match specified search criteria. It’s used to help recruiters in all phases of the process, from storing applicant files to recording correspondence between them and an applicant.

Understanding how ATS works will help your resume stand out. If you’re still mailing resumes, be sure to keep it simple. Use a simple font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Don’t use bold or italics because the ATS’s OCR software may skip over it.

When submitting your resume online, follow these guidelines:

Avoid text boxes because some packages can’t see into text boxes, and so ignores them. Though it’s tempting to use a box to center your name and address, your perfect resume may get overlooked because the field for your name is left blank.

For the same reason, don’t put your name and address in the header. Some packages skip the headers and footers. Also, don’t count on the recruiter to know how to use Microsoft Word. Your resume may never be printed and a recruiter may not find your name if in the wrong mode.  I learned this when I was applying to an online school and the counselor kept insisting that I didn’t include my name. She was viewing in print mode.

Don’t use odd spacing, like D i n o  L o n d i s  because that can be skipped as well.

Although you want to list all your credentials, such as MCP, or Ph.D., don’t put it next to your name – it can mess up the identification. I also suggest spelling out your credentials. CCNA should be Certified Cisco Network Administrator.

If PDFs are accepted, be sure that your document is searchable. A non-searchable document may as well be blank.

Finally, no gaming. In other words, don’t play the system. Be careful about some tricks you read about, like taking all the buzz words from the job description and putting them in an invisible font. That runs the risk of getting you blacklisted. Yes, the software will respond to buzzwords, but it can just as easily check resumes that are overloaded.  Once the recruiter sees your resume, he may do a quick check for such tricks. It’s not worth it.

— Dino Londis


6 Responses to “Surviving Applicant Tracking Software”

January 13, 2011 at 6:03 am, Andrew M. said:

I guess what we really learn from this is that no matter what advice you follow to create your resume, you can’t win!


January 13, 2011 at 10:41 am, Bruno P said:

Hmm. Seems to totally conflict with the prior advice that has been posted on Dice about how to make your resume visually appealing with a nice layout so it stands out.


January 16, 2011 at 7:12 am, Reality Check said:

They always leave out the important information; always claim to be a foreign H1-B. No one hires Americans. They want cheap labor with no language skills. Also, it is amazing how many HR departments are filled with non-Americans here on visas.

20 years ago, the H1-Bs I knew were qualified and we would help them with the English. H1-B is supposedly for filling jobs for which there are no qualified Americans. I am currently working with several H1-Bs (for which Americans were skipped) and they all admit they hired a firm to write their paperwork to make them look literate and to have specialized skills. None of them even have the basic programming skills required but companies are unwilling to fire cheap labor when the rest of us are forced to put in unpaid O/T to train them and teach them how to read and write English.


January 21, 2011 at 9:53 am, Don Fuller said:

Why is software is not written for applicants’ resumes, rather than applicants writing for software. I believe the humans came first, as did their writing to communicate with others humans. It seems that perhaps two resumes are now required; one for the recruiter’s software and one for the face-to-face interview, since people read differently than the computers.


August 18, 2011 at 1:33 am, Gareth said:

I agree with Don, you really should upload your resume twice during the ATS process. The first would be the text version of your resume, minus the formatting, and the second the actual formatted document a human would read. Trust me, developing an algorithm to parse word docs, pdf docs, etc, and interpret keywords without the formatting is much more difficult than parsing plain text.


June 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm, Five Ways to Get Hired When Employers Are Picky - Dice News said:

[…] is unforgiving. Given the flood of resumes that recruiters face, they have no choice but to scan them for key words in order to find the best matches between applicants and positions. But this brute force approach […]


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