illustration of ATS

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems: Dos & Don’ts

Have you ever experienced the “black hole” phenomenon? You created a resume with your skills and experience and submitted it to several online applications, yet you haven’t heard back from jobs you know you fit perfectly. That could be due to an applicant tracking system (ATS) 

An ATS is a software program designed to parse through a candidate’s resume and look for specific keywords found in the job application. The program makes the hiring process smoother for employers by filtering out approximately 75% of resumes submitted for an open position to ensure the candidates meet the requirements listed on the application. Those who do not meet those requirements will be automatically discarded by the ATS and likely never reviewed by employers. This is where the “black hole” can come into play. 


How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work? 

95% or more of Fortune 500 companies and 50% of mid-sized companies currently use ATS programs. With many people applying for the same position, it is almost impossible for employers to sift through every application on their own. An ATS functions as an initial screening tool, analyzing titles, dates, and descriptions to determine if a resume matches the employer’s requirements. If it does, then the document will be reviewed by a staff member who will decide whether to call the applicant for an interview. If it does not pass the ATS scan, the resume will fall into the “black hole,” never to be seen again. 


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How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems: Dos 

Find out the specific keywords you need to include to get past the ATS and into an employer’s hands. An easy way to identify keywords is to note any phrases or industry-specific language within the posting. Other keywords that are not industry-specific are transferable skills such as process improvement and strategic planning.  

Include keywords throughout the resume and in the summary paragraph and skills/qualifications section. The summary paragraph provides a brief impression of your career and what you can bring to a new company, while the skills section displays your industry-specific skills.  

Include standard headers and job titles that match the position title you are applying for. Adding the job title at the top of your resume will show the employer that you have an eye for detail and will be another word the ATS can pick up on.  

Along with keywords, add your location by city, state, and zip code with your contact information at the top of the first page. Some ATS programs will scan zip codes to ensure candidates are near the job they are applying to. 

Have multiple versions of your resume with a “master version” that is easy to change and switch out the wording. While this may seem like it will take up a lot of time, switching up keywords in the skills and summary section only takes a few minutes and will make a huge difference in getting you out of the black hole. 



How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems: Don’ts 

Don’t use abbreviations such as mgr. for manager or dir. for director. An ATS will not be able to pick up on the entire word and might discard your resume. While a human may know what the abbreviations mean, a robot is looking for full keywords. 

Don’t make the resume too complicated, fancy, or busy. Formats with lots of text boxes, graphics/logos, and headers/footers can make it hard for an ATS to read what is in a resume. Instead, use standard fonts such as Arial, Cambria, Book Antiqua, and Verdana, and incorporate simple, straightforward formatting. 

Don’t overlook spelling errors. Make sure to proofread your resume before submitting it. ATSs are not forgiving when it comes to spelling errors. 


With hundreds of individuals applying for open positions, ATS technology is a great time saver for employers. Having your resume read by a robot is frustrating, but if you know how to create an ATS-friendly resume, you’ll increase your chances of getting an interview. Adding the relevant skills and matching keywords from the job posting to your resume will help you get through the ATS and into an employer’s hands. 

Looking for more resume writing advice? Check out our resource library or explore our professional resume writing services. 

By Erin Steiner | May 31, 2022
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