Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems

Resume writing leaves almost no room for error. With software specifically designed to weed out bad resumes, the pressure is on the job seeker to demand perfection of his or her self.

These software programs, known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), are used by large corporations and small businesses alike to find the best candidates for their open positions. How do you win over the bots in order to get your resume in the hands of a human being?


Depending on the specific job opening, an ATS will quickly review a resume in search of keywords related to that position.

Here are four Dos and Don’ts with resume keywords:

Use keywords more than once.

Practice the art of keyword stuffing.

If your resume has enough keyword “hits”, then you will be ranked towards the top of the list. If your resume does not, it will likely be dismissed.

If you stuff keywords (either by using the same word too often unnecessarily or putting the same word over and over again in white font to mask the white background), it could be detected by the ATS and would adversely affect your candidacy. Use keywords organically.

Submit your resume and cover letter via ATS.

Submit your resume and cover letter multiple times.

If you applied for a job with a specific company months ago, the employer can still find your information through a quick search, as long as it is still stored in their database. The employer may even contact you for another open position that matches your abilities better.

Wait it out if you haven’t made any changes to your resume. However, if your resume underwent a major makeover over the course of time, it is worth considering another submission.

Include accomplishments.

List only your responsibilities.

An ATS could be looking for words like “increased revenue” or “successfully implemented”, so make sure you articulate your achievements in previous roles. This is your opportunity to show a potential employer that you have a track record of success.

Include a skills section.

Focus on irrelevant skills to the specific job you are applying for.

A skills section is a great outlet to get keywords on a resume. Because ATSes tend to focus more on hard skills than soft skills, go heavier on the hard skills. Soft skills are typically better showcased when you get to the in-person stage of the job search. For more on hard and soft skills, visit:

Keep the skills relevant to the job you are seeking. Don’t waste valuable space on your resume with skills that you know don’t translate to that specific position.

Knowing the basics of what keywords Applicant Tracking Systems look for will give you a better approach to updating your resume.

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