Get Your Resume Seen: Optimize Your Resume for an ATS

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Magnifying glass over the word Search revealing SEOSince our first typewriter resume, things have changed just a wee bit. We started off with a simple format and recipe for a great resume. Then, the bar was raised when we took a deeper look at how recruiters and hiring managers scan and digest the information in resumes. Next came professional resume writers, who were able to put the information from this eye-tracking technology to use in resumes that were now perfectly crafted for the 6-second scan. Now, resumes aren’t even created with the human eye in mind, they are created for applicant tracking systems.

A surprising 72 percent of resumes are never seen by the eyes of decision makers. You must first get past the ATS. Once you click “submit”, your resume is thrown into the internet abyss, with dozens or hundreds more. All of these resumes are broken down and put into fields and forms that make it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to see and search, but they will never see or search your resume if it isn’t optimized for an applicant tracking system.

Since technology has become so easy to use and so much more affordable than it used to be, almost every mid- to large-size organization, government agency or recruiting firm will have an ATS. Here are a few ways to get your resumes seen and acted upon.

Use Simple Headers

An ATS is only capable of matching and searching for words or cues within a defined parameter. This means that the candidates should only use common headers for each section of their resume. This isn’t the place to get cute or creative. The ATS doesn’t know that ‘Schoolin’ is supposed to fall under education.

The ATS is doing what is called parsing information. It will grab what it believes to be relevant information and drops it into its corresponding database. This is done by searching and scanning for key words or phrases.

Even if the candidate has the perfect qualifications, skill set and experience, if the ATS cannot locate this information within the resume, it will be passed on and most likely never seen by decision makers. Consider standard headings like these:

  • Contact Information
  • Professional Experience
  • Training
  • Skills
  • Education

Use Their Words

Many recruiters will set up the ATS to search for words or phrases that appear within the job listing. Try to include as many of these words as you can in their relevant places. Scan the job description and find the buzzwords and industry terms. These are what the ATS will catch.

Don’t Use…

Images: An ATS doesn’t know what to do with images; it only searches for keywords and phrases. An image will confuse the ATS and make it harder for it to do its job; plus it’s a waste of time on the candidate’s part. Additionally, borders and shading are a no-no.

Special Characters: Using standard bulleting is fine, but stay away from all other special characters. Again, the ATS cannot read these and it might lead to the ATS’s inability to effectively parse (or organize) relevant information. This goes for fonts as well; stick with safe standards.

Information Irrelevant to the Position: Often times, candidates will add information that isn’t directly relevant to the position because it always looks good to have a diverse set of skills. More experience is better than less, but these positions and skills are lost on the ATS. If the words and phrases aren’t what the ATS is programed to look for, it is wasted space on the resume.

Concentrate on simplicity. You can always bring in a fancier, more human-friendly resume to the interview. You can present them with a resume for the company database, and one for the interviewer. It makes sense to craft one resume for humans and one for the database; plus it just makes you look pretty on point.

Read more in Resume Search

Courtney McGann is the content creator and PR gal for Red Branch Media, an Omaha-based marketing firm. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B marketing agency, primarily focused on human resources and global workforce vendors. In the past Courtney has managed online communities, professional social outlets, marketing campaigns and event planning.