In today’s competitive hiring climate, many companies use resume-screening tools called applicant tracking systems (ATS) to weed out applicants that may not be an excellent match for a job.
A recent study found that 90% of Fortune 500 companies use resume screening software during their hiring processes. Because these automated resume screening systems are so prevalent, it’s crucial to have an ATS-compliant resume for every job you apply to.
If you want to know how to beat ATS, read on to learn how writing a resume using the correct keywords and ATS resume formatting can ensure your job application will get past the bots and into the hands of a hiring manager every time you apply for a job.
In this article we will answer:
- What is an ATS resume?
- How do recruiters use ATS to choose potential job candidates?
- How to beat ATS.
What is ATS?
A resume ATS is a software program that scans resumes in search of keywords that signify candidates are suited for a job. They track applicant information, giving companies an easy way to manage data and create more order throughout the hiring process. For recruiters and hiring managers, ATS has become the key differentiator for determining which job candidates to pursue.
How do recruiters use ATS to find the right candidate?
Here’s how companies use resume applicant tracking systems to find job candidates that match their job description closely.
Recruiters enter a job description, including required skills and work experience, into their company’s ATS. The system then creates a profile of the best candidate based on specific keywords from the job description and searches for ATS resumes that use those keywords.
Keywords can refer to any type of qualification, including:
The software then sends ATS-compliant resumes to the recruiter or hiring manager who sorts through the selection for the best ATS resume.
Understanding match rate and how to optimize it for an ATS resume
When an applicant tracking system scans a resume, it compares it to a specific job description, and then scores it in what is called a job match rate. Job match rate is based on how relevant a resume is to the job description stored in the ATS software.
For most ATS, if a resume scores 80% or above, it will make its way to a hiring manager or recruiter.
Follow these four tips to optimize your ATS resume job match score:
- Use one of the three standard resume formats.
- Format your resume correctly.
- Use a professional resume template to ensure your resume is organized flawlessly.
- Save your resume in an ATS-friendly file format. Most ATS can’t read .PDF files, so unless otherwise instructed, opt for a .doc, .docx, or .txt file.
Create an ATS-compliant resume in three steps
For a truly ATS-friendly resume that will impress a hiring manager enough to ask you for an interview, you must create a targeted resume for every job you apply to but it doesn’t have to take forever.
Follow the steps below or have our professional Resume Builder do the work for you. You’ll have a professional ATS resume in no time.
Step 1Review the job description
Preparation is essential when writing an ATS resume. Start by reviewing the job description and highlighting relevant keywords. Resume keywords take many forms, such as skills, technical expertise, industry terms, certifications and licenses and specialized knowledge.
For example, take this hypothetical description for a software engineer job. The highlighted words and phrases are potential keywords you could include in your ATS resume:
Own the technical execution of three cutting-edge web products. Champion the use of best practices – agile, versioning, tool usage. Collaborate with the development team to plan, coordinate and deliver according to a high-level product roadmap.
- Create own themes based on requirements from HTML scratch.
- Understand development best practices and be able to work out and create solutions based on uninformed and sometimes unclear briefs.
- Perform continual maintenance checks to ensure optimal site performance.
- Perform browser compatibility assessments.
- Should possess expertise in WordPress & HOOKS concepts.
- Decent exposure in WordPress Hierarchy structure.
- Have experience building user interfaces for websites and web applications.
Step 2Match your qualifications to the job requirements
After you’ve captured all the possible keywords from the job description for your applicant tracking systems resume, match them to your qualifications. These include relevant hard skills and soft skills, education, volunteer experience, industry expertise and hands-on work experience.
Be honest about your qualifications; exaggerating your background and abilities for the sake of adding keywords is not how to beat applicant tracking systems. An effective ATS resume is more than just keywords. Potential employers will see through a keyword-loaded resume that does not reflect your true ability to perform the functions of a specific job.
Step 3 Write an ATS resume
To get past an applicant tracking system, precision is key. Use keywords verbatim wherever possible. For example, if a job description says, “ATS proficiency,” write that, not “Applicant tracking system proficiency.”
Sprinkle relevant keywords throughout every section of your resume, like so:
To make an existing resume ATS-friendly, locate synonyms for the resume ATS keywords you’ve highlighted and replace them with your keyword matches.
Ensure you’re covering all the job requirements by using a variety of keywords throughout your resume, but don’t go overboard; overdoing it can backfire on an ATS resume.
ATS resume formatting tips
To make it past ATS, resumes must be formatted correctly.
To format an ATS resume:
- Avoid graphics.
- Make 1-inch margins on all sides.
- Use single spacing between text.
- Create clear, standard headings for each section.
- Use an appropriate font.
Pick an easy-to-read ATS resume template
Now that you know how to write an ATS resume, building it in an ATS-friendly resume template is essential to ensure your job application gets into the hands of hiring managers. We have more than 40 premium and free templates for every job and industry.
Our resume templates are ideal for building an ATS-friendly resume because they:
- Have been created by resume experts.
- Ensure you use correct ATS resume formatting.
- Feature clean and easy-to-read designs.
- Are easy to customize.
- Come in all three standard resume formats.
Premium ATS Resume Templates
Free ATS resume Templates
Optimize your resume for ATS with SmartApply
Unsure about optimizing your resume for ATS? Our SmartApply™ feature can help. SmartApply uses proprietary software to evaluate your existing resume and compare it with your desired job, then provides recommendations to optimize your resume for ATS.
SmartApply is just one way our Resume Builder helps job seekers create ATS-friendly resumes. All you have to do is choose a professionally designed resume template and fill it in with our expertly crafted content suggestions. You’ll have an ATS resume in minutes!
Apply smarter in 3 easy steps
1. Tailor your resume
Add suggested keywords and skills to boost your match score.
2. Create a cover letter
Get an instant cover letter using details from the job description.
3. Download & Apply
Download your resume and cover letter and apply with confidence!
Here’s how SmartApply works:
- Use our Resume Builder to create an ATS resume.
- Find a job you want to apply to on our job board and click “SmartApply.”
- Tailor your resume with keywords to improve your job match score.
- Create a cover letter. Provide details from the job description and SmartApply will help you create a cover letter instantly.
- Download your ATS resume and cover letter and send your application, confident it will get noticed.
ATS-friendly resume key takeaways
Don’t forget these important points if you want your job application to beat a resume applicant tracking system:
- The most important element of an ATS resume are relevant keywords that match the job description.
- Use a variety of keywords throughout your resume.
- Tailor your resume to every job you apply to.
- Use an ATS resume template to ensure your resume is formatted correctly.
- Action verbs can give your ATS resume a boost.
- Save your resume as a .doc, .docx or .txt unless otherwise specified in the job description.
ATS Resume FAQ
Why is it important to optimize my resume for ATS?
It is important to optimize your resume for ATS because most companies use ATS to find resumes that match their job descriptions and having an ATS-friendly resume is the only way to ensure your resume makes it past the software and into the hands of a hiring manager or recruiter.
Do you perform a free ATS resume scan?
No. My Perfect Resume does not perform scans for applicant tracking systems.
How can I determine which keywords to use in my resume?
To determine which keywords to use in an ATS resume, read the job description closely and match the requirements to your professional summary or objective statement, work experience, skill set, professional achievements and education and training.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when creating an ATS resume?
When writing an ATS-friendly resume, avoid the following:
- Using the same keywords over and over. Go for a variety of keywords instead.
- Graphics, tables and fancy fonts.
- Using a nonstandard resume format.
- Saving your resume in the wrong file format.
How we reviewed this article
Since 2013, we have helped more than 15 million job seekers. We want to make your career journey accessible and manageable through our services and Career Center’s how-to guides and tips. In our commitment to bring you a transparent process, we present our Editorial Process.
- Hu, James. “Over 98% of Fortune 500 Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)“
- Florida Atlantic University. Jobscan and ATS Resources
- Cheeky Scientist. How To Use Keywords To Get Your Industry Resumes Past Applicant Tracking System Software