Beating ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)

Error-prone applicant tracking systems destroy 75 percent of job seekers’ chances of landing a job as soon as they submit their resumes. How can you get yours past the system? Career Link offers a free monthly workshop titled “Mastering the Art of Applying for Jobs Online”.

Call us to register at 604.485.7958 or Register here. 

In the meantime, here is some background and tips on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Nearly 40 percent of employers use an ATS to screen candidates for their job postings. ATSs are aimed at saving employers time by picking out strong candidates. But the way in which your resume is written — not the information it conveys — is what the technology actually uses to decide. As a result, 75% of resumes end up sitting in a database and are never looked at.
Increasingly, even smaller organizations potentially attract hundreds of applicants. Employers may purchase the use of applicant tracking systems to weed out resumes that omit certain attributes, experience, and other elements they are seeking. This greatly reduces the amount of sorting and interviewing for a specific job that they need to fill.

If a job is posted via a digital job board, your resume will likely be scanned by bots before it reaches an actual human being. An ATS scans your resume for terms that match those used in the job description. While some ATS brands are better equipped to take synonyms into account, older, exact-match systems are still in use, and a job seeker cannot easily tell if this is the case.

How to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems
For job seekers dealing with application tracking systems, the first step is to realize it’s often not them or you, it’s your font or typeface. Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria. Serif fonts have little marks added to their letters — like this Times New Roman, but sans serif fonts don’t have these extra bits.


Before resumes can be searched, they have to be processed. Older applicant tracking systems gather their information with ocular character recognition (OCR), and serif fonts could mess the software up. Because of the extra marks, the tools don’t always recognize an R as an R.

  • Play it safe, and “use Calibri, Arial, Verdana, Myriad or a similar sans serif font. “Sans” means “without” in French.
  • Make sure your bullet points are perfectly round; opt for the circular-shaped symbol or something similar. Arrows or other intricate symbols for your bullet points will possibly translate those into a garbled mess.
  • Avoid PDF, HTML, Open Office, and Apple Pages formats: save your resume as a Word document file or better yet, plain text (TXT), an ASCII-compatible format easier for OCR to read. Some folks recommend to creating your resume in Word, then converting it to a TXT file (using save as …), then convert it back to Word for a more polished, professional look.
  • When applicant tracking systems search the skills and experience section of your resume for certain keywords, the matches have to be exact. That’s why applicants should rewrite their resume every time they apply for work, lifting words from each job post’s expected duties, responsibilities, and skills sections: use those keywords in your resume.
  • If you make it past the system, a real person will read your resume and inevitably decides whether you get hired. They will spend an average of 6-7 seconds reading it, however, which means you also need to make sure your resume is person-friendly. Plain text files don’t allow you to add elements such as bolding or other layout tricks that highlight important information and draw the reader’s eyes to particular selling points, while Word does, so write their resume with both audiences in mind.
  • Furthermore, remove headers and footers, avoid using acronyms, and pad your skills section with as many applicable keywords as possible. Resume headings that used to be standard, like certifications held or languages known, should now be absorbed into the skill section.

The good news is that ATS software is advancing all the time, so maybe soon we can be a bit more creative with resumes. Meanwhile, keep in mind that all resumes should be easy to read by anyone and focused in order to make you the obvious choice for the job!

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