Mar 24

How to write a resume to get through an ATS

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Here’s everything you need to understand about applicant tracking systems so you can write your resume the right way.

The very worst thing about not being selected for a job is not knowing why you didn’t get called in for an interview. It’s a huge let down to customize your resume and cover letter and submit an application online only to worry that it won’t pass the infamous six-second resume test. In case you’re not familiar, the six-second test is the average length of time it takes an applicant tracking system to evaluate your resume and determine whether or not it goes on to the next round.

What is an ATS?

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are programs that are used by recruiters to sort and scan job applications during the hiring process. ATS was originally designed for large corporations to help them deal with an influx of resumes. These systems are useful to help weed out applicants who don’t fit the criteria for the position available. That’s an important distinction, since ATS helps root out bad applicants, not find ones who are well-suited for the position. This means that if a resume isn’t formatted with ATS in mind, your application is going to be lost to the void, and you’re likely to never hear a call back about an open position – even if you’re perfect for it.

Write an ATS-friendly resume

The most common mistake job seekers make is using the wrong format to send your resume. The most ATS-friendly file is as a Word doc, even if you have the option of uploading in a PDF format. This ensures that it makes it past the software, and it’s easy for humans to read, too.

The next important thing to keep in mind is to keep important details in the body of the resume – not in the header. The reason for this is because many ATS are unable to identify information if it’s placed in those locations.

Finally, if you’ve been reading our resume-centric posts this month, you’ll know that we’ve been placing a lot of emphasis on the need for action verbs and good job descriptions. So you’re likely familiar with the idea of optimizing your resume with keywords. Keywords are one of the most important and under-utilized ways to make sure your resume is constructed with ATS in mind. If you’re not sure what kinds of keywords you should include in your resume, it might be helpful to take a look at several job postings for the kind of employment you’re seeking. Then copy and paste the job descriptions into a free word cloud generator. This extra step might seem excessive, but in reality, it will help you visually identify the terms that are often used. Then all that’s left is to incorporate these words into your resume.

Remember that ATS-optimized resumes also take into account the number of times that you use certain keywords, so most experts recommend repeating important keywords at least three times. The above tips definitely add another layer of work to your job-seeking efforts, but they might just be the best way to ensure that your resume is seen by humans and not misfiled because it wasn’t formatted for an ATS.