Avoid the Resume Black Hole by Understanding ATS

Posted: January 11, 2021

What is ATS? And why should you care? ATS is short for for Applicant Tracking Software and essentially, it’s the system that filters your resume before a human ever receives it. When you consider that a recruiter may receive hundreds of applications per job posting, it makes sense that part of the process needs to be streamlined, which is where ATS comes in. If your resume doesn’t get past ATS, your application will likely be rejected prior to ever reaching the hiring manager. Here are 5 tips you can use to avoid the dreaded resume black hole. 

Tip #1:  Include key words that are in the job description—so long as you truly match the requirements or posses the skills/experience. ATS algorithms scan for keywords that relate to the posted job. They also scan for info related to your work experience and education. If ATS finds your resume is a good match for the position, you are given a high ranking. Your ranking impacts your chances of being seen by a recruiter and ultimately landing the interview. I don’t recommend trying to “work the system” by including key words or phrases you don’t actually have. It may get you through ATS, but by the time it gets to the recruiter, it will be obvious that you manipulated the system to get through, which isn’t a good look. Save yourself—and employers—time and energy by applying to jobs for which you are mostly qualified. 

Tip #2:  Use traditional labels for section headings. Ensure that the system can read all the sections of your resume correctly by using standard headings such as work experience, education, skills, interests, etc. Avoid being playful or trying to be unique by using something out of the ordinary. “Why I’m Great” as a heading is only going to confuse ATS, so in this instance, just stick to the basics. 

Tip #3:  Be boring. I know, you want to stand out. I get it. But when it comes to resume formatting, basic is better. Here’s why: resumes with graphic elements, images, colors, tables, or unique fonts are difficult for ATS to read. Chances are high that a heavily designed layout will confuse the system in turn causing your resume to be downgraded and likely land your doc in the resume black hole. Avoid outdated Word templates too, as they are not ATS friendly. Stick to text-based bullets, commonly used fonts, and a simple layout. All of the ECS resume templates in Handshake are pre-formatted to be safe for ATS. 

Tip #4: Choose the appropriate file type and name. A PDF or Word Doc file is universal—these can be read by most systems, thus making them the best choice. Worth noting is that older systems are unable to read PDFs. Before applying, be sure to follow the instructions on the type of document the employer would like you to submit. In addition to file type, file name also matters. Saving your resume as “Resume” or “Spring 2021” is not very useful when an employer is scouring hundreds of online docs. Make it easy for the reader to know it’s yours by having your first and last name in the file title. 

Tip #5: Test it out. Engineers are great at testing, so here’s one you can use in your job search. Determine if your resume is ATS friendly by copying and pasting it a plain-text document (like Microsoft Notepad), and review the results. If the plain-text version is missing details from your original document, has characters saved incorrectly, has items shuffled, or looks messy, then assume your resume will need improvements before it will be ATS compliant.

There’s obviously more to landing an interview than the resume being ATS friendly, but think of these systems as the first step to getting your foot in the door. To ensure you don’t get the figurative door slammed in your face, put these tips to use. As always ECS is here to help, and resume reviews are one of the many services we offer. Best wishes on your job search—and go clean up that resume! 

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” - Charles R. Swindoll

Category: Resumes