How To Beat Application Tracking Systems (ATS)

Have you ever submitted your resume via a company’s website only to hear crickets for weeks? This has become a regular occurrence as companies move toward applicant tracking systems (ATS) to help screen candidates.

A recent study has shown 90% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS with all job applications, and as many as 70% don't make it through due to poor formatting, irrelevant copy and no mention of keywords associated with the role and the candidate's experience.

It's clear these systems aren’t going anywhere so it's important you understand how to best work with them. The important element: less is more.

What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

Like most software, ATS was developed to save time, energy and money. It' works like a resume database to help companies streamline their hiring process and review applications more quickly. With everything moving into the digital space, recruiters and large companies can now filter out candidates that don't have the correct experience or simply haven't formatted their resume simply enough for the resume to get through the software gates.

How does ATS work?

You can think of it as the ATS doing the first screening instead of the recruiter. It stores, sorts and spits out resumes in an order of importance. The tricky thing is, you could be the best person for the job but if your resume isn't ATS optimised then you have a low chance of getting through the software parameters (darn technology!).

To make it even more complicated for candidates, not all ATSs are alike. Some systems can handle small graphics, while others can’t. Some prefer pdfs while others require Word files.

So, how do I optimise my resume?


  • When applying online, avoid anything on your resume that could potentially clog the system. The key to formatting is to follow a simple and clean template.

  • Title your resume with your name and title - something like "Sam Smith – Executive Director".

  • Remove unique headings and stick to common resume headings such as Summary, Work Experience, Education and Skills

  • Remove headshots, images, tables, and graphics so the ATS can quickly scan your text for keywords and phrases

  • Remove special characters, creative or fancy bullets and accents. 'Dècor' might turn out like 'D$-c#' once gone through the scanner

  • Avoid special fonts, font treatments and colours. Stick to black, avoid underlying words and use fonts such as Arial, Impact, Georgia, Lucinda, Courier, Trebuchet or Tahoma

  • Obviously, make sure your resume has no spelling mistakes

  • Avoid including content information in your headers and footers

  • Keep employment history in reverse chronological order, i.e. starting with your most recent position


How to make sure your content speaks the ATS language.

Skills section:

  • Improve your chances of being noticed by ATS by including your relevant certifications and using industry-specific terminology. Make sure to spell out any abbreviations the first time you mention the name. For example Application Tracking System (ATS).

Keywords are KEY

  • Research the job description you're going for and take note of the keywords and phrases frequently used. Find a way to 'pepper' these into your resume without being too obvious.

The 3 S's

A final point to get through the ATS software with flying colors is to follow the three S's when crafting your resume: simple, straight to the point, and sophisticated.

For any more advice on crafting an ATS optimised resume, send us an email: We'd be happy to help answer any questions and provide guidance on helping you get noticed - and get hired.

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