Beware the ATS: 5 Resume Moves that Will Keep You Unemployed

Smaller companies that engage in local candidate searches usually collect a handful of resumes for every open position, and if the stack is limited to a few dozen applicants, each resume and cover letter will be carefully read by discerning, intelligent human eyes. But larger companies with a broader reach often collect such a large pool of resumes that this kind of approach just isn’t practical, or even possible.

When a company posts a position online or sends a team of recruiters on a national search for just one or two open positions, the resumes that flood the company in response are often sent directly into a large organizational database. And in order to leave the database and find its way to a human reader, a given resume has to make it through an application tracking system (ATS), sometimes called a “keyword scanner.” Following some of these simple formatting guidelines can keep your resume from getting trapped in the system.

Navigating an ATS: Formatting Tips

The tips below will help your resume survive “the machine.”

1. Relevance matters more than ever. 

Above all, keep your information and background relevant to the job at hand. Relevance is always essentia l to strong writing, but the more sophisticated ATS systems become, the more relevant the search results they bring to their users. So it’s always a good idea to trim your descriptions of past positions that don’t support your readiness for the role in question.

2. Use precise words and phrases. 

Check the language of your resume against the language of the job post and the company website. If you think the phrase “CNC programmer” and “programmer with CNC experience” are the same, think again. They may mean the same thing to a human reader, but not to a resume scanner.

As you describe your credentials, experience, and long-term goals, use the exact language the employers use in the post. These are the terms the system will be looking for, and they may be the same terms the employers use to conduct individual keyword searches.

3. Avoid graphics and images. 

It’s okay to use a few lines and text boxes to divide your information for the benefit of human readers. But tracking systems usually don’t know how to process images and fancy fonts, and these moves can make your resume difficult for the system to sort and categorize. Stick with simple fonts like Times New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, and Arial.

4. Never hide keywords.

If you’re tempted to use a hidden white font to insert extra keywords and claim skill sets you don’t have, think twice. You aren’t the first person to come up with this idea, and when your resume does finally arrive in front of a human reader, you’ll find yourself immediately rejected with some considerable damage to your reputation. It’s not worth the risk—especially for a job that requires credentials you don’t have. 

5. Bulk up your skills section—especially with tech experience.

Pack your skills section with every technical credential you have to offer. List every software platform you’ve used in the past, from Photoshop to iOS to your former employers proprietary document management system. 

Use Standard Organization

Resist the temptation to organize your resume subheadings in non-traditional ways. Keep your contact information at the top of the page, followed by your summary, education, work history, and skill sets. Visit LiveCareer for tools and templates that can help you hit all the major points and hit them in order. 

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