How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

Brandi Glass
3 min read
Woman reviewing resumes on laptop at desk

When you apply for a job, computer software will likely “read” your resume before a person does. That's because many employers have automated the way they sort resumes using an applicant tracking system (ATS).

However, there are plenty of field-tested ways to out-smart an ATS and get your resume in front of the right person. Read on to learn how to beat the applicant tracking system with an ATS-friendly resume.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

An applicant tracking system is software that employers use to save time searching for the most qualified candidates. These systems streamline the hiring process by disqualifying resumes that don't meet predetermined criteria. An ATS is more likely to approve your application if you have optimized your resume to appeal to your potential employer and the software's algorithm.

An ATS works like an online search engine in reverse. Instead of “searching” for a particular set of skills, an ATS uses keywords to analyze submissions. These keywords are specific to the job and the skills needed to perform it well. The software analyzes resumes and then rejects them, submits them to a hiring manager or stores them in a database the hiring department can access later. The ATS may also note and rank applications that could be a suitable match for the position.

5 Tips for Building an ATS Compliant Resume

  1. Only Apply for the Jobs You Can Do. The best tip for how to get past the applicant tracking system is to only apply for jobs for which you're qualified. Research shows that 42 percent of applicants don't have the skills to fill the position. By submitting applications for jobs that match your skills and experience, you'll have an applicant tracking system resume that makes the cut.

  2. Submit Your ATS-Friendly Resume in the Correct Format. Before you upload your resume, find out what document format the employer's ATS requires. If you don't, your resume could end up in the digital trash heap. If you're unsure what format to use, upload .pdf or .docx. Although most ATS technology can process PDF files and DOCX files, .docx files are still the most commonly accepted format.

  3. Make the Match Using Keywords. Using the job posting, identify keywords the employer uses to describe the position and the skills required. You can also research similar job postings to get a feel for the verbiage commonly used. Once you have your keywords, highlight where your skills and experience match those keywords and include them in your resume. And don't think of it as gaming the system because you're only applying for the jobs where you're qualified. Using keywords in your resume makes it easy for an ATS to make a match and push your resume forward.

  4. Optimize Your Resume for an ATS With a Skills Section. A skills section is your opportunity to highlight what relevant abilities you bring to the job. It gives employers a chance to skim your resume and easily see how you align with the job requirements. For job applicants with little or no experience, a skills section is the perfect way to keep the focus on ability rather than experience.

Just as importantly, including a skills section that's optimized with the right keywords makes it more likely that an ATS will scan your resume and find the proper criteria. Caution: Don't overstuff your skills section with keywords and dilute the message. Hopefully, a hiring manager will read your resume, so make sure you highlight your soft and hard skills and make the section easy to read and understand.

  1. Harness the Power of Referrals. Companies love getting resumes that include referrals they know, especially employees within their company. If your potential employer’s ATS is programmed to flag this information, you increase your chances of making it through to the hiring department. The ATS can also identify candidates who are connected via social networks to current employees or others within the employer's network.

When you're ready to build the perfect ATS-compliant resume, Rocket Resume has the tools you need to land a job you love. Build your resume today with a free trial, and start polishing those interview skills!