Getting through Applicant Tracking Systems
Getting through Applicant Tracking Systems

Ninety-five percent of Fortune 500  companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or talent management system to organize and track résumés.

Companies readily admit that many qualified candidates, as many as 70%, are screened out before their résumés are reviewed by a human.  

When you submit your résumé online, it is screened by a bot, if it can’t read the information or the data doesn’t match what it has been programmed to look for, your résumé gets kicked out. While the systems have gotten smarter over the years, candidates still need to follow certain guidelines to ensure their résumés can be read and retrieved by hiring managers.

Word documents are fine.  Many but not all systems can read PDF files so pay close attention to directions for uploading your résumé.  You may use color text, shading and borders but skip the fancy templates since they can result in your information being scrambled and therefore, unreadable.

Always use a chronological format when applying online. ATS systems cannot reliably read functional résumés.  Do not include important contact information in a header or footer; instead incorporate it at the top in the document body.  

Use standard headings for resume sections, for example: Summary, Profile, Skills, Professional Experience, Education, Training, Publications, Professional Associations, Professional Affiliations and Community Service. If you have held more than one position at a company, repeat the company name, your title and dates of employment for each position to be sure the ATS system credits you with the right amount of experience.  

Include keywords since these systems rely heavily on specific key words. Review job description carefully then look for opportunities to include the same language and relevant key words in your résumé. When possible, incorporate the most relevant key words two or three times in the Work Experience, Professional Experience and Education sections.

If you use charts or graphs be sure the same information is conveyed in words since ATS systems cannot read charts and graphs and will skip over the information contained in them. Stick to simple bullets; use a circle or square rather than an arrow or other fancy character. Choose your typeface carefully, the best fonts for ATS are Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma and Verdana.

Finally, do not use text boxes; use a table instead since the information inside a table can be read by the ATS. It is a good idea to save your résumé in a number of formats: Word document, PDF and text file so you have options when submitting your résumé.  

Curious about which ATS system a company uses? You can sometimes discover that information quite easily. For example, at Starbucks, once you click “search jobs” it takes you to the url “”  Now you know that Starbucks uses Taleo. Next do a Google search to learn more about how Taleo works and use that information to optimize your résumé for maximum results.  

And, of course, if you really want to beat the ATS system, do all of the above and find an internal advocate who will help you get your résumé in front of the hiring manager.