How to Create an ATS Resume that Beats The Bots

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To get your resume in front of a real, live human being, you need to get past the ATS.

ATS stands for applicant tracking system. It is a software application designed to catalog resumes and select certain ones for review. If you’ve ever felt like you’re sending your resume into the abyss, the ATS is probably to blame.

Nearly 99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS software, according to Jobscan. Further, the company reports that many of the United States’ largest companies use one of a handful of tools including Workday, Taleo, SAP/SuccessFactors, BrassRing, and iCIMS.

To beat the ATS and get selected for review by a human, your resume just needs to be formatted with a few specific guidelines in mind.

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What Is An ATS And How Does It Work?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software that manages the recruiting and hiring process. Hiring managers use the ATS to help them sort, scan, analyze, and track job applicants. Many ATS will also assist with onboarding candidates after hiring.

A resume passes the ATS by meeting certain parameters that are laid out by the company doing the hiring. These include the job duties, desired skills and qualifications, and other requirements for the role. When candidates apply, the ATS scans their resumes for relevant keywords. If your CV doesn’t include enough of the requirements, it will be filtered out before a hiring manager ever gets a chance to see it.

It’s not just companies that use ATS either. Most hiring boards, like Monster, Indeed, and CareerBuilder also have partnerships with ATS software providers to parse out the applicants. This is referred to as omnichannel talent acquisition.

What Is An ATS-Friendly Resume?

An ATS-friendly resume makes it through the software’s filters and is selected for review by the hiring team. ATS-friendly resumes have a few things in common:

  • Use keywords: Scan the job description in the listing for terms that describe the job duties and requirements. You’ll want to include the job title, but also the desired skills, experience, and certifications.
  • Choose the right file type: Skip the PDF unless the job application site specifies it. Submit your resume in a basic type like Word (.doc or .docx).
  • Keep it simple: Avoid using images or fancy formatting. Most ATS don’t play well with these features.

Why Do Employers Use ATS?

Employers use ATS because they get too many resumes to sort manually. According to TopResume, a single corporate job posting receives an average of 250 applications. All told, big companies receive 50,000 to 75,000 resumes per week.

Applicant tracking systems make it easier to filter out resumes that don’t match the employer’s requirements. That saves hiring managers time and energy that they can spend interviewing actual candidates (or, you know, doing the rest of their jobs).

How To Spot An ATS

There are three main ways to tell if you’re applying through an ATS.

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  • If you’re filling out your resume through an online form
  • If there is an “Easy Apply” option
  • If it’s a big company

How To Create an ATS-Friendly Resume

Although most applicant tracking systems have similar features, there’s no such thing as a single, perfect, ATS-friendly resume. The truth is that you’ll need to customize your resume for each job description.


How do you know which keywords to include? Well, the job description is a good place to start. Look for words that describe the job, its duties and responsibilities, and the skills and qualifications required to perform the role.

Pay special attention to words that crop up more than once–if the employer mentions “communication skills” three times in as many paragraphs, be sure to include that soft skill in your resume and cover letter.

Pay attention to hard skills, as well. These technical skills include types of software, methodologies, spoken languages, and other abilities that are easier to quantify. Certain degrees may also be important depending on your industry.

However, don’t keyword stuff. Some people have actually been caught by writing in multiple keywords in white text to pump up their keyword density. The ATS sniffs this out by displaying the text on your resume in the same color so a hiring manager can spot it.

Instead of this, try including a keyword-rich resume summary that succinctly puts your skills in context at the top of your resume. This is not to be confused with an objective statement.


For example, if you hold an MBA say Masters of Business Administration (MBA). If you are well versed in SEO, say Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You get the idea.


There are several types of resume formats to choose from. It is best to use a chronological format or hybrid. You should avoid the functional format. The ATS likes these formats better because it can easily read both the length and chronology of your work experience.


Be sure to keep your headings simple and consistent, and upload it in the specified format, e.g., .doc or .docx. Believe it or not, this is one of the most common mistakes people make when submitting their resumes, and thus get bounced by the ATS very quickly in the application process.


Best-case scenario, the ATS won’t be able to read the images you’ve painstakingly inserted. Worst-case scenario, it will reject your resume outright.


To stay on the applicant tracking system’s good side, keep it simple. Use easily parsed language and recognizable terms. Don’t use headings like “Where I’ve Been” when you mean “Education.” Don’t describe your skills in creative terms–you managed direct reports or led a team, you didn’t wrangle people. There will be time for effective storytelling later in the process, once you make it through the ATS.

Do you want to start applying for new roles? Check out the best job posting sites to find your next opportunity!

How To See If Your Resume Will Pass The ATS

There are a few ways to see if your resume is ATS-ready:

  1. Save your resume as a plain text document. This tip is courtesy of Amanda Augustine from TopResume. Augustine notes, “If the plain text version of your resume is missing details from your original resume, has some of its characters saved incorrectly, or looks disorganized (i.e. the heading for your work history appears in the middle of your key skills section), then your resume did not pass the ATS resume screening software test.”
  2. Use a free online ATS-scanning tool like Jobscan’s resume optimizing service.
  3. Use a free or paid resume review service. TopResume offers a free resume review that includes your current resume keywords and skills.

Bottom Line

Applicant tracking systems aren’t going anywhere–in fact, they’re more popular than ever before. To keep your resume from getting tossed by the bots, make sure you’re following these guidelines. It’s your best bet for reaching the right recruiter’s inbox.

Still, stuck? We recently reviewed the top resume writing services and they all offer help to get your resume past the ATS. When you’re ready to apply for jobs, start applying on ZipRecruiter!