How to Write a Resume to Beat an Automated Tracking System

Published: Jan 24, 2018

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The majority of applications for many jobs never get seen by a human. If you've ever submitted an application through a company's website, there's a strong chance that your resume was screened—and likely rejected—by an automated system. Here are some tips to help make sure that your resume makes it through in future, so that it can at least get its six seconds with a real live human.

Research Keywords

Imagine that you were trying to find the job you're applying for in a Google search. What keywords would you include to ensure that that exact role, in that exact industry, came up? If you're not sure, do some research around the industry and make a list of any words that recur.

You should also make a point of reading the job description and company hiring pages a few times: the chances are that the qualities, characteristics and skills listed will be exactly the same as the company is looking for—and therefore screening your resume for.

This is one of the reasons that career experts recommend tailoring your resume for each job you apply for—if you're not changing out your keywords to match what the employer is looking for, you're selling yourself short and reducing the chances of the ATS coming up with a match when it scans your resume.

Use the keywords frequently (but not too frequently)

Once you have your key terms, the next step is to make sure that they're used frequently enough that the algorithm will see them as relevant. Try to use your top keywords in your resume between 3 and 5 times—but do it naturally. Not only will the algorithm flag your resume if you overstuff it, but keep in mind that it needs to make sense to a human as well!

If you're wondering how to incorporate specific keywords, consider including a skills section on your resume: it's a great place to include things like programming languages and specific technologies that you might otherwise struggle to fit into your employment history.

Don't get fancy—and don't overthink it

Stay away from creative layouts and fonts when submitting a resume into an automated system—design elements such as frames, boxes and unusual fonts can confuse the algorithm, and lead to your resume being rejected.

That advice stands for how you should think about automated tracking systems in general: while they're a technological solution to aid employers, they're far from being the most sophisticated algorithms out there. For the most part, they simply scan for matches against a set of criteria identified by the employer, and then weight them for relevance. So, while it's important to keep them in mind when writing your resume, you don't need to resort to tricks or keyword stuffing to try to beat them. Just follow the steps above and remember that, above all, the goal is to get it into the hands of someone who will make a decision that will be much more subjective.