Recently, a job seeker reached out with heightened concern that their resume wouldn’t navigate ATS and pass the scoring process. There are a lot of myths and uncertainties about the recruitment process and how Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work. One of the most common and pervasive myths is “ATS rejects 70% of resumes.”

But is this panic-inducing statistic really true? Let’s take a look why you should stop believing this widely shared data point, review a few tactical steps you can take to navigate ATS in your job search, and increase your response rates.

First, ATS systems have been around for more than two decades, and, while it is true that more than 90% of large employers use an applicant tracking system to score potential candidates, with today’s systems, very few documents are automatically rejected. Over the years, system capabilities have evolved and now there are more than 300 different Applicant Tracking Systems in use today with no standardization. What’s a job seeker to do?

Don’t Write Your Resume to Beat ATS

The invention of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) came about to help human resources personnel and recruiters process + store resumes by placing documents into a database and then parsing the document so the ATS database can be searched for keywords. With limited knowledge of how an ATS system works and the fear of rejection by a bot, job seekers started using keyword stuffing (which the system will flag as spam) as a technique to make it through ATS.

Rather than focusing on ‘beating an applicant tracking system,’ write for a human first and technology second.

  • Research your target roles and then write your resume by finding and focusing on where your skills + experience intersect with the employer’s needs.
  • Do not stuff your resume with keywords —no one wants to read the same word repeatedly and this style of ‘writing’ will not persuade a hiring authority to interview you.
  • Most certified professional resume writers take system scanning + human review into consideration when developing a strategy before the resume is written.

Applicant tracking systems recognize keywords; humans need context.

Make Your Resume Easy to Scan

Again, the focus should be on the human reader and not a software system. A recruiter-friendly resume is similar to an ATS-friendly one in as much as the information is read from left to right and top to bottom. I advise against using:

  • tables or columns in your document. ATS can read the text in a table or a column; however, systems tend to mash the information into non-sensical entries —that is the technical skills you placed neatly in a table will be moved to a different section.
  • placing your contact information in a header or footer. Information in the header and footer can be completely ignored. You have a great resume and now the hiring authority has no way of knowing who you are or how to get in touch with you.
  • fancy fonts. Universal fonts like Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Garamond, or Georgia are easily read. ATS may have trouble parsing and human can have trouble reading some of the fancier fonts that you can download.

Enhancements that will help you stand out without affecting your ATS scoring, include:

  • Bold, italics, underlined text. Enhancements of headings + titles helps break up sections of text.
  • Color. ATS systems do not see color, but a splash of color can help the human reviewer navigate your document.
  • Bullet symbols. Bullet points draw attention to pertinent information and aids the human-eye quickly scan the document.
  • Graphics/charts can be included. If you submit your resume through an online portal, the graphic will be ignored and, with advancements in technology, systems can pull data from charts.

Both ATS and humans read left to right:

  • Establish yourself as a qualified candidate for the role you are pursuing, integrating keywords and establishing your value throughout the entirety of your document.
  • Avoid advice to try to trick the system by pasting keywords in white. This ‘ATS trick’ might get you past the technology gatekeeper but it will be discovered by the human reviewer. The better move is to speak to your experience by including the skill and then proving you are qualified.

Make Your Resume Value + Keyword Rich

Using an ‘ATS-friendly’ template-style resume might make you feel good, but if you are positioning yourself for a higher-level management role, most of those copy + paste, cookie-cutter templates won’t help you connect with your audience or stand out from your competition.

Circling back to writing for the human audience first and then the bots, the most important step you can take is to identify the role you are targeting, research companies + industry-related roles, and then connect the dots between how your skills and experiences align with the needs of the role/organization/industry.

Through your research, you’ve revealed industry-related keywords, you’ve pulled keywords from job posts for the role you are pursuing, and you’ve identified what skills + employment experience you have that are a match.

  • The next step is to provide context. Simply put, an ATS-friendly format means absolutely nothing if the text doesn’t demonstrate your qualifications.

Avoid ATS Scams

Unfortunately, there are ‘fake’ companies that offer to optimize your resume, happily take your money, and do not provide service. Additionally, you will want to be mindful of ‘recruiters’ or ‘optimization companies’ that offer to scan your resume and then follow up with an email that you are missing critical information … again, taking your money without providing any value.

  • Due diligence will help save you from scams. Search for the company / recruiter and look for: reviews, ‘about the company’ information, an address, a populated LinkedIn profile with endorsements and a profile picture (and then take the extra step and use Google to search for their image –unfortunately, some of these organizations/people use someone else’s profile picture as their own).

Applicant tracking systems are here to stay as they help HR personnel process incoming submissions and preliminarily vet candidates by matching keywords in your resume to the job description. The best and most effective way to ensure your resume ‘beats the bots’ is to follow these best practices:

  • Use a more traditional, widely available resume font.
  • Don’t use headers or footers –information contained within these fields are not read.
  • Use standard headings –“Experience | Education”
  • Use a Word document vs. a PDF –save your file as a .docx or a .txt.
  • Remember, after your resume passes ATS, it will be seen by a human. Don’t be afraid to add a splash of color.

Research consistently reveals that networking is a proven pathway to finding your next role with Jobvite’s 2021 Job Seeker Nation survey showing most workers find out about job openings from friends (45%) and professional connections (31%).

The most important of all —remember, people hire people! If you can get your resume in the hands of the hiring manager, recruiter, or decision maker, you don’t have to worry about passing through an ATS to get an interview.

To find out how we can help highlight your value, keywords, skills, and experience in your manager / director-level resume, schedule your free, no obligation discovery call here: Contact – Certified Master Resume Writer | Career Storyteller | Signature Resumes (