How to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System

Rob Nightingale 12-11-2015

Nine out of every ten large companies now use “robots” (Applicant Tracking Systems) to screen your resume. Knowing how to bypass their judgmental algorithms is becoming a necessary tool in your job-searching arsenal.


Recently, we gave you a pretty lengthy list of free, visually appealing resume templates Free Microsoft Word Resume Templates to Help You Land Your Dream Job When hunting for jobs, you have to consider so many things! To ease the headache of preparing your resume, we have compiled a selection of great Microsoft Word templates. Download and customize for free! Read More . These resumes will work in your favor when a human being finally looks at them. But a stunning resume doesn’t necessarily help you navigate the automated screening stage. For this, you need simplification, and keywords.

The following tips are known to be the best (and most acceptable) ways of bypassing the Applicant Tracking System’s (ATS) beady eyes. If you know of any more, please leave them in the comments.

How It Works

Applicant Tracking Systems were first built to help recruiters organize resumes and do some basic screening to make the recruiters’ job simpler. They have evolved from their beginnings.

Now, these systems are much more sophisticated. They are the reason why more than half of resumes are no longer looked at by human eyes. These systems are on the lookout for very specific words, years of experience, places of education, spelling mistakes, bad formatting, and much more. If you don’t meet the criteria at this first stage, your resume ends up, automatically, in the trash can.

Trash Can


An employer will specify to the system what it is they are looking for (and avoiding) in a candidate, and how important each of those qualities is. The system is then able to rank applicants based on if, where, and how these attributes were mentioned in a resume.

If an applicant doesn’t take this reality into account, despite being perfectly qualified for a job, they could see their resume being rejected without ever being properly considered.

Simplify Your Resume

To start then, understand that these robots are looking for very specific things. It’s your job to help them find those things by simplistically recrafting your resume Restyle Your Resume For Instant Results On The Job Market Today, I'm not going to share with you the golden secret to resumés that will guarantee you the job. That would be stupid. However, I can guarantee that your resume will be ahead of a... Read More . If you’re using excessive formatting such as tables or images, remove them. If you’re trying to stand out by using alternative title headers, stick with the standard headers (Education, Qualifications, Experience, etc.).

Often, your resume will be scanned, then certain words will be picked out of the image that’s created. Do everything you can to keep that resume simple Upgrade Your Job Hunt: 3 Quick Ways To Improve Your Resume Your resume is key to landing that job interview. Technology can help check how readable your CV is, thus increasing your chances of making a good impression. Read More .


Simple Resume

This means removing any unnecessary shading, and keeping to simple, sans-serif fonts such as Tahoma or Verdana. Even typical serif fonts such as Times New Roman can be too fancy for some ATMs.

Send as a Word File

When it comes to attaching your resume to your application, you may be used to sending PDFs. When you send a PDF, you know it’s going to display properly for the recipient. But some ATSs find reading .doc or .docx files (usually from Microsoft Word) to be easier to screen. It’s therefore safer for you to simply create your resume in Word How to Create a Resume Template with Microsoft Word Your resume could be the difference between interviewing for the job of your dreams or never hearing back from the employer — use these tips to make sure it's the best it can be. Read More , and save in a standard Word format. Ditch the PDF.

Use Bullet Points

Instead of showing off your literary skills by writing full paragraphs wherever possible, use concise bullet points. This helps the reader, whether a robot or a human, to scan the text more easily.


Keeping bullet points concise means you also avoid any unnecessarily flowery language. This has the added benefit of lowering your resume’s word count, thereby increasing the density of keywords throughout the document. More on this later.

Format Your Experience

Apparently, most ATSs find it easier to understand your work experience if that experience is written in a precise way. Many people will write the date of employment just before the name of the employer, as this looks neat on the page.

Rather, write the name of your employer first, followed by your title, then dates. This makes it easier for the ATS to follow and to calculate your years of experience (though you should still state this plainly toward the start of your resume).

Include Your Address

A surprising number of ATSs will ignore your resume if no address is included. Not only may they be looking for a candidate who lives within a certain radius, they may also need to contact you via post. So don’t forget to include this piece of information.



Wherever you place it though, don’t place it in the header or footer of the document. These can be ignored when screening is taking place.


An ATS will disregard your resume straight away if any spelling mistakes are detected. Sometimes this is because the employer has chosen to have resumes with mistakes rejected. Sometimes it’s because the ATS doesn’t know what you mean.

As an example, if the ATS is looking for the specific keyword “Photoshop”, and you accidentally type “Photshop”, you haven’t given the actual keyword desired, and could therefore be rejected.

Read the Description Carefully

Within the job description will be many clues as to what words you should be including in your resume. If the job description mentions six different programming languages a candidate should should have, do your best to include each of these in your resume.

Even if you aren’t yet proficient in a couple of those languages, you can still mention them in a later resume section. Perhaps you could imply that you’re “registering for an online course in Python”. In which case, even though you don’t write Python yet, the keyword is still in your resume.

The same is true for personal attributes. If a job description requests someone with a “keen eye for detail”, and you’ve written “attention to detail” in your resume, change it. Mimic the language you find both in the job description and the company website.

Using an online tool like Wordle can help display those keywords in a visual form.

LinkedIn Stalking

Before submitting your resume, search LinkedIn for people who have a similar job that you’re applying for at that company. Take a look at the language they use to describe their role. Look at the skills and qualifications they have, and the software they use.

LinkedIn App

These people are already employed at your target company, so they have the right skillset. Use this as an opportunity to mimic their style.

Keyword Placing

Just like with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the placing and density of your keywords plays an important role in how you “score”. If the most important keywords aren’t mentioned until the end of your resume, they may be given less weight.

This is why it’s becoming more common to remove the vague “Objectives” section at the start of the resume. This is now replaced with an “Overview” section. This overview is just a few sentences long, offering the perfect opportunity for you to quickly insert the major keywords that you’ve identified. You can then repeat these further in the resume, giving them extra weight in the ATS.

Keyword Density

We’ve talked a lot about inserting keywords in your resume, but don’t overdo it. Some people go too far, and start to insert blocks of tiny, white text containing nothing but a long list of invisible keywords. This is ridiculous. So is stuffing your resume with so many keywords that it’s barely readable.

Make sure you include the relevant words. Mimic the language that the company uses, and you’ll stand a good chance. Don’t go making yourself look too desperate.

Your Schools

For some positions, if certain educational institutions (such as an Ivy League school) are not mentioned in your resume, you will not be considered a worthy candidate.


If you’ve never been to such a school, don’t worry. Many of these schools offer online courses Where To Study: Navigating The Free Online Education World Now that online learning is commonplace, it also is bit of a nightmare to choose which learning systems to use. We make it easier by giving you an overview of the best options out there. Read More (some of which are free). In your section on Education then, you could write that you’re expanding your qualifications by studying a course in Computer Science at Yale. This not only improves your education, but gives you the chance to insert the name of a renowned institution into your resume.

Getting Past the Machine

If sending your resume is the only way you have of landing the job, follow these tips. If you’re able to bypass the “machine” though, by all means go ahead. This could mean approaching people on LinkedIn, via email 12 Reasons Why People Are STILL Ignoring Your Emails Do you often struggle with getting people to respond to your emails? We show you why people might ignore your emails and how to make them notice and react to your message. Read More , or at networking events.

For most, however, the resume is still something they will need to submit. In these cases, make sure you’ve tailored that resume to the specific employer. This is far more likely to get you past the screening process than sending another generic document.

This all boils down to keeping things simple, while finding and including the main keywords for that position.

What other tips do you have for getting past the “robots”, the automated gatekeepers, the Applicant Tracking Systems: whatever you want to call them?

Image Credits: Robot hand by saginbay via Shutterstock, 2006-02-14 005 by Michael Nuff (Flickr), Drafting bySebastien Wiertz (Fickr), LinkedIn Lumia by Irish Typepad (Flickr), Graduation by Joe Shlabotnik (Flickr). 

Related topics: Job Searching, Resume.

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  1. Anonymous
    November 14, 2015 at 12:37 am

    You forgot one thing that will never get past the 'bots: Dates. Ageism is a real thing in hiring today but it's pretty much impossible to prove and doesn't get the same sympathy that the usual college-regurgitated Title Whatever "intersectionality" blah-blah about race, gender, and bathroom identity receive. My father earned his graduate degree in 1987 and has been working without breaks in the criminal justice system for the past 30 years. Thanks to greedy hedge-fund managers and elected buffoons privatizing the state employee retirement system, everything he had put in for got wiped out by Lehman and AIG in 2007. He would be retired by now if he didn't have to search for a second job just to put something, ANYTHING, into a nest egg and not have to fall back on the insolvent Social Security system that was also robbed by self-serving morons in Congress.

    But since hiring managers are only looking for people who were BORN in 1987, my father's flawless resume gets chucked in the Recycle Bin because nobody is willing to hire someone with actual expertise if he's "too old." Instead, they want dumbed-down kids staring at their iNavels who pitch tantrums if corporate doesn't provide a "safe space" free of "problematic" ideas, "micro-aggressions," and hard work, complete with a skateboard ramp and unlimited social media time like Marky Mark and the Facebook bunch.

    Then these ungrateful millennials -- whose parents are being too generous in my opinion by letting them live at home and work at a "startup" with their $100,000 debt for a degree in grievance studies -- have the gall to complain on social media that they hope the Boomers all die en masse so that they can take over their spots at work. As though they're not getting catered to enough as it is, with zero experience or skills and an entitled attitude that they're "creative geniuses" -- what, because they have an Apple device sold by some sociopathic stage actor whose biography has been made into too many Hollywood movies?

    I'm a millennial myself who does actually care about what's going to happen to the older folks, and who is disgusted by the bratty behavior of other members of my generation. Like the Yale and Missouri punks who should have been studying in class instead of pretending like it's 1968 on the campus quad and treating an overdue email about Halloween costumes like it was the annexation of Czechoslovakia. If you can't grow up, then let the adults do the work while you go suck your thumbs and clutch a blankie in a padded room. Real life isn't a Mad Max revolution or a Care Bears cloud. But try getting that through to HR who is just salivating to hire these idiots at the expense of people who actually do know what they're doing and do it very well. The hippies are back and they still don't trust anyone over 30.

    • Paul
      December 15, 2018 at 5:03 am

      Wow. This wasn't the place I was expecting to be able to put one of my core competencies to use, luckily I just so happen to be fluent in butthurt idealogue-ese, and so can translate for the gentleman who posted above. What he said was, loosely translated:

      "The way I was raised was the right way to be raised and that is in a white household with a picket fence and without ANY progressive values. My father liked it that way, I liked it that way, and the fact that its no longer that way really irks me. Rather than pause for a bit of healthy reflection on my own inability to adapt to new environments, I instead will just be angry and mash out several more paragraphs on this wholly-unrelated-to-politics web forum.

      Oh, and everyone I don't like I cleverly (i think?) always refer to collectively as "hippies" regardless whether there is even the vaguest connection between the two groups--AM I BEING DETAINED? AM I BEING DETAINED? "

      (Oh, and as a PS there is also a blanket subtext over the entire screed: "I almost certainly voted for Donald Trump or did not vote at all," – but really that is neither here nor there.)