How to beat the resume-screening bots

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With the prevalence and ease of online job listings, more than 200 people apply for a job posting on average, while only 4 to 6 get an interview. To combat this volume, many companies are using resume screening bots, or ATS, to screen out more than 75% of applicants before a person even reads your resume. Even then, recruiters spend an average of only 6 seconds reading each resume.

While the thought of bots screening your resume may seem daunting, we have a few techniques for ensuring your application is ATS-ready.

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What is ATS?

ATS or Applicant Tracking Systems are a type of software that help HR sort through high volumes of applicants. These systems utilize search keywords and filters such as location to help companies drastically reduce the volume of resumes that recruiters actually have to read. They screen resumes for matches and rank candidates based on how well they meet search criteria.

Who uses ATS?

A study by HireRight shows that 95% of large organizations and 50% of mid-sized organizations use ATS, including most Fortune 500 companies. For companies that receive especially high volumes of applications, utilizing tools such as ATS can help HR and recruiters screen as many candidates as possible for a particular position. ATS also provides companies with an easy way to track information about types of applicants.

While most online job postings probably won’t list that ATS is being used, it is safe to assume that easily accessible listings by large companies will be using this tool.

How can I get my resume past ATS?

Use keywords

Take notice of key skills or experiences referenced in the job description and highlight those skills in your work history. Utilize resources like Jobscan to see how well your keywords stack up when it comes to ATS.

Consider adding a skills section to the top of your resume. Lists like these can help load your resume up with possible keywords and boost your chances of a bot ranking you well.

Don’t try to cheat the system. One common technique when it comes to ATS-screened resumes is to flood your resume with keywords. “Keyword stuffing” is typing the same top skill several times in a row (java java java) and changing all but one word to white so it isn’t visible on paper. Most of the time ATS catches tricks like these and highlights them to the recruiter reading the results. Rather than risk making a bad first impression, stick to listing your skills only as often as you used them.

Use simple formatting

You’ve probably heard time and time again to format your resume as a PDF in order to preserve formatting. However, when it comes to ATS, this might actually work against you. In fact, bots have an easier time scanning Docs than PDFs.

While you should still consider these common resume tips for resumes you are posting on an online portfolio or sending directly to a hiring manager, if you think your resume will be screened by ATS you should ditch some of the standard rules. For example, more than one page is ok, logos aren’t necessary, and simple fonts are best. ATS isn’t looking for unique formatting and might actually pass over your skills if your format doesn’t match the system.

Instead, replace your professional summary with a concise skills section, keep your page clear and readable, and clearly list your current location and preferences to optimize your searchability.

Proofread

Studies show that 43% of hiring managers will stop considering an applicant because of spelling errors. Simple mistakes make it seem like you don’t pay much attention to detail or didn’t spend much time on your application.

Not only do proofreading errors leave a bad impression if a person ends up reading your resume, ATS likely won’t pick up on keywords that are misspelled. Be sure to check spelling and grammar carefully.


It is no secret that the job market is more competitive than ever, with new tools such as ATS emerging constantly to combat high application volumes. However, knowing what you are facing and a few simple formatting tricks can help you beat the resume-screening bots and get your resume in a person’s hands.

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