Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) Serve as Gatekeepers for Employers

Here's how and why you should make friends with an ATS to open those gates and gain entry.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

According to Liz Strikwerda, Content Marketing Manager at Swipelock,”98% of Fortune 500 companies and at least 66% of large companies use it. Last year, it was estimated that 35% of small organizations use ATS.”,, November 20, 2020. With those kinds of numbers, it is high time job seekers got to know and understand how these systems work or risk the chance of elimination right out of the gate. Ever wonder why you never heard a thing after submitting over 100 online applications? Here’s why.  

Robot eyes are reading and interpreting your résumé and do not share the same ability to “see” and understand what human eyes can. They will only make sense of what has been programmed into their systems. Consider these simple ways to avoid any confusion and help them help YOU make it through round one. Here are my top ten tips based on reviews of hundreds of résumés.

⭐ Do not enter contact information by inserting it in a header-the ATS will ignore it and no one will know who the résumé came from. Good to know!

⭐ Do not combine sections of a résumé (e.g., Education and Certification). The ATS is not smart enough to correlate information if topics are mixed and matched.   

⭐ Use text boxes only for non-essential information. For example, they are okay if used for headings but an ATS cannot read content covered within a text box, (e.g., accomplishments). Inserting images may be an effective use of a text box, (e.g., word clouds) and enhance the optics.

⭐ It’s okay to use tables, but an ATS will reformat the data within a table into one vertical line. A little messy for the human reader, but the content will go through. Tables are often used in the Skills/Competency section of a résumé but could be replaced by listing the skills and separating them with a pipe ( | ) followed by a space to avoid this problem

⭐ An ATS does not like functional résumés and will not know how to align job titles, companies, and employment dates with job history. Do not use this format; it is a total non-starter.

⭐ Load the résumé with keywords. By the way, keywords are nouns and noun phrases, not adjectives. The appearance and frequency of keywords are important-the more you have on page one of your résumé, the better. Mirror the keywords exactly as stated in a job posting-an ATS may not recognize HR Manager” and “Human Resources Manager” as reflective of the same position. 

⭐ Submit a Word version (doc or docx) of your résumé, rather than a PDF and you will stand a better chance of compatibility with the employer’s system.  

⭐ Include only year/month graduation was completed. If a degree was completed 3+ years ago, no dates are needed.

⭐ Borders, shading, color, font enhancements are all okay and add to the visual appeal.  

⭐ Do not include degrees or credentials next to your name in the heading (e.g., MBA, Ph.D., CPA) Insert that information in a different section, under Summary, Education, Certification, etc.  

The ATS is an efficient way for HR, recruiters, and hiring managers to scan, rate, and rank your résumé. Understanding how you make it through the gate with an ATS-friendly résumé will greatly improve your odds. Most importantly, do not rely solely on finding a job through online applications. NETWORKING will be the key to landing your next opportunity.  More on that next time……..

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    7 Job Search Myths and What Really Works to Land a Job in 2019

    by Erin Urban

    Short Resumes Don’t Get You On The Shortlist

    by Erin Urban

    8 Resume Tips from a Former Hiring Manager

    by Jessica Dowches-Wheeler

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.