What’s keeping 75 percent of online resumes from being seen by hiring managers?

The automated “gatekeeper”: the applicant tracking system (ATS).

An ATS uses sophisticated software to automatically scan applications, filtering out unqualified candidates and only delivering what it deems are the most suitable candidates. It’s an efficiency boon for HR and hiring managers, but a potential roadblock in your job search.

How can you beat the odds — and stay in the hunt?

Don’t hate the gatekeeper. Embrace it! Use these tips to work with an ATS — and ensure your resume gets into the hands of a hiring manager:

1. Read All Job Posting Details Thoroughly

On average, over half of all applicants don’t meet the basic qualifications for the job, according to The Wall Street Journal. This is often the result of applicants not spending enough time looking closely into all of the position’s full details.

Even worse, qualified candidates can be passed over by an ATS if their resumes are not properly tailored to the system.

How to work with an ATS: Carefully review all of the required qualifications and ensure that you meet them. Then, take the time to tailor              your resume so that it clearly matches the needs of the job. 

2.  Arrange Your Resume Into Common Headings

The software used by ATS is generally set to look for certain wordings in order to scan for information. Increase the likelihood of it finding the correct information by arranging your resume into sections with clear and commonly used headings.

How to work with an ATS: When dealing with automation software, it is not the time to show your creativity or way with words. Stick with bolded and/or capitalized section headings like “Professional Experience” and “Education” which will make it a no-brainer when it comes to getting your relevant information pulled.

3.  Use Relevant Keywords

Make your resume gatekeeper-proof by tailoring it with keywords for the specific job posting for which you are applying. While a human HR professional would be able to differentiate among similar phrases or synonyms, an ATS will only look for the exact phrases for which it is programmed.

Think of the ATS like a Google search: just like the search engine provides you with websites that contain the keywords you enter, you want your resume to pop up in the search results when the ATS is looking for certain words and phrases.

How to work with an ATS: Scan the job listing details and make a list of around five to 10 of the most important keywords and their exact wording. Place these keywords throughout your resume to ensure the tracking system picks them up. Use both abbreviations and spelled out versions of these keywords to further increase your chances.

4.  Format Resume Correctly

Keep it simple and stick to the basics when you format your resume for submission via an ATS. All tracking systems are different, and you never know their readability standards.

How to work with an ATS: To ensure that your resume will be read correctly by the system, follow these ATS formatting best practices:

  • Submit your resume in a basic format, such as .txt or .doc. Avoid submitting PDFs, as this format is one of the most commonly rejected file formats by tracking system software.
  • Avoid graphics, symbols, borders, hyperlinks, or other advanced formatting. Even if the format is recognized by the system, it may not render correctly appearance-wise once it’s uploaded.
  • Use a basic font, such as Arial or Times New Roman.

5.  Verify Extracted Data

Although time is of the essence when applying for a job, taking the time to check over the details can make a major difference in whether your resume makes it past the automated gatekeepers and to human eyes. An automated system could potentially misread your information, such as your contact information, and auto-populate it into the wrong fields or not find it at all. This could cause your resume to get filtered out of the system entirely.

How to work with an ATS: If given a preview, verify all of the information the ATS extracted from your resume before giving it the final submittal.

6.  Email the Hiring Manager

The best way to ensure your resume gets into the hands of the hiring manager? Hand it to her yourself!

Do some research to try to find the name and contact information for the hiring manager. Send your resume to the hiring manager with an introductory email or letter. While there are no guarantees, the chances of her seeing it are higher than relying on the ATS.

7.  Avoid the Automated Gatekeeper

Ask around to determine if any of your contacts have any connections to the employer at which you want to apply — they may be able to get your resume directly into the hands of the hiring manager without the need for the ATS.

Some companies may require all resumes to be uploaded into the ATS, so networking may not be enough to allow you to bypass it completely. In this case, inquire if someone of authority can upload your resume on your behalf into the system. With some applicant tracking systems, having a resume submitted by a current employee of the company may make it more likely to pass through.

Bypass the ATS gatekeepers completely by working with a staffing or recruiting firm! These professional organizations have extended networks of employers with positions to fill, but who favor a personalized search for the right candidate instead of relying on an ATS. When you register with an employment agency, you gain access to unlisted job openings and have direct connections to hiring managers.



If you need help building a great team at your company, connect with the group at Harvard Resource Solutions. We provide the talented candidates your organization needs. Schedule a meeting with us at your earliest convenience.

Contact Harvard Resource Solutions, now hiring for Detroit jobs today.