When a resume is submitted for a job application, it is usually filtered by an applicant tracking system (ATS) before it is seen by a hiring manager. This software scans through the document and eliminates candidates that appear to be under-qualified based on its programmed criteria, such as the frequency of desired keywords. Each ATS can be uniquely programmed to prioritize or eliminate applicants based on the number of times that a keyword appears.

This step of the process eliminates the vast majority of candidates.

In fact, only 25% of submitted resumes go on to be read by a real person.

How Do Applicant Tracking Systems Work?

  1. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) scan through the submitted documents and sort their content based on keywords and categories desired by the employer.

  2. The software automatically discards any materials that do not meet the desired criteria.

  3. If the criteria is met, the ATS sends the successful resumes to the hiring manager.

  4. Hiring managers are then left with more time and resources to review the candidates who appear qualified.

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Using Applicant Tracking Systems To Your Advantage

Note: While a stronger resume includes multiple uses of keywords found in the corresponding position description, an ATS can also detect when keywords are used to trick the system, such as writing them multiple times in white.

Use keywords frequently, but in ways that make sense!


What is the preferred format to submit a resume for a job application?

Additional Resume-formatting Tips

  • Carefully read through each job description and pick out keywords. Edit your resume to reflect these keywords each time you apply to a job.

  • Use both the full-length and abbreviated version of credentials (e.g. "Project Management Professional (PMP)".

  • Don't put any content, including your name, in the headers or footers of the document.

  • Don't include tables, columns, images, or unusual colors.


True or False: You should edit your resume for each job application.

Take Action

Understanding how to format resumes to pass applicant tracking systems automatically puts you in the top 25% of job applicants. Maintaining good habits, such as editing your resume for each position, and refreshing your memory on basic resume formatting tips are the key to success.

What habits are you committed to practicing when applying to jobs?

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


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