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How to Get Your Resume Past Screening Software

Your resume that you spent days crafting could be going into a black hole where it will never even reach a human being.

Pretty scary, huh? After all the hours spent formatting your bullet points and perfecting each word, your resume may not even make it to the hands of hiring personnel! This is thanks to the applicant tracking systems (ATS) that many of today’s largest companies use to screen the hundreds of resumes they receive for each position. Don’t panic yet; all is not lost! If you understand how ATS works, you can beat the system and make sure your resume survives the screening process. We’ll break it down for you to be certain that your CV makes the cut.

How ATS Works

According to Lesley Mitler, President of Priority Candidates, a career coaching service for collegiettes and recent grads, ATS is “a software application that is utilized to make the recruitment process more fluid and efficient. It is an interface for candidates to apply online and for the company to review and chose the most qualified candidates for each job posting.”

She explains that companies use this software to identify the best applicants for a job based on specific criteria detailed in their job posting. ATS allows them to score and sort applications based on these criteria.

Who Uses ATS?

Mitler says that while it’s difficult to determine exactly how widespread the use of these systems is, “estimates indicate that half of all mid-sized companies and almost all large companies use some type of ATS.” Generally, companies with at least 500 employees will use ATS services.

Why Should You Modify Your Resume for ATS?

According to Preptel, a resume optimizing service, approximately 75 percent of resumes are discarded by ATS systems. In fact, according to a study by research and advisory services firm Bersin, these systems are largely flawed. Bersin tested one of the most commonly used ATS systems by crafting the perfect resume for an open position and running it through the system. The “perfect candidate” that Bersin created only received a 43 percent relevancy to the job! Several of their degrees and an entire job position were discarded because the ATS was not able to properly read them.

What should you take away from this? Having good, relevant experience is important, but you also have to present it well! Follow these tips to make sure your resume makes it all the way to the right hands.

How to Get Your Resume Past ATS

1. Insert Keywords

One way applicant tracking systems function is by scanning for keywords that match the job description provided by the company. Before sending your resume to a potential employer, tailor it to match the role you are seeking. “Use job-related keywords and use them multiple times to increase the chances that your resume is selected during the initial screening process,” says Mitler.

Incorporate industry-specific words in your resume. Scan the company’s website and write down any important words that stand out to you, and do the same with the job description. Important words include noted software, technical terms, and action verbs, as well as words that are often repeated. You can even copy and paste the job description into an online word cloud generator like WordItOut to see which words appear most often.

When you insert those keywords into your resume, be sure that you list them in the same form as in the job description. For example, if the description specifically states “Photoshop experience necessary,” don’t list in your resume that you’re “Proficient in all Adobe systems”; name Photoshop specifically. Make it easy on the computer to pick up on your skills, and your relevancy score will increase!

2. Look to the Experts

If you have a LinkedIn account (and you definitely should!), look at the company’s LinkedIn page. See where their employees have worked, read the descriptions of their job positions on their pages if you can, and read the company’s description. If you have anything in common with any of the above, be sure to highlight it in your resume! For example, if the head of the company’s research department worked at Nielson and you interned there, include that in your resume; the department may look for recruits from that company.

3. Avoid PDFs, Tables, and Graphs

Applicant tracking systems often don’t have a method for understanding PDFs, so they are often misinterpreted. “Send your resume as a Word document, not as a PDF,” Mitler advises. “Many ATS systems are unable to translate a PDF document.”

Not being human, ATS also have trouble reading stylized text and tables and have no resources at all to understand graphs. “Make sure the resume can be scanned,” Mitler says. “Use standard fonts, dark type, and a font of 10-12 point.  Avoid underlines, italics, vertical and horizontal lines, graphs, and tables.”

While creative resumes draw the eye, your beautiful infographics will go to waste if the computer can’t understand them!

4. Use Straightforward Headings and Job Titles

Computers don’t understand creativity. A job title you include on your resume may be only a few words, but it’s what the computer uses to categorize your experience. “If a resume is not formatted a way that the ATS can read it, the information will not be put in the correct fields,” Mitler says. “For example, use the term ‘work experience’ instead of ‘experience’ or ‘professional experience’ so the ATS recognizes it as such.” She also recommends avoiding abbreviations; spell out “Human Resources” rather than simply using “HR.”

5. Order Information the Way the Computer Likes It

The computer is programmed to screen experience based on a specific formatting system. Mitler advises the following order: first your employer’s name, then your title, followed by the dates you were in that position. Each can be placed on its own line within your resume. In the end, it should look like this:

Her Campus
Contributing Writer
May 2012 to Aug 2014

If you follow this ordering system, your experience is less likely to be overlooked!

6. Stay Honest

Don’t let your desire to make it through the ATS corrupt your resume to the point where it no longer represents you! Beating the ATS should be about optimizing your resume to make sure that your experience and skills are highlighted—not faking your experience to match the position. After all, if you do that to make it to the next round, you will struggle to make it through an interview with a real human being!


After working so hard to put relevant experience on your resume, it deserves to be read. Follow these tips and you can be sure you won’t be denied the job you want due because of a resume-reading robot!

Quinn Cohane is the Product Manager at Her Campus. She develops new features for Her Campus's web properties, including HerCampus.com, HerCampusMedia.com, HerConference.com, and CollegeFashionWeek.com, from initial conception to final installation. She collaborates with the Client Services team to implement custom landing pages, content hubs and sponsored content for client campaigns. Quinn also works closely with the Chapter Development team, training new team members on using Her Campus's content management system and leading the onboarding of new Campus Correspondents, national writers and bloggers, and national interns. Additionally, she oversees technical support for Her Campus and the uploading of national content. Quinn first joined the Her Campus team as a remote intern in February 2010; her past roles include Production Associate, Digital Media Manager, Chapter Advisor, and Study Abroad blogger during her semester in Copenhagen, Denmark. She graduated Cum Laude from Bowdoin College in 2013 as an English major and computer science minor. A native of Scarsdale, New York, Quinn enjoys attending theater and dance performances, traveling the world, reading, the beach, and apple crumb pie. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @quinncohane.