Get your resume past an automated applicant tracking system

By Lavin D'Souza
Lavin Jane D'Souza shares how to push your resume past the applicant tracking system (ATS) and into the hands of a human recruiter

Approximately 98.2% of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) for their hiring process. So, understanding how the ATS works can help you improve your marketability to potential employers and set yourself apart from other candidates in the hiring pool, ultimately, pushing your resume beyond the ATS and into the hands of recruiters.

How does an applicant tracking system work?

ATS, sometimes referred to as resume screening software, is a technology that companies use to automate some aspects of their hiring process. An ATS will scan and review resumes and CVs, accept job applications, and manage applicants who are looking for a suitable position with a company. 

The best employers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of job applications for their open positions. Therefore, ATS is a possible solution to manage this flow. Below are the features of most applicant tracking systems: 

  • Candidate sourcing
  • Resume storage
  • Filters
  • Keyword search
  • Applicant communication
  • Job-posting management
  • Automated email customisations
  • Interview tools
  • Analytics and reporting

How to write an ATS-compatible resume

An ATS-compatible resume can prevent your applications from being rejected before recruiters can review them. Here are things to keep in mind before applying for your next job:

Choose an appropriate ATS format: An ATS can only review your resume if it is properly formatted. The easiest way for ATS to read your resume is in reverse chronological order. Your most recent and most relevant work experience should be listed at the top of your resume, followed by less recent or less relevant information listed toward the bottom. 

Use standard headings and avoid tables, columns, headers and footers: Standardised heading sections allow the ATS to understand what content should appear next on your resume. Use plain language in your titles, as fancy or unusual titles may not be recognized by the system.  

Even an advanced ATS will find it difficult to analyse the tables or columns of a resume because the information can get mixed up and need to be clarified for the ATS. Avoid tables, columns, headers and footers to keep your resume ATS-friendly and organised. 

Choose the right file type: Two common file types used by candidates for resumes are .docx or .pdf. PDFs usually keep your formatting intact, but .docx is a better choice to make your resume ATS-friendly. If the employer asks for a PDF or other file type, it's best to follow their instructions. But whenever possible, avoid all other file types when submitting resumes. 

Include keywords from the job description: A well-written CV will include specific keywords that match the description of the position you are applying for. However, avoid stuffing your resume with keywords just for fun. Use keywords in a context that matches your job description and describe your past work experience. 

Use an appropriate font: Some applicant tracking systems only accept certain fonts on a resume. Use easy-to-read and commonly used fonts to make your resume easy to read. Here are examples of accepted fonts: 

  • Calibri
  • Arial
  • Times New Roman
  • Helvetica

Use simple and concise bullet points: Keep bullet points short and start sentences with strong action verbs. Bullets emphasise the most relevant information and communicate your skills and accomplishments faster than lengthy sentences.

Keep a clean resume design: An intricate or artistic design might work well if you're applying for a graphic designer position, but in general, an ATS-compatible resume has a simple, clean, and professional design.

Just as job seekers want a clear and easy-to-read job posting page, recruiters want to find important information about you and your experience in an organized document. There are many professionally designed templates available online that you can use to create your resume. 

After completing your ATS-compatible resume, consider running it through an online testing site, such as Jobscan,, Resume Worded, or Skillsyncer. These sites will determine if your resume passes the standard ATS. 


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