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Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

Don't Let the Robots Eat Your Resume

Most medium-to-large organizations use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help them manage the flood of resumes they receive. No matter how qualified you are, if you don't understand that employers are using algorithms based on the job description to evaluate your resume, and include the right keywords, you may not get past this screen. You need to optimize for ATS, but remember that humans will also be reading your resume.

1. Format your resume correctly

NEVER use a resume template! The embedded tables cannot be read by ATS.
Use a sans serif font (Calibri, Tahoma or Arial work well).
Do not use underlining (use bold and capital letters instead for emphasis).
Do not use lines, borders, or symbols (plain round bullet points are fine).
Do not put your contact information in a header.
Dates for your experiences should come at the end or be on the right side (not placed before your role or the organization).

Read Optimizing and Formatting Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems and Preparing Job-Seeker Resumes for Applicant Tracking Systems: Checklist and Critical Do's and Don'ts. Another helpful article is 5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems.

2. Customize your resume for every position you apply for

This advice, circulating for a number of years, always had a bit of an optional air to it. Customization seemed desirable but not mandatory. Now it's a must. Your resume will not rank well in an ATS if it's one-size-fits-all. As Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter points out, every Applicant Tracking System is different, and "you will drive yourself crazy trying to program your resume for each and every corporate system out there." Instead, she advises, focus on each target employer's current situation -- its needs and problems -- and tell in your resume how you are equipped to address those.

3. Include the right keywords in your resume

As David Wessel advises, "The trick is parroting all the words in the job description but not just copying and pasting the text, which leads the software to discard the application." Read the article Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume.

4. Use online tools to check the how well your resume fits the job description

The website Jobscan.co is a tool that allows you to compare your resume text to the job description text, and provides suggestions for optimization. Resunate works much the same way. These sites are free to use on a limited basis, but charge you for more extensive use. They have gotten good press, and we've had some positive feedback from students as well.