Applicant Tracking Systems and Your Resume

Have you been submitting your resume over and over to jobs for which you’re well-qualified, but have yet to hear a peep? It’s possible you’re running up against a technological brick wall in the form of an applicant tracking system (ATS), also sometimes called a talent management system.



ATS is meant to cut down on recruiter and human resources time in the search for competent candidates by scanning and scoring a resume’s relevance, but it presents another hoop for job seekers to jump through. That hoop is optimizing your resume for the increasing probability that it will be run through an ATS before human eyes ever see your submission.


To avoid being part of the 75% of resumes that get choked out by the rigid – and error-prone – processing of applicant tracking systems, you need to stand out by not standing out. That is to say, stow the tables and graphics and cleverness. One significant way an ATS is different from human eyes is that it reads up-down and not left-right. That means tables don’t come through properly.

Extra sections and headings other than the standard “Education” and “Work Experience” will likely be dropped, so it pays to stick to traditional labeling. Keep your contact information at the top of the page but not in the header, which will be ignored by the system. And don’t put dates ahead of your employer’s name and title – the system looks for the information in that order.

Keywords & Other Triggers
Career experts have been telling job seekers to drop keywords for the position they want into their resumes, but this isn’t truly the way an ATS works. The system scans resumes for relevance to a specific job ad, within a database holding all the job ads ever posted, so a resume should directly reference keywords and phrases used in the posting to which they’re replying.

One way to do this is by using job descriptions in your resume. Though recently considered passé in favor of bullet lists of achievements, resumes scanned by an applicant tracking system fare better when they pair their work experience with job descriptions. Another trigger for ranking is how you heard about the job; some systems track sources, even ranking inside referrals higher than job boards.

Length & Submission
An upside to an ATS is that length no longer matters. From making sure you don’t use unrecognizable acronyms and abbreviations or leave out relevant experience just to keep your resume within a certain page count, you can – within reason – let yourself have at it. All that information you wanted to include in an extra section? Include it, but don’t put it in an extra section. Any community activities, publications, or certifications can be listed under “Education”.

If you’re given the option, choose to upload your resume instead of copying and pasting it into fields. This will help your resume retain its format. But don’t go so far as to upload a PDF. Most systems have no way of structuring a PDF and easily misread them.

A final thing to keep in mind: After the ATS is finished ‘reading’ your resume, it will recompile your information for the recruiter or HR professional to review. This means they’re still not seeing your resume, and any mishandling errors the system makes will show up. By aligning your resume format and flow to anticipate an ATS, you can still make your application stand out from the crowd.

For more help on getting your resume of the top of the pile, contact the staffing experts at PsychPros for more information and guidance to get that behavioral health job.

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