8 tips to optimize your resume for an ATS

In the digital age, applying for jobs is usually a few clicks away. Many job seekers use the same resume to apply for multiple roles even if the roles are slightly different. However, getting hired is not a numbers game. If you’re serious about getting hired, your resume needs to be tweaked for every single job application. This includes skills, experience, project KPIs, certificates and ongoing learning.  

Just as technology has eased the process for applicants, it has also transformed the way companies search for and select talent. Automation of the hiring process, such as an applicant tracking system (ATS), has become a crucial tool for employers to efficiently screen candidates’ resumes and weed out the unqualified candidates. A 2021 study by Harvard Business Review finds that in late 2010s, jobs posted by corporations receive on average 250 applications. While most roles no longer receive the same volume of resumes in 2022, many employers and recruiting firms still rely on their ATS to identify a short-list. Jobscan research found that 98.2% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS software. Therefore, it is imperative your resume stands up to an ATS’s filter.

How does ATS work?

A recruiter or hiring manager enters the job information such as the title, responsibilities, required experience and skills into the ATS. Then the ATS creates a profile for the ideal candidate. As resumes start to come in, the ATS screens the resumes for keywords and categorizes information such as education, experience and skills into fields. Once information is sorted, ATS compares it to the job description and ranks your resume on how well it matches the job.

This information helps recruiters and hiring managers to determine best candidates for the job. The higher your resume is ranked, the more likely you will move forward into hiring process. According to Zippia, roughly 75% of all job applications are never seen by human eyes. In fact, ATS gets rid of 50% of applications as soon as they are submitted.

Why do employers and recruiters use an ATS?

ATS saves employers time and money as they can quickly identify the most desirable candidates for the role. They are programmed to assist the recruiter. Unfortunately, that is a downside to an ATS. There is not much room for error on the job seeker’s end. Resumes need to be set up and written in a certain way to pass the ATS filter. Even if you are qualified for the job, you could still be eliminated due to formatting and content-related issues. ATS only searches for exact phrases and keywords established by the job description. Depending on how sophisticated the ATS is used, it may not recognize synonyms or abbreviations used in your industry.

When it comes to formatting, ATS are programmed to scan and parse text. If your resume is heavily formatted, it can cause readability issues such as covering and shifting your content into wrong fields. Often ATS gives you an option to correct those fields, but sometimes you are out of luck.

Many qualified workers are overlooked due to the design and implementation for the ATS, the very processes that were meant to maximize a company’s access to qualified and available talent.

How to use the ATS for your advantage?

There are two main areas you need to focus on when optimizing your resume for ATS: format and content.

  1. Format your resume in a way that is easy for the ATS to scan. Use simple text and bullet points.
  2. Avoid images, graphics and charts as the ATS cannot read those.
  3. Do not use tables and columns as they are likely to cause parsing errors.
  4. Not every ATS is structured to read information from the header and footer. Avoid placing contact information such as your name, email, LinkedIn profile link and phone number in the header of a Word document.
  5. Spell out acronyms, short terms, industry jargon, et cetera. Always write them out and use the abbreviation in brackets as you don’t know what term the ATS is using.
  6. Label sections for experience, skills and education since this is how the ATS categorizes content.
  7. As you go through the job description, take a note of keywords that stand out. If they match your qualifications, customize your content with the right keywords using the same language as the job description.
  8. Follow the resume submission guidelines such as saving your resume in either a Word or a PDF document. This will ensure the ATS can read and sort your application.

Good news for the future of work

Many forward-thinking companies are still using an ATS but are becoming less rigid with their keywords and negative parsing. Research now reveals, an ATS can often exclude viable applicants whose resumes do not match the criteria but could perform at a high level with training. Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent , reported “a large majority (88%) of employers agree, telling us that qualified high-skills candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description. That number rose to 94% in the case of middle-skills workers.”

Technology isn’t all bad for job seekers, not only are newer ATS systems leveraging AI to predict job success but also assist with removing biases such as age, gender and race. Recent advances are also helping employers reach a global talent pool as well as speed up the recruiting process, more accurate online assessments, allow for asynchronistic video interviewing and online onboarding.

Seek help with your resume

Job search can be hard. Knowing how to increase your chances of higher ranking within the ATS, can help you stay motivated in your job search. If you are unsure about your resume, use some online tools such as Jobscan to test how ATS-friendly your resume is. Our recommendation is that a simplified resume will get you one step closer to landing an interview. Learn more tips on how to write a great resume on our website.


Resume - part 1 Resume - part 2



Agilus Work Solutions is Canada’s largest privately-owned recruiting firm. We place nearly 10,000 job seekers in roles every year. Whether it is technology, engineering & technical, office & professional or light industrial and manufacturing roles, we have 100 recruiters across Canada, who can help you find your next job. For more information about Agilus, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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