What are Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) Really Looking For?

Applicant Tracking Systems – the bane of a job seeker’s existence! While I understand the reasons why companies put them into place, they can be a heck of a problem for those who don’t know how they work and what to do to help get their resume through.

Simply put, ATS are programs that companies use to sort through applications, ranking them as favorable, unfavorable, or somewhere in between. So, if your resume doesn’t match certain criteria – even if you are incredibly qualified for the job – your application may not score as high as someone who is less qualified because your resume wasn’t ATS-friendly.

Applicant tracking systems search for various job-specific keywords and titles.

When a company is searching for a position (we’ll say, a Project Manager), they are going to set up their ATS to search for various titles (Project Manager, Senior Project Manager, Technical Project Manager, Project Coordinator, etc..), as well as other keywords (time management, cost control, team leadership, continuous improvement, vendor management, contract negotiation, project scope, project delivery… you get the picture). Without the necessary keywords in place, your resume will not appear “favorable”. As such, my program teaches job seekers how to customize their resume for each position they apply for, helping to increase their application’s visibility. 

ATS can search for candidates with a desired experience level.

I always advise my clients to only go back 10-15 years with their work history, and a definite hard stop at 20, since any dates prior may be viewed as “over-qualified”. I also recommend removing dates from your educational history. While I don’t believe that companies do this to intentionally discriminate against older applicants (and if they do, for shame!), I do think focusing on your most recent experience is important. You can always discuss additional accomplishments during an in-person interview.

Applicant tracking systems can get tripped by heavily formatted resumes.

Headers, footers, automation, bordering, shading, images, and graphics can all prevent the ATS from scanning your resume properly. Your resume should use minimal formatting, standard font, and be uploaded as an MS Word document. And know this: if you try to cheat by including additional keywords throughout your resume in white font (yes, people do that), the ATS will pick that up, and your resume will be permanently removed AND blacklisted (meaning no further applications will be accepted – true story)!

If you have been sending out application after application, and have only heard crickets, chances are your resume isn’t making it through the ATS software. I strongly recommend signing up for my free Job Seeker Masterclass to learn how I can provide you with a personalized job search plan, as well as the tools necessary to score favorably with the ATS and land your dream job. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”

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