75% of all Applications are Discarded by ATS Software

How to Get Your Resume Past Application Tracking Software

What do you mean, you don’t know what an

 Application Tracking System is?

Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.  Most Job Seekers out there actually have no clue what happens to their Resume or CV after they have hit the send button.

I am not going to bore you with lengthy geek and nerd talk, that’s far from what I am aiming to achieve with this blog post. I want to open your eyes to the real world of recruiting and to the systems that are used behind the scene.  This is one of the main reasons why I started this blog in the first place. I want to armour you with useful insights so you can post your application documents with a much higher success rate than before.  My content is written primarily for Australian and New Zealand Job Seekers and it seems to me that we are still a bit behind compared to many other developed countries and we don’t seem to have improved much…

So what is ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, which is a software application widely used by medium and large employers, hiring portals and recruiting companies.  There are over 100 versions out there ranging from cheap and clunky ‘do nothing’ software to the ‘Mercedes SL’ versions (i.e. Rolls Royce version, but hey, I’m German born so what can I say…), which hold your application records till you pass away.

Who needs it?

Well my personal view is no one, actually, especially not the Job Seekers out there. You see, the problem is not the system or the software, the real issue is the fact that most companies work with out-dated, clunky or cheap versions and the result is bad news for you if you really want the job. The official answer, however, is along these lines:  the ATS software make recruiters’ lives easier. Applicant tracking systems save recruiters days worth of time by performing the initial evaluation and by narrowing down the candidate pool to the top candidates (e.g. top 10) whose resumes the system ranks as the most relevant to the role on offer. Even if some good candidates get filtered out, recruiters still have a place to start. Get it? It’s called “cost cutting”.  So, free yourself from the naïve notion that Hiring Managers read and review all incoming applications.

How does it work?

Applicant Tracking Systems contain different database fields for information on a resume, such as the candidate’s name, contact details, work experience, job titles, education, employer names and periods of employment. These systems try to identify this information on a job seeker’s resume, but if a resume isn’t formatted according to the ATS, it won’t pull this information into the proper fields. Some of it might be missed altogether, such as a skills profile or an executive summary, resulting in that resume dropping down in the ranking of potential pre-selected candidates. In other words, if your documents don’t suit the System you will not have the slightest chance – no matter how good you are.

Watch this video if you want a video version of my brief explanation.  I am a big fan of ‘DICE’ by the way.

So, my dear Job Seekers in Australia and New Zealand, if you haven’t already, now is the time for you to do 3 things.

Step 1

Read the Top 10 formatting rules to create a filtering software friendly resume and then fix up your Resume or CV

  1. Do not place your contact information in the header of your resume, because the filtering software can be set to ignore headers and footers so there is a risk this information will not be captured or will be deleted.
  2. Choose a conservative font such as Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri. Most of the older software solutions don’t like fonts such as Times Roman or Cambria and your CV or Resume may be rejected by screening the ATS software if they use one of the older versions.
  3. Do not use any script fonts.
  4. The smallest font size to use for the body of your resume should be 11 point. Any smaller and you may be asking for trouble.
  5. No graphics or logos
  6. Do not format using tables.
  7. No borders or boxes
  8. A 2.5cm margin top and bottom is best.
  9. Do not use any lines that cross the entire page from margin to margin, because some filters have been created that will reject a document for nothing more than having a single line run continuously across the page.
  10. Conduct a spelling and grammar cross check to ensure your document is solid.

Step 2 

Proof read your new CV or Resume and use it for your next job search. If the feedback improves, that’s great.  However, if you’re hungry for even better results, then consider re-visiting your CV or Resume and continue to Step 3.

Step 3 

Now re-read your new document and apply the ‘top 25 detailed formatting rulesto create a filtering software friendly resume to improve your response rate by up to another 50%.

This might appear a bit over the top, but remember that when you apply for a job at a larger firm direct or via leading recruiter portals, there’s a high chance that your resume will be scanned by filtering software for words related to certain job vacancies. This kind of automation process will also reject your resume if it doesn’t meet traditional, business-dictated document formatting.

    1. Do not apply to a company multiple times if the positions do not match your experience and skills. Recruiters notice multiple submissions, and it reflects poorly on a candidate if he or she applies for positions that aren’t a good fit.
    2. Don’t send your resume as an attachment (unless the system specifically asks you to do that) to avoid potentially getting caught by security scans.  Paste it into the body of the e-mail.
    3. When emailing a resume, keep exclamation marks out of the subject line and body of the text.
    4. When emailing a resume, don’t use words in the document or headline that could be misinterpreted by spam filters. For example, use “graduated with high honours” instead of “graduated cum laude.”
    5. Include a professional or executive summary at the top of the resume, followed by a list of bulleted qualifications and/or achievements.
    6. Customise the professional/executive summary and bulleted list(s) with keywords that match a given job.
    7. Make sure the keywords in the executive summary and bulleted qualifications and achievements replicate those in the job posting as best you can, but don’t cheat and don’t create fables for each application.
    8. Keywords alone aren’t enough. State-of-the-art ATS technology relies on contextualisation as well. Frame keywords with descriptive material that demonstrates experience and familiarity with the subject. If you are unclear about this contact me. I am happy to review your submission.
    9. Do not use abbreviations such as “Mgr” instead of “Manager”. It is unlikely that the ATS has been programmed with a list of abbreviations to stand in for keywords.
    10. Avoid misspellings. A misspelled keyword is a keyword that the ATS will miss, lowering your ranking.
    11. Use standard capitalisation, not all lowercase or full capitals.  If you make it to the Top 10 and you get reviewed, don’t mess up your chances because of improper capitalisation as it annoys some people immensely.
    12. Fill in all the information requested by an online application process, even if it’s listed as optional. Recruiters often sort by optional information to filter out applicants, and filling in all fields will ensure you don’t erroneously get caught in a screening filter.
    13. Fill in all information requested by an online application process, even if it’s included in your resume. This information can be used to filter out applicants before a hiring manager comes to the point of opening the resume itself.
    14. If you’re being referred by an employee, make sure the ATS knows it, because it’s smart enough to ‘care’ and will rate your resume higher.
    15. If the ATS offers options, opt for uploading your resume instead of cutting and pasting. This feature often parses information and saves it in the optimal format, ensuring the cleanest presentation.
    16. To avoid choking an ATS with a highly formatted resume, make sure your resume is in a clear, concise format, with your contact information located at the top instead of in the header or footer. I stress this in almost all my blog posts where I talk about “flavours”.  There is only one flavour of formatting – vanilla.  Use something else and you reduce your chances 10 fold.
    17. Do not include graphics or logos on a resume.  They can garble the information the ATS processes.
    18. Respond within 24 hours after hearing back from a company.  …this isn’t a rule (but it’s good practice) and I wanted 25 points so… 🙂
    19. Keep an eye on spam folders. Filters are so sensitive today that they can recognise email that’s automatically generated — a category which both spam and follow-up email generated from an ATS program can fall into.
    20. Adhere to instructions provided in any follow-up email. If the follow-up email lacks a phone number but directs you to respond with your availability, respond via email, not by calling. This will likely get you the fastest response. Follow the process first, than do what you are anxious to do. I call this sort of behaviour ‘Plan & Back Up Plan’. Good Job Seekers work with both.
    21. If you receive an automatically generated rejection email, immediately contact the recruitment office of the rejecting organisation or a sympathetic administrative assistant — anyone who can advise you as to the best way to replace the resume currently in the ATS with one containing better keywords and phrases.
    22. When reapplying after an initial rejection, tweak executive summaries and bulleted lists of key skills and achievements. Don’t alter your work history elements.
    23. When reapplying, don’t try to use a different email address from the one you used on your first try. This isn’t enough to avoid a duplicate record in advanced systems such as Taleo, which use multiple candidate identifiers, so make sure to follow Step 21.
    24. Once your customised resume has been resubmitted, contact the appropriate recruiter (or sympathetic administrative assistant) and request that your updated resume be reviewed for the open position.
    25. Take a deep breath, keep your fingers crossed and move on to the next application.

I hope all this was not too much info. It is worth your time, I assure you that. As usual, share my blog post with your network or friends or simply contact me via comments or direct e-mail if you have further questions.

Until then,

Hunt wisely,


** image & video source DICE