Optimizing Your Resume for Application Tracking Software

Have you ever wondered why you weren’t getting any interviews after endlessly applying for jobs? This is a very common issue experienced by many others, so know that you are not alone. You could spend all this time applying for jobs and rewriting your resume only to have one interview scheduled and ultimately not land the job. This situation is one of the most frustrating, but it’s not completely your fault. Companies have been using a tool called application tracking software (ATS) in order to find the best candidates.


ATS is software used by companies both small and large to screen applications before they reach a hiring manager. The software works by having a list of keyword. It searches through the pool of resumes to find the ones that feature any of these keywords and pushes those applications to the top. The applications that contain the most keywords will rank higher than others. Why do companies do this? Usually when a job is posted, the influx of applicants result in hundreds or even thousands of applications depending on the size of the business. ATS helps businesses save time sifting through all of these applications. By finding the best applications by keywords, businesses can review applications in a timely manner and set up interviews as fast as possible.


If you’re thinking you can’t beat this computer then you’re wrong! All you have to do is strategically predict keywords and place them appropriately in your resume/application. For example, if you were applying to a job as a programmer, the recruiter wouldn’t search general adjectives such as confident or cooperative. While traits like these are important, they would probably use words like Javascript, C#, or Python. ATS targets your experience to find the best qualified candidates for the company. Your responsibility is to highlight your experiences so your application moves to the top of the pile. To help get you started, I’ve created a list of the steps you should take to optimize your resume for ATS.

Analyze the Job Description

The first step you should be taking is figuring out what keywords to use. This is actually easier than it sounds. The job description should be your first stop because chances are the recruiter is taking the most important words and phrases and entering them into the program. I suggest going through the job description with two highlighters. One color should be used for words and phrases most likely to be entered into the system. The other color should be for secondary key phrases or for phrases that will impress the hiring manager after passing ATS.

Don’t Spam Your Resume with Keywords

Rule of thumb: too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. The same applies here too. If you’re submitting a three page long resume full of keywords you thought of, you’re doing it wrong. Trying to outsmart the software won’t work. Doing this will only rank your application lower based on relevancy alone. Even if this method did work, the hiring manager isn’t going to want to look at a messy three page resume. You only need to use certain keywords two or three times to get your point across.

Provide the Right Format

Nowadays everybody wants to personalize their resumes with info graphics, colors, fancy fonts, and whatnot, but this could work against you in the long run. The ATS is unable to read these types of additions and will throw away your resume when that happens. Simplicity is the best way to go here. A simple resume in text format such as Word will allow the system to actually read your application. You could use PDF format, but since it isn’t a preferred format, I wouldn’t chance it.

Skip the Creative Headings

Much like how ATS sorts through applications based on specified keywords, it also sorts based on categories. The program won’t be able to process unconventional headings which will lead to miscatergorizng or skipping the category altogether. Just stick to the most common headings such as education, skills, work history, etc.

Tailor Your Resumes to Each Job

All job descriptions are different which means all of your resumes should contain different keywords specific to the job you are applying for. Don’t expect keywords from one job to work with another. Different companies use different ATS programs as well, so using the same resume for all applications could work against you. If you really want that new job, take the time to rearrange your wording and key phrases for each application to better increase your chances.

Use Technical Terms and Abbreviations

Really study how the company you’re applying for uses language and not just in the job description. They likely use terms specific to their company or the industry they associate with. Since the company’s language is uniquely their own, they are going to want to use it for keywords in the ATS. Find out their language by going through their website and then utilize it in your resume. If any of the terms you discover is an abbreviation include it as well; however, never use the abbreviation by itself. Use both the spelled out version and the acronym.

Spell and Grammar Check Your Work

This should go without saying, but any spelling mistakes will send your resume in the trash pile. It might be acceptable if you had one or two spelling mistakes if a person was reviewing your resume. They would most likely be able to tell what you mean and give you a pass. This isn’t the case though. Your resume will initially be reviewed by this screening robot before it reaches human hands. Even one mistake will lead to the demise of your application, so be meticulous and use a program to check for mistakes.


Once you’ve rearranged your resume so it is ATS friendly, consider running it through one of these free scanners to see if they could pass screening! It will help you understand what you need to include if you still aren’t grasping how to optimize your resume. Happy job hunting!