Applicant Tracking Systems and Your Resume

Updated 04/02/2020

Nearly every employer in Silicon Valley uses some form of recruiting technology or applicant tracking system (ATS) these days.  When you apply online, your resume is scored through the ATS before human reviews it. Often times this can be a source of frustration for job applicants who have poorly written and formatted resumes or resumes without properly optimized keywords.

If your application to interview ratio is low, your resume may be to blame.  You must write your resume using keywords with an applicant tracking system in mind.

Online job application

Here's what happens when you send in your resume:

  1. Your resume runs through a parser, which removes the styling from the resume and breaks the text down into recognized words or phrases.
  2. The parser then sorts that content into different categories: Education, contact info, skills, and work experience.
  3. The system compares the results from above to the employer's desired skills or keywords.
  4. Your resume is scored on relevancy—using semantic matching against the employer's search terms and your years of experience.

Writing Your Resume for an Applicant Tracking System

  1. Job Titles Matter

 If you have a unique job title or one that perhaps isn't an industry standard but perform the duties consider changing it on your resume. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to many unique and industry-leading titles. Start-ups love to create wacky titles to woo talent, yet a machine does not know how to match "Chief of Culture", "Growth Hacker" or "Thought Architect."  Changing your title may feel wrong, but you should tweak whenever possible, provided you have the experience. I am not suggesting you lie. Do not make up a title that changes your seniority or looks like you have experience you do not. You have to back it up in an interview. When asked about your title, let them know your title was X, but your duties match. On any application, always list your correct title. This approach can be particularly helpful in cases where your role combines the responsibilities of several positions.

  1. Write Both Full Phrases and Acronyms

SEO contextualization

Some jobs have key terms that are often abbreviated. For example, if you work in recruiting or online marketing, you may talk about "Search Engine Optimization," but most people in the industry call it "SEO." Hiring managers and people in the industry know the difference, but computers do not see that they are both the same thing.

This issue can also be true for education. Many ATS can't determine the difference between Master of Business AdministrationMasters of Business Administration, Master's of Business Administration, and MBA.

Format your resume in an ATS-friendly manner

Lisa Rangel, Executive Resume Writer, Chameleon Resumes LLC, posted an article on LinkedIn that is fantastic. Here is an excerpt with some tips below:

  • Title your resume with your name and targeted title - something like "Your Name – Marketing Director."
  • Remove unique headings and stick to standard resume headings like Summary, Work Experience, Education, and Skills.
  • Remove images, columns, tables, fields, text boxes, and graphics so the ATS can quickly scan your text for keywords and phrases. The ATS may not be able to read data placed in images, tables, and text boxes, so it's best to avoid them altogether.
  • Remove special characters and avoid creative or fancy bullets that are often illegible to an ATS scanner.
  • Avoid unique fonts, font treatments, and colors. Stick to fonts such as Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, Lucinda, Tahoma or Trebuchet, and only use black color. Avoid underlining words, which can mess up the legibility of lower case letters such a g, j, or y.
  • Avoid spelling errors, since an ATS doesn't know what you 'meant' to write.
  • Include contact information in the body of your resume, not in the header or footer.
  • Save your resume as a Word Doc (.doc) or .txt file.
  • Avoid templates, which are a combination of fields and tables, and can confuse ATS systems. Also, avoid page numbers.
  • When writing your employment history, present the information for each employer in the same order, i.e., company name, title, city, state, and date, and in reverse chronological order.

In addition to this great list, I would also say use bulleted lists instead of paragraphs when possible to describe your work. ATS systems may have a harder time separating long sections of text.


Knowing what keywords to prioritize is difficult. Using the job description as a guide is the best place to start. Combine a list from your knowledge of your field and job description samples from several online job boards such as Monster, CareerBuilder.

Use the job description to build a list of priority and secondary words to include:

Priority keywords are words used in the company's job title, used in headlines, more than once or described as success criteria. Secondary keywords would be industry awards, training, associations, competitors, or anything related to a priority keyword.

Using technology can make this easy. The folks at JobScan have done a fantastic job. After all, keywords and ATS is their expertise. Use their service to see if your resume will pass the keyword test or the other technology listed in "How to Improve Your Resume for an Applicant Tracking System".

Writing your resume with ATS's in mind may seem overwhelming at first. Break the work into steps, and it will be done in no time. If you need advice, the talent acquisition team at Menlo Partners Staffing is happy to answer your questions about your resume, recruiting, and workforce management. Check out our download Effective Resume Writing-ATS in our tips and advice section or contact our office today.


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