It’s a little industry secret that not everyone knows about — there’s a step between you and the job you want that you might not expect. In many situations, the applicant tracking system, or ATS sees your resume before a human decision-maker ever lays eyes on it. If you want that dream job, you will have to write your resume to get through the ATS screening and move on to a recruiter.

Understanding the ATS

Usually, larger companies use an ATS because they do not have time to manually screen thousands of resumes. Because online job applications are so easy to complete, many job seekers try sending their resume to every possible job opening, even those for which they are not qualified. Dealing with all of those resumes requires a lot of effort with little potential for reward, which is where the ATS comes in.

An ATS will look for relevant information about a candidate to match them to the right job. However, some overzealous ATS systems will boot resumes that do not fit their preferred format.

It might sound like the ATS is your enemy but it can be helpful for job seekers. When you create the right kind of resume, you can feel confident that the ATS will help get you through to a human decision-maker. It all comes down to doing your research and putting in the effort to customize your resume.

Resume Writing Tips to Deal with an ATS

Don’t use a generic resume when you are applying for a job that likely uses an ATS for screening. Try to avoid generic resumes in general. A tailored resume shows you have put in the effort to think about what the job entails and why you would be a good fit. If getting that job means getting past an ATS, a targeted resume is your ticket.

Think about the job you are applying for and what words would be relevant to an automated screening system. It can be helpful to look at the job posting and a job description from the company, if you can find one. The words you see frequently are keywords that have likely been input to the ATS. Use both acronyms and long-form versions of common keywords to cover your bases. Incorporate these keywords naturally without going overboard. A good way to do this is to include a skills section.

As some ATS systems are finicky about formatting, keep your formatting as simple as possible.  Make sure your contact information to include your name, address, phone and email are shown on top of the first page of your resume and exclude graphics, columns, or similar embellishments. The ATS might tell you what file format is best. Pay attention to whether you should be sending a PDF or a Word document.

Follow this advice to turn an ATS system into your friend. With a custom resume, you can increase your likelihood of getting through ATS screening and give your application the best chance of success.