How to Beat Applicant Tracking System

Beat Applicant Tracking System

The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a piece of sophisticated software used by many large companies to collect, sort, screen, rank and track candidates that respond to their vacancies. If you’re shooting for a role in an organization with a couple of hundred employees, chances are, they are using some sort of an ATS to sift through the resumes and cherry-pick the best matches. Only these select few are then assessed by a Hiring Manager. So if you’ve spent days, weeks, or months sending out resumes to no avail, here is the harsh truth: no matter how well-qualified you are for the position in question, your application might have been cut by the ATS.

That, however, is no reason to get discouraged. Though all recruiting systems are different, there are ways to make your resume more ATS-friendly, thus, dramatically increasing your chances of getting invited to the interview.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Don’t upload your resume in .PDF, .DOCX or any other fancy format. Instead, stick to the good old .RTF or .DOC. Better yet, try converting your resume to .TXT to understand what information will be picked up by the ATS and how it will be displayed, and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Don’t use tables, text boxes, or columns. Most ATS’s won’t recognize and read them correctly.
  • Don’t embellish your resume with images, graphs, clipart, and symbols. The system will overlook them.
  • Don’t use fancy bullets (Wingdings, Webdings, etc.) Standard options should be fine, while “+”, “-“ and “*” are your safest bet.
  • Don’t experiment with fonts. Since applicant tracking software relies on optical character recognition (OCR), go with Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman, or other standard fonts instead.
  • Don’t put important information, especially your contacts, in the header or the footer (except if it’s page 2+ of your resume). ATS usually skips headers and footers.
  • Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms. Spell everything out.
  • Don’t submit a functional resume. The system will not know how to interpret your document, so it’s unlikely that you’ll make the cut.


  • Do use common section headings and capitalize them (i.e. “WORK EXPERIENCE”, “EDUCATION”, “AWARDS”, not “Value Added” or “Team Building Expertise”). That way you can ensure that the ATS picks up and organizes your information properly.
  • Do put each piece of information on a new line. For example,

Dates of employment


College degree

  • Do repeat company name if you have held several positions within one organization.
  • Do fill your resume with appropriate buzzwords and key phrases, as it will be matched against a set of terms related to the vacant position and ranked accordingly. However, take care that you put the keywords in the context – sophisticated systems will know if you’re cheating.
  • Do take as many pages as you need to describe all the relevant work experiences, competencies and skills. With the ATS there’s no need to worry about the length.
  • Do have a “pretty”, i.e. visually attractive, version of your resume handy when you come in for an interview.

Is your resume optimized to be ATS-friendly? Do you have any tips on how to game the system? Share your experiences in our comment section!


Arno Markus Resume Writer

About the author

Arno Markus ​BA, MSc., CPRW

Arno Markus Resume Writer

Arno Markus ​BA, MSc., CPRW
iCareerSolutions CEO and Founder

Arno Markus is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and founder of iCareerSolutions. Arno has helped $50K to $2M salary employees through their entire job search, including creating a resume that got them noticed and landing interviews for the position they wanted. 

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