Navigating Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) help companies manage high volumes of applications by scanning your resume and comparing it to the job description for the position you’re applying for. This helps recruiters efficiently sort through resumes to find well-matched applicants. 

Keyword Optimization

Recruiters search through ATS by keyword (most often they’ll search for job titles or hard skills). Some ATS automatically score your resume based on how well your content matches the job description.

► Pay close attention to what soft and hard skills appear in the job description multiple times and make sure you include them in your resume via action verbs (aka market, analyze, develop, communicate, manage). Copy and paste the job description into EdWordle or Text Analyzer to make this easier.

► Use critical keywords more than once

► Use spelling, numbers, and abbreviations correctly. Make sure you match the spelling of a word to how it is spelled in the job description. If the job description spells out numbers, write them out in your resume as well. Only abbreviate terms (i.e. B.S. degree) if it is also abbreviated in the job description.

Application Tips

Complete every field in an online application. Do you get annoyed when the application asks you to upload your resume and then requires you to manually enter in each of your work experiences? Don’t slack on this, ATS uses this portion to scan your information as well!

of Fortune 500 companies use ATS -- it’s important for EVERYONE to optimize their resumes for this, regardless of industry!
of resumes are processed incorrectly!


  • Avoid images, charts, tables, and graphics -- these are difficult for ATS to read. This means you should avoid using templates with invisible tables.
  • Do not use text boxes -- in many ATS, anything inside the text box will not be read
  • doc or .docx are the safest options for resume submissions. Only submit a PDF of your resume if that is what is requested. PDFs are not compatible with all ATS software.
  • Document must be readable: Use 1-inch margins; you can go down to .5 inches on all sides (no lower)
  • Stick to left-aligning your text. Resist the urge to center or justify your text -- it will make it harder for ATS to read.

  • Do not put important details in the header or footer, such as your name, phone number, or email address. Not all ATS is able to read the information in the header and footer sections of a Word document.
  • Use simple bullet points (rather than intricate characters) to stay compatible with ATS.
  • Keep your resume design simple and clean; this means black colored font and normal font (i.e. Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Helvetica, Calibri, Gill Sans, Times New Roman, Veranda).
    • Complex resumes confuse applicant tracking systems. Avoid underlining words; it can mess up the legibility of lower case letters like “g”
  • Use a readable font size -- 10 or 12 pt is best.
  • Customize each resume for the specific position you’re applying for.
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