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Outsmarting Resume Bots: 5 Tips for Success

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An applicant tracking system (ATS) does more than store resumes and help recruiters track a candidate throughout the hiring process. It also leverages a network of bots to scan, analyze, and rank incoming job applications so that a Recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t have to read every single incoming application. In an environment where the average job opening receives hundreds of applications, the ATS saves time by flagging or eliminating the candidates that appear to be the least fit for the job.

TopResume, the largest resume-writing service in the world, analyzed 1,000 resumes from professionals in various industries and with at least eight years of experience to learn what resume mistakes will cause an ATS to eliminate a candidate from the pool of applications. Here are five tips to help you create a resume that will get past the ATS and into the hands of a potential employer.

Select the right file type

Submitting a resume in an incompatible file type is a surefire way to get rejected by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Although many job seekers believe that PDF is the ideal file format for resumes, some ATS can’t read it. It’s essential to ensure that the application portal allows PDF before using it to submit your resume. Otherwise, using a Word document (.doc or .docx) is the safest option to avoid any issues.



By using a compatible file format, you increase the chances of your resume getting through the ATS and landing in the hands of recruiters. It’s crucial to pay attention to the instructions provided in the application portal and use the recommended file types to increase your chances of success. So, always double-check the instructions and submit your resume in a compatible file format to avoid being eliminated from consideration.

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Use a simple, standard format

Most applicant tracking systems prefer resumes that use a simple layout where the work history information is presented in reverse-chronological order. Keep graphics, images, and charts off the resume entirely, even if you’re applying for a creative design position, because most resume bots can only read text — not images. In addition, stick to standard bullet points — the more intricate your resume design is, the less likely an ATS will accurately read and parse your information.

Add relevant keywords

An applicant tracking system is sometimes programmed to pick up keywords in resumes that relate directly to the position to which you’ve applied. To ensure your resume does not get flagged as a bad match to the desired skills and experience for the position, include relevant keywords at a frequency that will get noticed by the resume bots. For example, if you’re applying for a sales position, you might use keywords such as, “consultative selling,” “persuasion,” or “sales presentations.” Find keywords for your resume by reviewing job postings, identifying the terms that are relevant to your skills and experience using a word-cloud generator like Wordle, and adding these terms to an “Areas of Expertise” section or your work history.

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Avoid headers and footers

Believe it or not, a seemingly innocuous-looking resume header or footer could prevent your resume from passing beyond the ATS screening filters. In fact, 25 percent of the resumes analyzed by TopResume had at least a portion of their contact information considered ‘unidentifiable’ by the ATS. Avoid having your contact details misread by the resume bots by placing important contact details like your name, phone number, and email address outside the header or footer of your resume.

Double-check your resume

One of the best ways to ensure your resume is compatible with an applicant tracking system is to test it. Once you’ve simplified your resume’s formatting, added relevant keywords, and saved it in a generally-accepted file type, copy and paste the content of your resume into a plain-text document and review. If the plain-text version is missing information or the content has been rearranged or disorganized, assume that your resume will need further edits to pass muster with the ATS software.

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It can be worrisome to think that missing keywords or resume formatting can prevent you from landing your dream job, but that’s the reality of today’s electronic job application process. Recruiters and hiring managers want to find and hire the best talent, but most don’t have the time or resources to sift through hundreds of resumes. Applicant tracking systems often help to bridge the gap and identify the best candidate for the job. So, the next time you click “Apply,” make sure your resume is designed to beat the ATS bots and help you land the job you deserve.

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