Will your resume pass an ATS scan?

By Martin Buckland - Executive Career Management Professional

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Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are used by employers to help manage the recruitment process. The application is designed to parse resumes and filter based on keywords. Its initial purpose is to weed out applicants, lessening the workload of HR. You can never “beat” an ATS system; the goal is to try and match it, so your resume goes into the system and also comes out the other end for review by a human reader.

If your resume doesn’t include the right keywords, chances are it will land in the online recycle bin and never make it to a human. Keywords are generally those skills acquired through education and experience.

There are a variety of keyword resources: the job posting, industry associations, a Google search, company websites, online business directories, the National Occupation Classification (Canada), the O*Net Occupational Director (US), or visit my website http://aneliteresume.com/ to download the free “Do you know your keywords” publication.

Sample keywords for a Sales role include: Account Management, Brand Management, Channel Sales, Competitive Analysis, CRM, Distributor Management, Margin Improvement, Product Positioning, Prospecting, and Profit Margin.

How you format your resume also plays a critical role in the ATS process. In the early days of ATS, it was necessary to convert your Word resume into a very bland .txt or ASCII format before posting onto a website, job board or other online platform. Thankfully, those days are behind us. It is now possible to create one ATS-optimized “Master Resume” in Word that works for both ATS software and the human reader. The trick is to know how to format the document to pass the ATS scanning process.

Here are some tips to create an ATS and human-friendly resume:

  • Use only symbols found on your keyboard (such as *, #, ---).
  • Borders and lines are fine to use as long as they do not touch any text.
  • Avoid including a header, footer or using underlines as content attached to these features may not be read or accurately interpreted by the scanning software.
  • Steer clear of including graphics, logos, charts and graphs.
  • Bullets, bold and CAPS are perfectly fine to include to capture attention.
  • Use common section headings such as: Professional Experience or Employment Experience, Education, Certifications, Technical Expertise or Technology Profile.

Cover letters, when included with the resume, are also scanned so the same principles of keywords and formatting apply when crafting any document accompanying the resume. In fact, cover letters are an excellent opportunity to add more keywords, boosting your chances further in matching the system.



Martin Buckland, Principal of Elite Resumes, is one of Canada’s leading authorities on highly effective resume writing, high impact cover letters, successful job-search strategies, executive coaching, personal branding, interview tutoring and social media career strategies.

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