Understanding Applicant Tracking Software

Advances in technology are changing how people apply for jobs.  Understanding Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) and how to apply for a job online will optimize chances of your cover letter and resume making it past the review stage.

Applicant Tracking Software

Applicant Tracking Software allows applicants to submit their resume online.  Employers use ATS to screen resumes and cover letters to determine which applications warrant further review. When a company uses ATS, you need to optimize your resume and cover letter for two audiences: software and people. If application materials don’t make it through ATS, human eyes may never see it.

Optimizing your Resume for the Software

Newer ATS is far more sophisticated than in the past. It is no longer sufficient to include keywords from the job description in your resume.  Here are some things to keep in mind when submitting a resume and cover letter online.

Use plain text and skip fancy formatting

ATS has trouble with fancy formatting. Including complicated formatting in an online resume or adding photos and graphics can generate an error and take your application out of the running. Stick with plain text and avoid italics, outlines and other formatting.

Submit your application by using the “upload” button

Although many people think cutting and pasting is the best way to submit an online resume, this is rarely true. When possible, use the “upload” button. The upload function will organize the information into the most compatible format for the ATS.  This will give your resume better odds of not being garbled during the online submission process.

Use standard category headers

ATS depends on standard resume categories such as Experience and Education. Make sure to include headings for categorized information, but keep it simple and obvious. Use all the standard, common categories and do not add complicated titles.

Contact information should be in the body of the resume. ATS has trouble making sense of contact information in the header or footer.

Grammar, Spelling and Other Details

If you don’t use correct grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation, ATS will have trouble.  Errors will cause problems with a human reader as well.  Typo-filled, grammatically incorrect resumes with no capitalization and incorrect punctuation will not make a positive impression.

Do Not Spam Your Resume

It will not help to submit your resume more than once. Recruiters can see information indicating you have done this and will not be pleased.

Applying to Multiple Positions

It is fine to apply to several different positions at the same company, and it is expected that your resume will be tailored for different positions to highlight relevant areas of expertise or experience.

You need to be very careful, however, that different resumes do not paint you as a teller of tall tales. Recruiters will be able to compare your resumes and if the tweaks you performed amount to making things up, it will show.

Take The Bonus Points

If you were referred by an employee of the company, make sure you check that box to get credit for it.


If you want your resume to get through ATS and on the desk of hiring personnel, it is largely up to you to submit your resume in a format that software can screen.


Photo credit: CharlotWest via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

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