Applicant tracking systems (ATS) ... are robots really discarding your resume?

There is currently a lot of scare language out there, that if your resume is not properly optimized, it will never get seen by a human. If you resume is not ATS optimized, it won't be seen!

This is not entirely true. Say you're applying via Indeed, a human hiring partner sees all applicants in Indeed, their system does not discard or hide anything from the human hiring partner. With Indeed, the feature that can set you apart are the skills tests. Often, employers will post a skills test to see if you are qualified for the job you are applying for; acing that skills test will count for a lot more than ATS optimization.

With other versions of ATS software, such as Greenhouse, the system is only used for content management. A hiring partner is shown each resume as-is, so there are human eyes on each resume.

Some systems, such as Taleo, Workday, and iCIMS allow for resumes to be sorted by keyword match. When applying via these systems, it is best to have a resume where the keywords on your resume match the keywords on the job posting as much as possible.

It's all about maintaining balance. Ideally a resume should appeal to ATS systems that rank by keyword as well as a human hiring partner, without having too many tailored versions. You never want a hiring partner to end up with two very different versions of your resume, for instance, the one you sent and one a friend of theirs forwarded because you weren't a good fit for Company A, but they thought you might be a good fit for Company B.

If you have any questions about ATS optimization and how important or not important it may be in your case, feel free to reach out to us at Full Circle Resumes.

Resume mistakes that can ruin your chances.

There are some resume mistakes which can cost a candidate a job or an interview that seem fairly obvious. These include:

  • Spelling or grammatical mistakes
  • Having an unprofessional email
  • Missing contact information
  • Lying about your experience, educational background, or skill set

However, there are additional mistakes which could also ruin your chances at securing an interview which might not seem as apparent. These include:

  • Keyword stuffing. While adding keywords to match a job posting is necessary to make it through applicant tracking software scans, it is possible to go overboard. Be careful not to use keywords that don't really apply to your experience and skill set.
    • Also, some candidates have tried to place keywords in white text in 2 point font at the bottom of their resume. This is an especially unwise decision, because applicant tracking software converts resumes into plain text, so the "accounting accounting accounting accounting accounting" that a candidate thinks they may have cleverly hidden in the footer, becomes clearly visible to the hiring partner once ATS parses the resume.
  • Including information that isn't suitable for your hiring market. In some parts of the world, it's common to include a photo, marital status, and birth date on a resume; in other parts of the world the preferred standard is to leave that information off.
  • Being too generalized. Trying to keep your job description vague so that it can appear to apply to many different prospective positions can work against a candidate. A hiring partner needs to have a good sense of your background to see if you are a good fit. If an employer has to guess at what your resume means, there's a good chance he or she will just reject your resume and move on to the next one in the pile.
  • Not clearly quantifying achievements. Employers want to see that a candidate can complete projects and take initiative. Most hiring partners aren't looking for employees who just complete the bare minimum tasks.
  • Going overboard on the synonyms. While it is a good plan to vary up your descriptions so that every bullet does not start with "managed" ... you should also not aim to outdo a thesaurus on your resume.
  • Uploading your resume as a PDF. While most ATS can parse PDFs these days, some employers may be working from older versions of the software. If you are uploading your resume, it's often best to do so as a .docx or .doc, so that you can ensure all portions of your resume are received by employers.
    • However, if you are sending your resume directly to an employer, e.g. [email protected], PDF would be the preferred format to use to ensure that when the employer downloads or prints the resume, there are no reformatting issues.


How to properly optimize for ATS

One popular misconception is that once a resume or CV is "ATS optimized" for one position then it is optimized for all positions. When ATS is used to scan and rank resumes or online profiles, it does so by position. The qualifiers used to rank resumes for a VP of Finance will be completely different from the qualified used to rank resumes for a Mobile App Developer.

So if you have skills across a few different job types or titles, for instance HR Administrator and Corporate Trainer or Senior Java Developer and Web Designer, you may need to tweak the keywords of your resume before submitting your application, to ensure your ATS score is as high as possible.

However, there are some formatting standards which should be adhered to by candidates who want to have the best chance of getting their resume through ATS screening.

  1. Proper File Format. Often candidates think that they should submit their resume in PDF, because it will prevent any funky reformatting of their resume. If a resume formats a little oddly, a candidate will worry that a hiring partner will think they are unprofessional. However, not all applicant tracking software can read PDF documents. So by uploading a PDF, the software may read your resume as blank. If this is the case a human never sees your resume, which is infinitely worse than thinking maybe you could have formatted things a little better.
  2. Avoid Graphics, Images, and Charts. ATS can only parse and review text. While images, charts, or graphs may look great when a human sees them, ATS is unable to process them, so any information provided in graphic form will be lost during an ATS scan.
  3. Avoid Fancy Templates.  Since you will be submitting your resumes in a .doc, .docx, or plain text file (to avoid PDF issues), it's best to go with a clean and simple template. Fancy templates can get scrambled by applicant tracking software and cause your information to be parsed incorrectly, which again may results in your resume never making it to the pile that gets seen by a human.


This is not to say that you can never have a version of your resume which includes fancier graphics or charts. You can keep that version and always bring it with you to interviews or send it (as a PDF) if an employer emails you directly to request your resume or CV. But with 95% of Fortune 500 companies and more and more smaller companies using applicant tracking software, it's best to adhere to ATS optimization best practices.


Do I really need LinkedIn?

A question a lot of candidates ask themselves is whether or not they really need LinkedIn. With the plethora of social media networks available these days, it may seem cumbersome to add one more. However, LinkedIn is the benchmark for professional social media. No other social network focuses solely on users' careers.

There are several benefits of setting up a LinkedIn profile

  • Visibility: Recruiters and hiring partners often use LinkedIn to source candidates, rather than wasting time in posting a job opening and having to sort through unqualified resumes. If you do not have a LinkedIn profile, you may miss opportunities to interview for positions you would have liked to have been considered for.
  • Level of detail: you can be a lot more detailed in a LinkedIn profile than a resume. A resume focuses on relevant and timely experience and should not exceed 2-3 pages. So in condensing your full background, you may have to leave out some significant achievements which occurred earlier in your career or in an industry you're trying to transition away from. But with LinkedIn all of these accomplishments can be included.
  • Connections: on LinkedIn you can connect with former co-workers, classmates, professors, etc. These individuals can endorse your skills and even leave recommendations for you on your LinkedIn profile, this can be helpful if you've spent 5-10 years at your current employer and are now applying elsewhere. You may not want to ask a current supervisor for a recommendation, because it may put your current job at risk, and you may have lost touch with previous supervisors. By having recommendations on Linked, you'll have something to show prospective employers without having to chase down former coworkers.
  • Networking: being connected with former co-workers can have another benefit. Akin to recruiters and hiring partners sourcing candidates from LinkedIn, a former coworker or classmate can be aware of openings at their current job and reach out to you, because they think you would be a good fit.

What some candidates do consider to be unnecessary is LinkedIn's "Job Seeker Premium" program. Currently priced at around $30 / month, the program allows you to see who has viewed your LinkedIn profile and how you compare to other appliances. It also provides access to salary insights, video courses, direct messaging with recruiters, and shows you as a "featured applicant" for jobs you apply to.  However, most employers are aware that the "featured applicant" only means that a candidate paid for access to the "Job Seeker Premium" program, leading many users to claim that the program has provided an actual boost in the number of interviews or offers secured.

What is ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, which is a type of software application used to automate recruitment processes. ATS was originally created for large corporations and approximately 95% of Fortune 500 companies relying on ATS. With large corporations reporting that the streamlining and automation of recruitment processes was cutting down significantly on costs, companies of all sizes began adopting the use of ATS.

Applicant tracking software is used to scan, collect, sort, rank, and store applicant data. ATS parses a resume into categories and then scans for specific keywords to determine if a candidate is a good fit. The collection of data can be done in both a proactive and reactive manner. Some companies collect and store data from resumes they receive, while others actively collect data from profiles on job boards (LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed,, etc.) to identify qualified candidates to reach out to, and some companies collect information both ways.

While the use of applicant tracking software is often touted by CEOs and CFOs, it can work against qualified applicants if they are not using the appropriate keywords in their resume, application, or online profiles. Numbers provided by recruiters across well known companies report that only  10% to 25% of all resumes submitted ever make their way to a human.

And in the case where companies are collecting information from job boards or recruiters, a company may not ever publish a job posting. So candidates without a properly optimized online presence may never even learn about a stellar opportunity that they would have loved to be considered for.