Have you ever wondered what happens to your job application and resume once you have “submitted” them online? As the days or weeks pass, do you wonder why you never receive a phone call or email from the employer? And why are you asked to submit your resume in Word format only?

Well, it may come as a surprise to you to know that these days, over half of the resumes sent are never seen by human eyes. Why is this? Employers now use applicant tracking software to parse the information from your resume and map it into an ATS (applicant tracking system) database. From this information, the system will assign you a score based on how well you match the job the employer seeks to fill and then rank and sort all candidates. The candidates with the highest scores move on to the next stage, while the others fall by the wayside.

So, how can you optimize your resume and rank highly in the employer’s ATS? Here are several tricks to improving your resume’s score.

1. Use Language from the Job Description: Look through the job advertisement and/or job description to determine the skills required. Identify the industry terms, buzzwords, and jargon used most frequently by the hiring manager in the description and include these words in your resume when applicable—the ATS is looking for these keywords.

2. Get Rid of Images and Graphics: Remember, the ATS breaks down your information and sorts it into different “sections.” It will not be able to read or understand an image.

3. Choose Fonts Carefully: Stick with standard web-safe fonts like Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, Lucinda or Tahoma.

4. Don’t Hide Keywords: Use black text easily readable by the ATS.

5. Get Rid of Irrelevant Information: Only include past positions and skills relevant to the job. Irrelevant positions end up as filler, wasting valuable space.

6. Don’t Use Any Special Characters: Standard bullets are fine, but other characters (such as arrows) can cause issues that could prevent the ATS from correctly parsing your information.

7. Avoid Fancy Borders and Shading: Stick to a simple format that is easy to read.

8. Build Up Your Skills Section: Most employers use their ATS to search by specialized or technical skills. Ensure your resume includes any special skills you have attained, such as computer programs, strengths, competencies and other abilities. Spell out your skills and include industry-specific abbreviations or acronyms that the employer may also search for when finding candidates with the right experience.

9. Create a Customised Professional Summary: Include a list of bulleted achievements and qualifications related to the job description and desired skills.

10. Ditch Spelling Errors: The ATS will miss essential keywords when they are misspelled. Avoid mistakes by spelling-checking and making sure you check and recheck your document. You can never be too safe.

11. Place Contact Information at the Top: Don’t forget to include vital information, such as your phone number and email address. The ATS may even email additional instructions after you’ve applied for the position, so check your spam folder religiously to ensure you don’t miss further communications.

12. Tailor Every Resume: Different ads contain different keywords and phrases. If you want your resume to be one of the top-rated for each position, you must tailor your skills and experience to each opportunity.

So, next time you complete an application form online or submit your resume, take a few extra minutes to customise your application to the position’s requirements. This is a critical step that will go a long way toward ensuring the ATS does not overlook you.

Adapted from 12 Ways to Optimise Your Resume for Automated Tracking Systems. by Mona Abdel-Halim (

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