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Top Tips for Writing Resumes That Will Pass ATS Software

ATS software

Did you know recruiters use software programs to process resumes and pre-screen applicants? To get past the robots and get noticed by employers, you need to learn about applicant tracking systems (ATS) and how they affect your telecommuting job search.

Top Tips for Writing Resumes That Will Pass ATS Software

How many times have you uploaded your resume to an employer’s website? How often have you received a response? Though job hunting is sometimes a numbers’ game, if you’re a qualified applicant and meet the job post requirements, you should get a few hits from interested recruiters. If not, it might be because your resume doesn’t get past the hiring robots.

At least 75% of recruiters use talent management or applicant tracking software. Such software handles the massive influx of resumes and pre-qualifies candidates to save recruiters time. Though employers benefit from automated pre-qualifying, jobseekers often get the short end of the stick.

To increase your chances of landing a telecommute job, you need to understand how recruitment software works and how to customize your resume accordingly.

Related: 13 Remote Job Search Mistakes You Can Fix Today

What Is an ATS?

ATS stands for “applicant tracking system.” It describes a program that receives, processes, and stores resumes and other job application materials to make the recruiting process more efficient.

These programs are especially helpful for large enterprises and employers that offer telecommuting jobs. Such software prevents overloaded email boxes, lost applications, and missed opportunities to hire qualified candidates.

ATS programs also track hiring data and offer insights that help recruiters refine their strategy for job advertising, writing job descriptions, and sourcing new talent.

Examples of popular ATS software include:

  • Taleo
  • Greenhouse Software
  • Homegrown
  • iCIMS
  • Jobvite
  • Kenexa BrassRing
  • Workday

Unless you work in human resources or on a talent acquisition team, you will probably never use an ATS. However, you may use programs with similar functionality, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Why Do Employers Use ATS Software?

ATS programs connect recruiters and jobseekers and help streamline the hiring process. They save recruiters a ton time that would otherwise be spent reading through hundreds of resumes. They also prevent recruiters from discarding qualified candidates due to the volume of applicants.

Another key benefit is that ATSs help keep employers compliant with labor laws due to the scoring algorithm. Jobseekers are evaluated objectively since the ATS performs the first round of applicant evaluation.

How Do ATS Programs Score Candidates?

Once an ATS collects and processes an applicant’s resume, it calculates a score that tells recruiters how well the applicant matches the job. The ATS presents a score, usually as a percentage, where 100% is a perfect match. Recruiters can quickly select applicants who meet a certain threshold and examine their application materials in more detail.

Recruiters can also search the ATS for keywords, such as “project management,” and receive a list of candidates whose resumes closely match the keyword. Each ATS has its own algorithm for evaluating and ranking candidates, so it’s unlikely that jobseekers can plan for them all. However, general knowledge of how ATSs work and strategic use of keywords can increase your chances of getting noticed.

Related: 7 Tips for Writing a Memorable Telecommuting Resume

How Does an ATS Keep Employers Compliant?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces a set of federal laws that “forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.” Examples of workplace discrimination include age, disability, compensation, race/color, and religion.

ATS programs objectively determine whether an applicant is a good match for the position through scoring algorithms. Recruiters use high-scoring candidates as a starting point for further evaluation. Therefore, ATS algorithms help reduce intentional or unintentional bias and help prove that recruiting practices comply with EEOC discrimination laws.

How Do I Know if a Company Uses an ATS?

Typically, employers who expect to receive large volumes of applicants use an ATS. Such employers include big corporations, medium-sized businesses, and 100% virtual organizations. As you apply for jobs, here are a few ways to tell if a company uses an ATS:

  • You submit your resume through a company website.
  • You upload your resume to a webpage, which automatically fills in fields with your work history, qualifications, and education.
  • You answer a series of questions online during the application process.

If you email your resume or hand-deliver your application, recruiters may still upload your information to their ATS database.

How Do ATS Programs Process Resumes?

ATS programs “read” resumes and look for specific sections, such as work history and skills. Then, they extract the content from each section and organize it according to the program’s defined structure. For example, they categorize standard resume items like location and education level. They also score applicants based on how well they match a job post.

Recruiters use the program just as they would an internet search engine, such as Google or Bing. They type keywords specific to the job description and narrow their search according to desired categories. Resumes remain in the ATS database so that recruiters maintain a large pool of potential candidates for future job vacancies.

Most ATS software also draws information from LinkedIn, which ensures that jobseeker data is updated whenever applicants make changes to their public profiles.

How Do ATS Programs Affect Telecommuting Jobseekers?

ATSs change the telecommuting job search process. Not only do jobseekers need to craft resumes that emphasize remote work experience and map directly to the job description, but they also need to adjust resumes to accommodate ATS content extraction, categorization, and keyword searches. Jobseekers need to spend more time creating ATS-friendly documents and thinking like a search engine optimization (SEO) expert.

This additional effort should not deter telecommuters from applying for new positions, however. Traditional jobseekers have to jump through the same hoops. As technology changes the nature of recruiting, jobseekers must adapt to stay current and gain a competitive advantage in the job market.

Related: 4 Ways to Address Common Work-at-Home Resume Woes

Do I Need a Resume Specifically Formatted for an ATS?

Work-at-home jobseekers definitely need an ATS-friendly resume. You can still have another version that’s beautifully formatted and expressive of your professional persona. However, fancy formats usually turn into garble in an ATS.

Here are some basic best practices for creating an ATS-friendly resume:

  • Use all-caps for section headers.
  • Do not use tables, images, or text boxes.
  • Use a single column format.
  • Save your document as a .doc or .txt file, as other formats, such as .docx, .pdf, and .jpg, may not render accurately.

No one said landing a remote job is easy. The telecommute job market is quite competitive, so you need to go the extra mile if you’re serious about your career. Writing an ATS-friendly resume is inarguably annoying and time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort because it increases the likelihood of getting a great job.

If you’re a premium subscriber, enroll in our Create a Winning Resume e-Course to access an ATS template that all jobseekers can use to help ensure ATS programs render their resumes correctly.

Related: How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job Offer and Land Your Dream Job

What Should an ATS Resume Include?

Remember that ATS programs work like so:

  • ATS software extracts content and organizes it according to the program’s definitions.
  • ATS algorithms assign scores to applicants based on how well they match the job description.
  • Recruiters filter applicants according to categories and keywords.

Knowing how an ATS processes information makes resume writing a bit simpler. ATS resumes must have the following features:

  • Standard section headings
  • Ordered work history descriptors
  • Standard category items
  • Keywords

“The thing is, with a bit of time, a little knowledge, and the right tools, you can make a massive difference in your job search. As in, triple your chances of getting an interview massive.”Jobscan

Section Headings

ATS programs look for particular section headings so that they know where to get certain types of information. Use traditional section headings to ensure that the programs extract and structure your resume information correctly.

For example, use the heading “Work Experience” instead of “Previous Jobs” or embellished phrases like “Professional Chronology.” You want to include a “Summary” and “Education and Professional Training” section as well. Keep it simple and standard to help the ATS organize your credentials accurately.

Work History Descriptors

There are dozens of ways to present your work history. Some ATS programs look for standard descriptors, such as title and employer, in a particular order. However, all ATSs are different, so there’s no real right way to satisfy all systems. The best you can do is be consistent.

CIO.com reports that Jon Ciampi, CEO of Preptel, recommends the following order for each work history entry: company, title, city, state, and date. Ciampi advises to never start a work history entry with the dates of employment, as ATSs look for company names before anything else. Also, write your list in reverse chronological order (place your most recent position at the top).

Category Items

ATS software recognizes specific information and assigns each to a category. Categories are used as filters when recruiters look for candidates who reside in a particular state, for example. Types of categories include:

  • Contact information (first name, last name, phone number, email, etc.)
  • Location (city, state, and country)
  • Recent status (your most recent work history entry)
  • Employment type (full time or contractor, for example)
  • Years of employment (the total number of years since your oldest work history entry)
  • Education level (your highest earned degree)

Each ATS has its own structure and employers can often customize the ATS to display what they believe to be relevant information. At least make sure your most recent work history entry closely matches the qualifications listed in the job post. Also, be sure your contact information and location are clear and positioned at the top of the document.


Keywords are particular words or phrases that summarize an employment position. To successfully craft an ATS-friendly resume, you need to put on your SEO hat and strategically use keywords throughout your document.

For example, a web developer applying for a Remote Front-End Web Developer position online may want to incorporate keywords like “HTML,” “CSS,” “JavaScript,” “PHP,” “Agile,” “Adobe Illustrator,” “API integration,” and “WordPress.” Employers who seek candidates with such skills will search their ATS database using these exact keywords. Applicants who only use keywords like “web developer,” “markup languages,” and “web design” may not receive a high score or show up on a recruiter’s search results.

The general idea is to include specific keywords contained in the job description. If you’re not sure whether your resume measures up, Jobscan offers a free online tool to check your resume for ATS compatibility.

Additional Tips for Writing ATS Resumes

Here are some more words of advice to prevent your ATS resume from getting trashed:

  • Update your social media profiles with industry-related keywords that align with your desired job description.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile current and make sure it matches your resume work history.
  • Research companies before applying and use their websites to find keywords that match your soft skills and achievements.
  • Use SEO techniques to optimize your resume for each job description.

Need extra help? Submit your current version to our Professional Resume Review service team. Our expert resume reviewers will analyze your document and provide constructive feedback within three to five business days. Login to your Virtual Vocations account and click on “Additional Services” in your account menu to get started. Don’t have a Virtual Vocations account? It’s easy and free! Register here.

Do you have additional tips for successfully navigating ATS softwareConnect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you! 

Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/BrianAJackson

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