Applicant Tracking System Resume Tips to Get Noticed

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Most companies, over 90% from one recent study, currently use an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to process resumes/applications submitted for posted jobs and prioritize (i.e. with a relevant match score) whom to interview.  Without understanding how the ATS works and how to pass it, when you review your resume against the job opening and enhance it so it will rank high in the results, it is likely that you may be passed over for an interview.


In this tip, we share some information on how Applicant Tracking Systems work and how you may optimize your resume to beat them!

So how do Applicant Tracking Systems work?

When you submit your resume through a company website or specific job posting, the ATS uploads it and then processes it against the position you applied for, then storing it among all the other resumes/applications for that role.  Your resume is then stored in the system and whenever a Recruiter/Talent Acquisition Specialist has an opening and does a resume search in the ATS, your resume will be somewhere in the list of search results. Depending on the search criteria/key words used by the Recruiter, which may include a mixture of job title/s, technologies, skills, certifications, experience/responsibilities, industry, etc. related to the open job, and how well your resume aligns, it will determine if you get contacted about those jobs.

The ATS will rank you in comparison to the other candidates/resumes based on how many times those key words come up in your resume. Now if your resume does not possess the key words relevant to the job opening they are conducting a search for, you will not show up in the list of results! Alternatively, you may be at the bottom of the list.

How do you beat the Applicant Tracking System

Now that we have gone through the basics of how the ATS works, let us discuss our top strategies for tailoring your resume to “beat the ATS,” where you are increasing the chances of your resume being seen because it aligns with a Recruiter’s search criteria!

  1. Identify main key words (technologies, job titles, responsibility “buzz words,” certifications, industries, etc.). 

Consult with a Recruiter on important key words for your skill set, along with what is hot in the industry and in your skill area. If you do not have a trusted recruiter, do not fret! You can easily identify key words via job postings. Look for reoccurring themes in technologies, skills, certifications, etc. that are showing up across multiple job postings. Pay special attention to the job postings that are of interest to you! These oftentimes hold the keys to being ranked highly by the ATS.

  1. Once you have identified those key words, add them multiple times throughout your resume. 

When the ATS is searching through its database of candidate profiles, it is looking for the buzzwords that are important to the Recruiter/Hiring professional relative to their particular opening. In most cases, those key words are the ones mentioned in the requirements section of the job posting! We know not everyone is going to want to hear this, but you must update your resume for every role (unless the job descriptions are identical!). It is likely that your changes will be minor if you are applying for similar roles, but it is imperative that you make the necessary tweaks and cater your resume to each job posting. This is especially the case if you are applying “blindly” (i.e. do not have a direct line of communication with someone at the company to ensure your resume gets directly in the Recruiter or hiring Managers hands/inbox).

  • Remember the importance of identifying what the main “buzz words” are in the position you are applying for and the overall “search criteria” a Recruiter might use for searching for a candidate like yourself for future openings. Then ensure your resume has those relevant “buzz words.” For example, a SQL DBA would have the following common “buzz words”:
    • Common Job Titles: Database Administrator, Systems Administrator, or SQL DBA
    • Common Technologies: SQL Server, SSIS, SSRS, PL/SQL
    • Common Responsibilities: troubleshooting, support, migration, upgrade, performance tuning, optimization, etc.  
  • One of the easiest ways to optimize your resume with the technologies is to add a bullet point under each job description with something like ‘Technology Stacks’ or ‘Technologies Used,’ and then list out every technology and tool you used in that role, including the versions. 
    • We have also heard positive feedback from our Managers/Clients that they like this, i.e. seeing what technologies you used where (and how you used them!) as it indicates how recently you have used them. 
  1. Use an optimization tool to get a “percentage match” and additional suggestions.

This is an optional suggestion, but we have heard feedback from countless individuals on how this greatly aided their resume submission process and interview conversion rate (i.e. more interview requests)! The neat thing about these tools is that they analyze your resume compared to the job description and provide a match rate and specific suggestions for increasing your match rate. If your match rate is high, you are increasing your chances of being selected for an interview! We have heard great feedback about the JobScan optimization tool, but there are numerous tools continuously being launched and enhanced. 

Next Steps

As you embark on your job search journey, ensure you taking the following measures to optimize your resume with the most relevant “keywords” so the ATS ranks you highly against the job you applied for, and so it will continue to rank your resume highly in the search results when Recruiters are searching their database/ATS for someone like you!

  1. Talk to a trusted Recruiter about relevant key words for your skill set.
  2. Comb job postings for technologies, trends, key words, certifications, etc.
  3. Keep a running list of your findings from #1 and 2 above, so you can crosscheck your resume to ensure the most relevant and common job titles, technologies and other key words are represented there.
  4. Pay special attention to the job postings of interest to you! What are the key words on those? What job title do they go by? What are the requirements? Do they match what is on your resume?
  5. Update your resume to reflect the relevant key words and remember, you must update your resume for each job position!
  6. If you want additional assistance, check out some of the popular resume optimization tools on the market, such as JobScan.

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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