Something crazy has happened and we bet you’ve noticed it too. Companies are pouring countless resources into filling vacancies, while employees are spending hours applying for jobs. How many of the applications actually get noticed?

According to Zippia, “Roughly 22% of applicants who apply for any given job land an interview.” We’ve found that number to be quite generous through our experience and research. There are things you can do to get noticed by hiring managers. Understanding applicant tracking systems and how they operate can dramatically improve your application response rate.

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system, also known as an ATS, is a software application that stores all candidate information, including resumes, portfolios, etc. The ATS parses through resumes and stores your information, making it easy for an employer to search for the right candidates.


For example, an employer may want someone who has SEO experience. They can search the term “SEO” and the ATS will pull all candidates who have the desired term in their resume, recruiter notes or tags. In a way, you can compare this to a Google search of everyone listed in the company’s database.


More and more companies are adding this software to their recruiting efforts to speed up their recruitment process and fill an abundance of open roles. According to Monster, “99 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an application tracking system (ATS) as well as 75 percent of recruiters and hiring professionals.” Although they pose a benefit to companies, it can also make it difficult to stand out when applying for your desired position.

What can I do to stand out in an ATS?

To get your resume in front of the hiring manager, you need to understand how an ATS works and play it to your advantage. Your goal should be making your resume as scannable as possible.

Match the Keywords

When applying for a position, it is important to match as many keywords as you can. Pay attention to items that the company is expecting from you. When you see “2-3 years of SEO experience,” be sure to include the keyword “SEO” in your resume. Remember, the ATS parses through all candidate resumes like a search engine. Make sure you’re getting noticed for accomplishments relevant to the desired position.


Use this technique where it makes sense to do so. Adding things in your resume that aren’t true won’t get you far in the interview process. We also do not recommend saturating your resume in keywords without the ability to provide details in your job accomplishments and/or responsibilities, this can have the opposite effect and take away from your unique experience.

Use a MS Word document

This one may be shocking, but some ATS have a difficult time parsing PDFs. Depending on the quality of the ATS, some cannot break through a PDFs rigid structure. To be on the safe side, we recommend using a MS Word document. 


According to Zipjob,“When applying for a job online, the best format to send and upload your resume in is usually a Word document. This format is most easily read by the majority of applicant tracking systems (or ATS).” This will ensure every ATS can parse your resume, regardless of how sophisticated it is.


However if you are attaching a resume to an email, Zipjob recommends using a PDF to keep your formatting the same regardless of the hiring manager’s computer.

Pay attention to formatting

Be mindful of the formatting you use in your resume. ATS’s have a few quirky things that they are unable to parse correctly.


For example, an ATS can have a difficult time navigating things like graphics and charts. In fact, “21 percent of resumes submitted through an ATS included graphics or charts that are unreadable to the software,” according to CNBC. Keep your formatting simple, clean and consistent. An ATS reads resumes from left to right and top to bottom. 


We recommend spelling out dates completely, accurately naming headlines and avoiding tables. The ATS can struggle to understand dates and can’t determine if 09/22 is MM/DD or MM/YY. To avoid this, be sure to spell out your dates of employment.


Additionally, make sure your headlines make sense and are placed directly over the corresponding information. Lastly, avoid using tables and columns. ATS’s can mistakenly jumble your information while parsing your resume.

Following these 3 tricks will help an ATS system accurately parse your resume and can greatly increase your chances of landing that first interview. We know that the resume and job seeking process is complicated and tiresome. We welcome you to book one of our free office hours to help get your resume top shape.