Optimizing Your Resume for ATS

Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) are a technology used by a growing number of companies to manage their employee recruitment (90% of Fortune 500 companies are using ATS).  The increased use of ATS has significantly changed the way resumes and cover letters are constructed.  It’s estimated that 75% of qualified candidates fail to get interviews because they did not follow ATS guidelines?

The following information is designed to help you better understand what ATS do and how to prepare your resumes and cover letters in a way that increases your chances for an interview.  



  • ATS scans resumes to find keyword matches between the resumes and job descriptions.  They also collect information from areas of your resume including work experience, education, and skills.  The more matches that are found, the higher the ATS score.
  • ATS scores can be lowered by spelling and grammatical errors.
  • ATS is designed to look at Employment History and calculate year of experienced based on the dates in your employment history.
  • ATS review your resume, cover letter, application, and user profile for consistency.  For example, if your name is Thomas and you refer to yourself as “Tom” on your application and “Thomas” in other areas, the ATS might reject your materials.
  • San serif fonts are best suited for ATS. Also, do not mix fonts or sizes.
  • ATS has difficulty recognizing special characters and too much formatting (boldface, underline, and italics). 
  • ATS looks for the commonly used sections headers on resumes: Education, Relevant Coursework, Professional Experience, and Leadership.
  • The majority of keywords needing to be matched are contained in the preferred, recommended, and required qualifications. 




  • Match key words exactly.  Also, if the description abbreviates a degree, “BS in biology,” use that same abbreviation.  If the description spells out a degree, “a bachelor of science in biology,”” spell it out.
  • Do not put suffixes after your name (CPA, Jr, MBA) because the ATS could misread them as your last name.
  • Do not include an objective at the top of your resume.  Instead, include a “Summary of Qualifications” that contains keywords taken directly from the job description.
  • Tailor your cover letter and resume to each individual job for which you are applying by identifying key words from the job description. 
  • Use a chronological resume (contains a chronological list of employers and accomplishments) instead of a functional resume (highlights work history and abilities). 
  • When possible, use accomplishment bullets instead of task bullets.  Accomplishment bullets help to quantify or provide additional details about what you’ve done.
  • The only information that should appear in your header is your name and contact information.  Do not use footers, unless your resume is more than one page and you want to place a page number in the footer.  (A two-page resume, if it contains relevant content, is sometimes helpful because it enables you to increase the number of keyword matches.)
  • Pay attention to the preferred document type for the ATS (it will typically tell you in the instruction).  When in doubt, save your files as “.doc” or “.docx” formats. Most ATS cannot read PDF documents, Google Docs, or resumes created using Microsoft Word templates. 



  • Some ATS looks at your social media accounts and prepare a composite profile based on information found, including photos.  So, make sure your social media accounts are scrubbed.  Remember, if it’s something you would not want your grandparents to see, remove it from your account.
  • Many ATS searches your LinkedIn profile for keywords, years of experience and other relevant information.
  • Some ATS enables you to apply through LinkedIn.
  • Develop a robust LinkedIn profile that not only includes information from your resume, but a large network of contacts.