How to enhance your resume for an ATS in 3 key steps

According to Jobscan, 98% of Fortune 500 companies utilize applicant tracking systems (ATS) to separate the wheat from the chaff when working through applicant resumes.

Now, you might not care about Fortune 500 companies, but recognize that standard business practices usually trickle down from the top, meaning most other companies are going to imitate whatever the Fortune 500 fellas are doing.

In short: odds are, your resume is going to be force-fed through an ATS. So how do you prepare for that? The answer is simple! Write a good, ATS-friendly resume. Here’s how to do it.

1. Choose the right file type

You can’t enhance your resume for an ATS if it’s barely readable by the ATS in the first place. So here’s step one: make sure your resume’s file type is a normal, acceptable one that modern ATSs are built to read. Docx and PDF are fine. Jpeg and PNG formats are not.

If your resume is an image file or some obscure format most people don’t know about, that’s not going to bode well for your odds with the ATS. For safety purposes, just go the Docx or PDF route to make sure the ATS can scan your resume content, verify that you’re a great applicant, and hook you up with a real recruiter.

2. SEO-ify your resume with keywords

Ever read an article online and think to yourself “wow, this article keeps spamming the exact phrase I Googled all throughout its opening paragraphs. How annoying!” Well, here’s a secret: the only reason you even discovered that article on the front page of Google is because of how obnoxiously it spammed the keywords it anticipated you searching for.

That’s the sad truth of online editorial content these days: it’s written just to win favor with Google via SEO—search engine optimization. To a certain extent, your resume needs to pull the same stunt to woo the ATS. If you see important phrases and words used often throughout a job listing, you better sprinkle those exact terms throughout your resume.

If a company is looking for someone responsible for “strategic resource allocation,” your prior work experience should include that exact phrase somewhere (as long as it’s actually applicable to your employment history). Don’t say “strategic asset allocation” or anything different to try to score originality points—use the keywords and phrases the company uses to please the ATS.

3. Don’t try to (illegitimately) game the system

You’re already basically gaming the system with keyword optimization, which can look tacky and forced but be an effective tool in your ATS-bypassing arsenal. However, what if you’re the kind of person who wants to take things even further? What if you want to try to completely dominate the ATS algorithms by deliberately playing right into their digital little hands?

Perhaps you’re thinking about spamming keywords in white font so that the ATS is satisfied while the actual human who eventually sees your resume is none the wiser. Well, that won’t work. The ATS will expose all your nonsensical keyword-abusing tactics in plain text to the recruiters on the other side, which will instantly sink your application. Don’t let rookie failures like this one befall you.

On a related note, don’t apply to every job imaginable at a company because the ATS will flag that right away. Given enough time, humans will notice shotgun approaches like that as well, but the ATS will expose it right off the bat and make you look bad. No focused, competent person applies to be both a janitor and a senior software engineer at Microsoft at the same time. Pick your focus, apply only to jobs (one to three) that fit said focus, and don’t give the ATS any easy ways to make you look bad.