The start of the New Year is a popular time for job hunters seeking to change or enhance careers. Between online job boards and mobile apps, applying for jobs can be done with the click of a button. But a simplified and streamlined application process could mean a higher likelihood that quality resumes are missed if they do not include the correct search terms.

Today’s employers can receive up to 250 resumes for a single job opening. To help handle the influx of applications and automate the review process, many companies have turned to applicant tracking systems (ATS) – human resources software designed to filter resumes. In fact, nearly all (98 percent) Fortune 500 companies, along with a number of small and mid-sized companies, utilize ATS software, according to Jobscan.

While ATS software can help employers automate the recruiting process, it has a number of drawbacks for applicants. Often times, a dedicated ATS is programmed to search for certain keywords or skills and may weed out resumes without them. For larger companies, more applicants could mean that resumes are never seen by a hiring manager or recruiter until the top few are selected by the ATS.

As a senior career counselor at University of Phoenix, part of my job is to help provide resources to educate people on the various ways to position themselves for success on the job hunt. Job seekers who want their resume to get through an ATS should consider following these five tips.

Meet qualification requirements

Whether computer software or a human being handles resume reviews, there are no tricks that can overcome a lack of experience. No matter how well a resume is written or what keywords it contains, applicants will not be a competitive candidate for a position if they ultimately do not possess the skills and experience required for the position. Even if the resume passes through the initial ATS vetting process, it will likely be discarded when read by a hiring manager.

As a rule of thumb, candidates should only apply for a job if their knowledge, skills, and abilities match at least 75 percent of the qualifications required for the position. If a position offers on-the-job training, this may not apply. However, ultimately, qualified individuals have the highest likelihood of landing the job and will be better suited to discuss the position in the interview and handle the responsibilities on day one.

Incorporate keywords

Keywords are hard skills and industry-specific jargon that directly relate to the desired position. For example, job descriptions for accountant positions may include keywords and phrases such as “Sarbanes-Oxley” (SOX), “financial statements” and “general ledger.” Often times, ATS software may be programmed to look for these keywords in resumes or hiring managers may filter applications for them.

Without these keywords, a resume could be lost among the masses. To ensure that proper keywords are incorporated, review the job description, job posting and the roles and responsibilities of professionals in similar roles. A successful candidate’s resume will not only contain this language, but also demonstrates specific evidence of the context in which such knowledge and skills have been applied in previous positions or through curriculum.

Eliminate or minimize irrelevant information

Much like the importance of using keywords in a resume and ensuring qualifications meet those expected of the candidate, removing irrelevant information is just as important. The rule of thumb is to keep resumes to one page in length if you have 10 years of work history or less, but two pages is fine as long as the information is relevant and supportive of your career goal. Including all work experience (especially any that is not relevant to the position) can bog it down and add unnecessary length. This information does not directly reflect your qualifications for the position and thus should be removed.

Elaborate on directly relevant experiences that support your current career objective and emphasize transferable skills when lacking direct experience. For example, three years as a barista in college may not seem to apply to a role in marketing, but the communications, customer service and time management skills learned demonstrate applicable professional skills.

Keep the format simple

Simple resumes are king when applying for companies using ATS software. People have long been told to create unique resumes that stand out in the stack of identical templated sheets of paper. But unlike humans, computers do not look for resumes with a glossy sheen or colored text. Even heavily formatted resumes that contain such things as images, charts and text boxes are likely to be discarded.

To keep resume formats as simple as possible, there are a few guidelines to follow. When creating your resume, always use a Microsoft Word File (.doc, .docx). PDF documents might be misread by an ATS. Avoid using multiple columns or headers and footers. These can cause scanning issues. Lastly, include headings for every section and use common titles (e.g., Summary, Experience, Education) to help the ATS recognize to which section information belongs.

Place dates last

Resume format is more important than just creating a simple, clean document. The traditional format may be simple and boring, but it works – stick to it. Employers look for and expect a certain layout and flow of a resume, similar to how a script is expected to be written in a proper format. ATS is programmed to review resumes in a similar fashion, so it is best to keep a traditional layout.

The experience section of the resume is one of the most important when it comes to formatting, particularly when writing dates. Dates should always come after company information. Below is the preferred format for the experience section:

Company Name – City, State Date Range

Position Title

Following these guidelines are a good first step in preparing for potential interviews and may increase the likelihood of landing a job. While not every company will use an ATS software, it is smart to format a version of a resume in this manner, especially when applying online. The key to acing an interview is being prepared and meeting the expected qualifications.


Steven Starks is a senior career counselor at the University of Phoenix.