The Top 3 Ways to Get Your Resume Past the ATS

Today’s guest post was written by Geoff Coon, Founder of RP Career, a high-touch resume writing and career services firm.

One of the scariest parts of being a job seeker is submitting your resume to the dreaded “ATS”, otherwise known as an Applicant Tracking System. You spend hours perfecting your resume to get the right blend of skills, accomplishments, and experience, so the thought of being disqualified before anyone even looks at your resume can be gut-wrenching.

There are thousands of different kinds of ATS’s out there, and some are better than others. That’s why it is impossible to guarantee your resume will be a 100% match for a particular position (we’ll get into this later). However, if you follow the three guidelines, you will be in a much, much better position than the majority of other applicants.

Have “ATS Friendly” Formatting

When thinking about ATS software, there are two ways you need to look at your resume: the ability TO BE scanned, and WHAT companies are scanning for.

The first is the most critical aspect. There are various things that can give ATS software significant difficulty with your resume, such as tables, text boxes, graphics, pre-formatted columns, etc. Again, some systems are better than others in their scanning ability, but the universal rule of resume writing is to avoid these formatting methods whenever possible.

For example, you may be a perfect fit for the position in every way, but if your name and contact information is embedded in a table or the header of the document, the hiring company literally may not even be able to see who you are or how to contact you. Make sure your resume is “100% ATS friendly” in its ability to be scanned.

Keyword Optimization

The second aspect of ATS software is WHAT the systems are scanning for. This is a much more difficult proposition, because every company may believe one skill is more valuable than another. For example, two separate companies post a job for an Account Manager. Same responsibilities, same qualifications, and you know you would be a rock star for both. So your resume is guaranteed to get past the ATS, right? Wrong. Let me explain.

Although the job postings are virtually identical, Company A might view “relationship management” as a key element of the position, whereas Company B might be more interested in a client with “contract” experience or “leadership” skills. Therefore, each company might weigh those specific keywords differently when scanning resumes.

With my clients, I approach the problem by looking for “trends.” If I have three job postings in front of me, I will go through each and highlight things that jump out to me as important. Once I’ve done that for each job, items that pop up in each job posting consistently would be trends, or things that are critical and are considered base foundational requirements for your resume. Once we’ve identified the trends that must be present in your resume, we weigh the importance of specific keywords in one direction or another.

Appropriate Section Titles & Structure

Remember howI mentioned above that “some ATS systems are better than others? Until every ATS system out there is perfect, the rest of us have to play the game — so it is important that your resume is structured correctly.

Although it might feel like you’re being unique by calling your “Experience” section “Career Chronology” or “Executive History,” that might work against you. ATS software often search for different triggers in a resume to know where to pull information. For example, if an ATS is searching for the word “Experience” and finds it, it might assume that everything in the section below that should populate the experience fields in their database. Pretty straightforward. On the other hand, let’s say you don’t have a college degree. So instead of an “Education” section you have a section called “Training & Certifications.” When the ATS system searches your resume for the phrase “Education” and doesn’t find it, that can disqualify your resume. A workaround for that scenario is to always include that word in the section title, such as “Education & Professional Development,” for example.

I apply the above strategies to every single one of my clients’ resumes. Although there is no way to guarantee your resume will meet 100% of ATS requirements for every position, if you employ the above tactics you will significantly improve your chances. Have additional questions? Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn and send me a message. I’m happy to connect.

If you would like to see how your resume stacks up, submit it for a free resume review by clicking on the following link:


Geoff Coon, a resume writer and linkedin profile expertGeoff Coon is the founder of RP Career, a high-touch resume writing and career services firm focused on quality. An expert in the career services industry, Geoff is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), has been quoted on Forbes multiple times, and has worked with thousands of clients to better position them in their careers. 
To learn more about Geoff, visit or connect with him on LinkedIn
Looking for more tips on resume writing? Check out more blog posts from Nelson! 

Your tickets are booked, your bags are packed, and you’re ready for the holiday season. Only one obstacle stands in between you and your Thanksgiving meal: you’ve still got deadlines to meet while you’re on the road. How will you maintain your productivity during the holidays? Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to clocking out in time for Turkey Day.

1. Make a Plan

When you’re at home or in the office, it’s easy to maintain a “groove.” But when you’re on the road and dealing with unfamiliar surroundings, travel stressors, and other people’s priorities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or distracted.

Make a plan for success: Before you leave for your trip, write out a “to do” list and rank it by priority. Then break down the steps it will take to achieve each task. If you know you’ll need Wi-Fi to work on one item, then save it for a day when you know will have access. Need a long stretch of time to buckle down and concentrate? Schedule that item for when you’re on a plane. And if you need a good way to pass the time on a car trip while still being productive, you can make calls — provided that they don’t distract you from the road.

2. Eliminate Distractions

It’s not easy to shut out the world when you’re traveling – but you can try! If you are easily distracted when working from home or while in transit, there are a few different methods you can try to reign in the interruptions:

– If you like to work in silence, get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. While you may not be able to remove 100% of the noise around you, you’ll at least be able to ignore the sound of the person listening to a movie on their iPad without headphones on the plane. (There’s always someone!)

– If you prefer to work around people, and the quiet of your hotel room is deafening, then try a web app like “Coffitivity” to simulate the sound of a busy coffee shop.

– If you find yourself unable to concentrate because you’re thrown off of your usual schedule, try a Pomodoro timer to create structured work and break times.

3. Get Out of the House

 Unless you’re already used to remote work, you may find that your biggest productivity obstacle is your “office.” If you’re too comfortable, it can be easy to shirk your priorities in favor of a nap or the latest show on Netflix.

Make a list of nearby coffee shops, co-working spaces, and libraries, and plan to visit one if you have a hard time working from home. Don’t open your social media or check your phone: treat your “at work” time the same way you might if you were in an office.

If you’re staying with family, make sure you check in with them beforehand to negotiate a few good times to slip away and get some work done without being rude or missing planned festivities.

4. Get Your Work Done Early

This one may seem like a difficult task…but: plan ahead! While you can’t take unpaid time off, you can at least mitigate the potential feeling of overwhelm as you compete to hit your deadlines before everyone goes offline for the holidays.

Don’t wait until the last minute to follow tip number 1 (Make a Plan) – start now. Even if you don’t have major travel planned or you intend to take a “staycation,” the further ahead you plan, the easier it will be to address any last-minute “fire drills” that occur.

Do the big and important work first. If you can get yourself ahead of deadline, you will give yourself the gift of flexibility for handling other tasks – and by Thanksgiving, you’ll be feeling the attitude of (self) gratitude.

What productivity hacks have you tried? Let us know on LinkedIn!  



Regardless of the weather, as soon as Starbucks announces that its PSL is back, the season for seasonal work begins.

In other words: we’re well into the fall already, and if you’re looking for seasonal employment, it’s time to get your resume seen before it’s too late.

Why Take a Seasonal Job?

Seasonal work is, by its nature, temporary employment. So why should you take a seasonal job?

There are a number of good reasons:

– If you’re currently unemployed and looking for work, seasonal jobs can help you pay the bills while you apply and interview for long-term roles. You can even ask your seasonal employer for a reference for the long-term roles to which you’re applying!

– If you’re a student, seasonal work can help you earn while you study, without asking for a long-term commitment (especially if you don’t yet know how heavy your load will be next semester).

– If you’re trying to make a little extra money to pay for holiday presents or travel or get ahead on your savings or bills, seasonal employment can help you fill in the gaps.

– If you’re trying to change careers or want to learn new skills, seasonal employment offers you the opportunity to add something different to your resume.

– If you’re hoping to get a long-term role with a company offering seasonal work, a temporary role can help you get your foot in the door.

Seasonal work allows you to remain flexible while employed. If you’ve got a full-time job elsewhere, you can take on a part time seasonal job on the side; if you’re looking for work but not ready to commit to a company for the long haul, seasonal work helps you make rent while you prepare yourself for your next role.

Seasonal Work versus Gig Work

Why should you seek seasonal employment over joining the “gig economy?” The decision is ultimately up to you, but there are a number of factors that you should consider:

First of all: what’s the difference between a gig and a job?

Simply put, gig work is freelance work. And freelance work is project-based. You’re paid on contract (what is known as a 1099, for tax purposes), and you’re paid based on the number of tasks or projects you do. Freelance gigs can be anything from driving an Uber to selling your crafts on Etsy or walking dogs with Rover.

A job is more regular employment by a company, and you’re paid based on a W2. Instead of basing your pay on projects, companies base employment pay on time. An employee may have many tasks during the course of a work day, and you get paid for showing up instead of for how many projects you complete.

There are pros and cons to each, but they’re helpful to consider as you decide what kind of work is right for you this holiday season:

Pros of Gig Work

Gigs are even more flexible than seasonal employment. If you’re already employed and just looking to make some money on the side, it can be helpful to have a gig so you can decide when, where, and how much you want to work in your free time. With gig work, you’re in control – you decide which jobs to accept. (For example, as an Uber driver, you can decide when to log into the Uber app and when to turn it off and go home. As an Etsy shop owner, if you want to knit a sweater and list it for sale, that’s up to you.)

You can take as many gigs as you want and diversify your investment of time and resources. If you want to be a TaskRabbiter during the day, take on freelance writing gigs through Upwork in the evening, and charge Bird scooters at night, have at it! If you want the night off, that’s your choice, too. Some people are drawn to gig work for the promise it offers to those who “hustle”; others like it for the perceived flexibility and autonomy.

Cons of Gig Work

While the gig economy seems to offer untold flexibility and instant riches, there’s a lot more to the story. First of all, gig workers are independent contractors, which means that there’s no company paying your employment taxes. Taxes on 1099s are much higher than taxes on W2s, so it’s up to you to budget your earnings accordingly.

Gig work can be costly in other ways, too: in most cases, you will be required to furnish any equipment you need to carry out the job, from knitting needles to a car or bike to computers and phones to doggie waste bags. Most gig platforms don’t pay you back for any charges you incur while fulfilling your gig, so you may end up having to budget a large portion of your earnings to cover your expenses.

Gig work is also not assured work – tasks and projects can be inconsistent, as there is no employer promising you hours. You will have to go out and “hustle” for gigs, often competing with others who are trying to do the same. There’s also not much room for advancement, the way there is with employers; you may get new “badges” for engaging with an app, but there’s very rarely an opportunity for promotion, career growth, or flexing into full time.

Why You Might Consider Seasonal Work Instead

Seasonal work differs from gig work in that it involves a contract between you and an employer regarding your hours, your pay, and the start- and endpoint of your employment. If you’re hired to take on a seasonal role, your employer provides all of the equipment you need to do the job; all you need to do is show up. While your training may be abbreviated, there may still be chances for advancement into longer-term employment after your seasonal contract runs out.

Seasonal work offers a happy medium between the complete flexibility but insecurity of gig work and the more structured but stable long-term employment. No, you won’t get benefits, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be offered a long-term role once the season ends, but, if you’re looking for a role to help you generate some earnings this fall and winter, seasonal work is worth consideration.

Where to Look for Seasonal Work

What do you think of when you think of seasonal work? The first thing that may come to mind is retail – and that’s definitely a good place to start. However, there’s more to seasonal work than employment at the mall!

(That said, if you do apply for retail jobs, make sure you start soon: retail employers often start hiring at the end of summer/beginning of fall, because they want to be prepared for the busy shopping season well in advance of Black Friday.)

Here are few other ideas to spark inspiration for your job search:

  • – Manufacturing
  • – Warehousing and packaging
  • – Package delivery
  • – Customer service
  • – Food service
  • – Vacation/resort-related jobs (check out vacation spots near your area for ideas, like ski instructors, hotel staff, and more)
  • – Event-based jobs (‘tis the season for party planners, caterers, musicians, and mall Santas!)

You may also find companies hiring for professional roles from marketing to software development to help them finish projects before the new year.

How to Prepare for a Seasonal Job Interview

Prepare for a seasonal job interview as you would for a long-term role. Do your research on the company, dress professionally, and be on time.

Your interviewers may ask you about your long-term plans and your seasonal flexibility. Make sure you’re up-front with your answers! If you’re interested in growing with the company, don’t be shy about it – let them know that you understand that this is seasonal work, but ask if there are opportunities for working toward a non-seasonal role with the company afterward. (It’s helpful to understand what they’ll be looking for in employees as they make decisions about extending employment after the holidays; if you start the job armed with that knowledge in advance, you can make sure you’re making the right impression from day one.)

And be honest about your ability to take on the demands of seasonal work. If you have travel plans, an inflexible schedule, or other commitments, your potential employer needs to know so they can decide if you’re truly a good fit. Being open doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get the job – it means that your potential employer will have enough information so that you don’t end up over-scheduled and they don’t find themselves unexpectedly understaffed.

Even if you don’t plan on seeking employment with the company after January or February, the interviewer may still want to gauge your commitment to this short-term role. Before you go into your interview, think about the reasons why you want this job beyond just a paycheck: the skills you want to learn, the excitement or fulfillment you get from doing this type of work, the chance to build a career in this industry, etc. What is true for you? Make sure you know how you’ll answer this question before you go in for the interview.

Ready to Look for Seasonal Work? 

So, you’ve made your pro and con list, and it seems like seasonal work is a good fit for you. You know what industry you want to search in or what roles might be a good fit for your skill set and schedule. You know what you’re looking for from this role, and you know how to answer the interview questions you’ll most likely be asked.

Now what?

If you’re not sure where to start your job search, why not take a look at Nelson’s job listings? There, you’ll find seasonal, temp, and long-term roles to help you take the next steps on your career journey.

With a strong economy, heightened consumer confidence, and unemployment at its lowest rate since 1969, your business may be booming. However, this is an employee-friendly job market: with unemployment so low, employees have much more freedom of choice when it comes to seeking new employment. Therefore, employers have to work much harder to retain the employees they already have — and to attract the ones they don’t.

While the cost of replacing an employee is well known, there are many more hidden costs that may be adding up in the background when you start filling vacant roles. Costs related to branding and social media, terminations, and on-boarding need to be added to your annual budget. To help you uncover both the direct and indirect costs of hiring and get started on your annual budgeting, we’ve put together a worksheet that you can use to kickstart conversations with your team.

You can download your complimentary copy of the Hidden Costs of Hiring worksheet here.

Preview of the Hidden Costs of Hiring Worksheet