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Person's hands holding a resume and a pencil, optimizing resume for ATS software

The Top 3 Ways to Get Your Resume Past the ATS

Posted On11/12/2018

ContributorNelson Jobs

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!