Are you going crazy trying to make your resume ATS-ready? Stop throwing keywords everywhere and rethink your strategy. Here are 3 quick, effective tips on how to beat an Applicant Tracking System by using the right keywords in the right places.

By: Elyse Villanueva for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Hey there, job seeker. Is everything okay?

Have you heard about Applicant Tracking Systems while preparing your resume? Of course you have. 

That’s why you’re nervously ticking, rubbing the bags under your eyes, and cradling your third cup of coffee. It’s why you’re frantically trying to cram your resume with keywords to get past the “resume robots” you’ve heard about.

Shh, shh… don’t panic. It’s going to be okay. Take a break and listen to me for a second. 

How to “Beat” an Applicant Tracking System: Quality over Quantity

First, it’s important that you know that Applicant Tracking Systems don’t really “reject” your resume. There’s a lot of misinformation about there, and it’s gotten lost in translation that all an ATS does is filter and organize applications.

The only time an ATS will “auto-reject” you is if you provide the wrong answer on a “knock-out” question about your basic qualifications on the application (in which you shouldn’t have been applying for the job anyway.) Read more about how Applicant Tracking Systems are really used here.

That being said, making your resume ATS-ready with relevant keywords and proper formatting is important, as it makes it easier for the recruiter using the ATS to find your resume among all the other qualified applicants in their search results.

However, we don’t want you to lose any more sleep over it. When you’re preparing your resume with keywords from each job description, think quality over quantity.

Don’t try to fit every word of the job description into your resume. That’s called keyword stuffing, and it doesn’t work. Instead, use the right keywords in the right places to ensure that your resume makes it to real human eyes.

Here are 3 quick, easy, and effective tips on places to naturally integrate keywords and make sure your resume can beat an applicant tracking system.

3 Quick, Innovative Tips on How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

1. Location

According to career expert Susan Whitcomb’s survey of large companies that used an applicant tracking system, 55% of recruiters used the location of the job as a keyword to search for candidates.

It makes sense: recruiters are searching for candidates who are currently in the same city as the job so they won’t have to deal with relocation logistics.

So, make sure the location of the position you’re applying to (not just where you currently live!) is somewhere in your resume.

Say the job you’re applying for is in Austin, Texas:

  • If you’ve previously worked there, no problem. Just make sure “Austin, TX” is written next to the job you held there.
  • However, if you haven’t worked in Austin and don’t currently live there, you have to get it on the resume somehow, or you won’t appear in the ATS search results!
  • In this case, include a note saying “Relocating to [City, State]” next to your current location in the header. If you live nearby (say, a suburb like Cedar Park) and plan to commute, replace “Relocating to” with “Applying to.”

2. Job Title in the Resume

The same survey found that 80% of companies used the position title they’re filling as a keyword.

Again, this stands to reason. Recruiters want to search for candidates who have done the same job before, if possible.

However, even if you worked position very similar to this one, the ATS likely won’t be able to tell that unless the exact position title is in your resume. 

(Remember: it’s a robot. You have to spoon-feed it.)

Place the job title you’re applying to – exactly as it’s written in the job description – as a header above your Summary of Qualifications, like this:

A screenshot of a proper resume header, complete with an exact position title to beat an applicant tracking system.

You can also try to, very carefully, tailor your previous job titles to mirror the job title you’re applying to, without stretching the truth. 

Ex: If you are applying to the position of “Content Marketing Director” and previously worked under the technical title of “Marketing Associate” but produced a lot of online content, it is wise to put the position as “Content Marketing Associate.” 

Straight-up changing that title to “Content Marketing Director,” however, would be lying, and will ruin your chances. Make the truth work for you, but never lie.

3. Job Title in the Filename

Finally, you can also get an extra mention of that precious exact job title by including it in the file name of the resume you uploaded.

Don’t just save and upload your resume as “ElyseJobberson – Resume,” (or worse yet, “ELYSEJOBBERSONRESUMEFINAL”, which we’ve seen…)

Rather, use the position title in your file, like this: “Elyse Jobberson_Content Marketing Director_Resume.” 

This makes your resume easier for the ATS to categorize, more likely to come up in a search, and, tbh, more palatable for the hiring manager to read!

Be Strategic and ATS-Savvy

No matter how many keywords you use, you can’t use brute force to beat an applicant tracking system. Instead, follow these 3 easy tips to get into a recruiter’s search.

And remember, even when it passes through the ATS, your resume still has to be read by a human! Before getting it ATS-ready, make sure the content is effective with well-written bullet points, paragraphs, and skills.

Good luck out there and happy job hunting!

Still struggling with writing your resume? Let’s Eat, Grandma has your back! 

Snag one of our affordable downloadable guides to learn our resume writers’ tips on your own time, or learn more about our full resume rewriting packages here.