back to blog

How to Update Your Resume with ATS in Mind

update your resume

It’s time to update your resume! But there’s no sense in doing so without taking Applicant Tracking System (ATS) technology into consideration. Job seekers have a love/hate relationship with ATS technology, and, by the way, so do recruiters. Is having your resume scanned by robots impersonal? Yes. But it’s not all bad: the technology has improved the hiring process in oh-so-many other ways.

Whatever your feelings on the matter, the fact remains that 75% of recruiters and over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use some sort of ATS technology to help them weed through resumes. So, how do you update your resume with ATS technology in mind? Let’s take a look:

Appease the Technology

To update your resume with ATS in mind, be sure that your resume is digitally scannable. It doesn’t matter what your resume says if an ATS can’t scan it. Follow directions to the “T” when submitting it, paying close attention to formatting specifications, including file format, document size, and font/image specifications. If there are no formatting specs, follow these resume formatting best practices.

Then, it’s time to insert specific keywords. The days of one-and-done resumes are long over. For your best shot, you will need to update your resume – just a little – to fit each job application.

“I tell candidates to take the job description and make sure the qualifications and requirements are clearly reflected in the resume they’re submitting,” says The HT Group Senior Recruiter Angela Cullum.

Here’s why it’s essential: Employers use specific jargon and keywords to describe their job roles that may not match what you assume to be the standard. They’ll most often plug that job description into their ATS and neglect to consider similar terms that job applicants may use. So suddenly, a person with a “Master’s in Business Administration” may be weeded out because the ATS is looking for someone with an “MBA.” Or the subtle nuances between calling yourself a software “developer” versus an “engineer” or “coder” takes you out of the running. And if the job description calls for a “go-getter” with “proven skills in XYZ,” your resume had better use those same keywords. As ATS technology improves, you can hope that these mismatches due to slight wording differences are lessened, but it’s better to adjust accordingly instead of leaving it to chance.

According to Cullum, ATS technology will analyze keywords and skills and provide a score based on how well you match the job. “Recruiters will key in on the highest matches first, so it’s important to review the job description and add skills relevant to each position you are applying to,” she adds.

If your job titles, experience and skillsets aren’t exact matches to the job description, a summary section can be a great place to include those keywords as you update your resume.  

But Don’t Forget Human Eyes

Now, just because ATS technology is used to review most resumes these days, that doesn’t mean human eyes aren’t involved. And as Career Coach and President of reCareered Phil Rosenberg points out, ATS technology isn’t always to blame for you not snagging an interview.

“The top job search problem I hear from candidates is … ‘How do I get my resume through Applicant Tracking Systems?’ Well, how do you know you’re not getting your resume through ATSs? All you know is that you’re not getting interviews,” Rosenberg states. “Getting your resume through ATSs is only part of the problem. You’ve got to get your resume through at least two more visual reviews (even more levels at many large companies), before you get even an initial interview.”

So although you want your resume to pass technical inspection, it needs to be appealing to recruiters and hiring managers as well.

“This is your first opportunity to sell yourself. You have to have enough information to ‘set the hook’ and leave the hiring manager wanting to know more,” says Cullum. To that end, your resume needs to be truthful and compelling and at least tease at your breadth and depth of experience. To that end, as you update your resume, consider that it may need to:

  • Surpass one page: “I do not agree with candidates who have great experience who try to condense all their experience into a one-page resume,” Cullum says. “I tell candidates all the time: You are selling yourself short. You don’t need to go into the weeds, but you do need to have enough information so the hiring manager understands the depth of your experience.”
  • Include results: Cullum tells candidates that it’s important to validate all relevant successes and contributions made to past employers using numbers, dollars, or percentages wherever possible. And if you’re not able to quantify your experience or contributions with (#, $ and %), “then qualify it by providing examples of difficulties or challenges you overcame to show how well you have done your job.”

How to Buck the System

And while it’s vital to consider ATS technology when you update your resume, it’s essential to understand how to bypass the system when you can. The further up you are on the ladder, the more that hard fact becomes apparent.

“There are a lot of tips out there on how to win over an ATS system by using keywords, but seasoned executives are inherently going to get lost in the system no matter what,” The HT Group Director of C-Suite Services Sam Wood advised in a recent blog post. “Instead, it’s absolutely imperative to take the human approach. Use the extensive network you’ve built up over the decades and find someone who knows someone who can effectively get your name to the top of the list.”

Wherever you are in your career, an outside recruiter can help you navigate around ATS complications, particularly if your experience doesn’t fit the mold (perhaps you’re switching careers or industries, for example). So, keep that in mind, too, as you update your resume for 2023.