How to Get Past Applicant Tracking Systems

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 18 minutes

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - featured image

Find your perfect college degree

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

According to a report made by LinkedIn, passive talent makes up 70% of the global workforce, while 30% are actively looking for work. It is said that the primary reason why people shift jobs is because of career opportunities.

Hence, job hunters use various mediums when they look for job offerings. These are job boards, professional social networks, and word of mouth. 

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - fact 1

It’s understandable to think that a recruiter’s judgment is the biggest challenge to getting a job interview. But there is so much more than that, and you need to consider the bigger picture.

Since technological advancements have been introduced in all industries, an increasing number of startup and medium-scale businesses and Fortune 500 companies screen resumes through software called Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before a hiring manager even looks at them. 

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

As the talent war heats up, it’s more complicated than ever for recruiters to find the best candidates. The hiring process needs to be automated entirely in these times.

The applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software solution designed to help employers source talent, evaluate potential, track interview processes, assess performance, and make offers to candidates. Insights and analytics from accurate reports will make all of this possible.

Companies use applicant tracking system software to recruit and hire employees. This system, among others, collects and sorts thousands of resumes. For hiring and recruitment purposes, applicant tracking systems (ATS) help companies organize candidates.

Businesses can contain information, classify prospects based on their experience and skills, and filter applicants with these systems.

Unlike applying in person, your resume is seldom sent directly to recruiters or hiring managers when you use it online. ATS is processing it first. You may have a chance to be seen by a human recruiter only if your resume has been optimized for an applicant tracking system.

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - fact 5

How Does ATS Work?

Employing applicant tracking systems simplifies the process of recruiting by sifting for the best candidates using automated intelligence.

Companies and recruiters save time, which would otherwise be spent weeding out candidates manually since many open positions tend to attract hundreds or thousands of candidates without the necessary qualifications.

Candidates want user-friendly and easy-to-follow application processes. A sound applicant tracking system makes it easy for people to apply to positions using any device without logging in. Therefore, a larger pool of applicants is beneficial to companies because they can be automatically ranked based on abilities, skill set, and experience.

Applicant tracking systems let users submit notes and feedback to candidates during the recruitment process. They allow recruiters and hiring managers to collaborate from their mobile devices, making work easier for them.

In screening and sorting candidate resumes, the best applicant tracking systems use the latest technology, including natural language processing and AI. In this system, resumes are scanned, looking for keyword matches, and data is analyzed using other algorithms.

Integrating applicant tracking systems with job boards also streamlines job postings. Therefore, ATS is a great advantage for companies and businesses worldwide. But what about the side of applicants? Is this a good thing for them?

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - fact 2

Why do applicants want to get past it?

An applicant tracking system is the one piece of technology that is universally disliked across recruitment ranks and files. All kinds of applicants don’t want their resumes to be ignored, especially if they have put so much effort into producing them.

Most of the potential pitfalls recruiters confront on the talent battlefield today stem from the system they are forced to rely on, even if that means sacrificing recruiting effectiveness, efficiency, and great talents.

Today, you can apply for a job online more quickly than ever-but it’s more challenging to get your resume noticed. What are the steps you need to take to make the cut and receive an interview invitation? You need to make sure your resume sells your abilities in terms that a robot can understand to get past the applicant tracking system (ATS).

Get the job by using the right keywords, formatting your resume correctly, and nailing the details that catch the attention of hiring managers.

Even if ATS results in saving time for HR executives, this electronic screening of resumes sometimes means highly qualified candidates slip through the cracks because they didn’t use a specific format or language. Avoid this at all costs! Getting past algorithms is crucial for job seekers in today’s era.

Therefore, job seekers have to be more creative with their resumes to impress both the robots scanning them and the people reading them and ultimately deciding whether to invite them for an interview. In the end, candidates who want to make it through the screening process must optimize their resumes. Only then will they be able to land the job they want.

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - fact 3

20 Proven Ways to Beat ATS:

Apply the following tips to beat ATS, and allow your CV to be selected and considered by hiring managers:

Use The Right Keywords

The ATS looks closely at the keywords in your CV. ATSs track your CV and match it with the relevant job description to determine the best fit for the role. You cannot tailor your CV to all job postings; it must be specific to the job you’re applying for.

Read the job posting carefully and describe your skills and experiences in the same way. All professions use their particular lingo. You need to include words on your resume that reflect your professional background, such as skills, certifications, licenses, responsibilities, and even procedures.

This, however, does not imply the redundant use of the keywords. When you attempt to trick the ATS, it can tell quickly! Keep your keywords subtle instead. Your resume should include them throughout, but you should know where to place them.

If you list your core competencies or abilities in your skills section, keywords fit well there. It’s good to use bullet points to include all critical phrases so that the CV flows naturally and is easy for ATS programs to read. ATS is said to reject 75% of resumes from candidates, so use this tip to your advantage. 

Create A Simple Formatted Resume

The way an applicant formats his or her resume can prevent the ATS from sifting through the content and keywords on an uploaded resume promptly. In some cases, an ATS cannot read text boxes or tables on a resume and excludes any information contained therein. You might need that information to prove your qualifications.

Apply these pro tips to create a simple resume:

Unusual fonts can also cause problems. Your unique font choice may seem like a great way to stand out, but the ATS might convert your font into a standard font (such as Times New Roman) or, in a worst-case scenario, it might fail to capture skills written in a font it does not recognize.

Therefore, it’s better to pick a font that suits your needs. As Lifehacker suggests, use serif fonts like Times New Roman or Cambria instead of sans-serif fonts such as Verdana or Tahoma, which some screening software will reject. Fonts with the script should be avoided at all costs. Business Insider recommends using 11-point fonts or larger.

If you’re applying for a graphic design job, you’ll undoubtedly want a graphically enhanced resume, but it’s best to retain simplicity. It may be challenging to get past an applicant tracking system with an interesting-looking resume, but the hiring manager will notify you if you make it past it.

Complex resumes may be challenging to track and may be placed in the wrong location by some tracking systems.

There’s no harm in following this advice, even if you’re not working with an ATS. There is still a possibility of glitches and incorrect parsing for some ATS, and it is best to use a single-column layout. 

ATS could miss the point of your experience if, for example, your education and work history are divided into two separate columns. Therefore, using a template can save you from this misunderstanding or ATS error.

Keep it simple! Don’t let others tell you that fancy or creative templates will help you stand out. The templates by Resume Worded are already optimized for ATS applications to save you time and effort.

Filtering software cannot operate properly when resumes include graphics, images, and tables. Confused robots reject resumes that contain them.

While pictures and logos on resumes may not be entirely professional (unless you’re applying for a graphic artist position), the chance of rejection should be enough to deter prospective employers from avoiding them.

ATS will not also process graphics, icons, pie charts, or diagrams, so stay away from them. It isn’t just the ATS that prefers a clean and straightforward resume; recruiters and hiring managers do it. You should not use bar charts or graphs when displaying skills on the resume!

To facilitate parsing and understanding of the information contained in each section, applicant tracking systems use headings. Thus, you need to ensure the headings are simple and easy for the ATS to read and recognize.

The standard set of resume headings will make the job of the parser as simple as possible. Your content is categorized into the following four groups:

Use these titles for the sections of your CV. You can skip using unique headings and instead use the four words mentioned above. 

A PDF resume is generally preferred over Word documents. How come, you might wonder? If you’ve put more effort into your resume than most, you shouldn’t risk messing it up by using different versions of Word.

In addition, PDF files are easier to share – recruiters and hiring managers do not need to install Office to view them. Nevertheless, if it was explicitly requested, you could use Word.

Simple programs such as Word and Google Docs can be used to create a resume. You might think designing your resume using Photoshop or fancy online resume builders is a good idea, but the PDF you end up with won’t be able to be highlighted. So, go back to using essential tools and use a standard and readable format instead.

When you use keywords, make sure you include them precisely as they appear in the job description. It means keeping the exact spellings and abbreviations but not repeating the same keyword over and over again or attempting to twist your sentences into something that’s no longer grammatically correct. When an acronym is used, both full and abbreviated versions should be included.

On your resume, you should indicate what position you are applying for. This one should be easy for you if you’ve held similar jobs before. As a Business Analyst candidate, you should consider changing your current title to Business Analyst or combining Data Analyst with Business Analyst.

Also, consider writing bullet points that refer to your skills as a Business Analyst. As long as you still reflect your actual job title, a slightly modified title isn’t dishonest or confusing.

You shouldn’t lie – if you’ve never held a position like this, don’t try to make it appear that you have! You don’t gain much if, during an interview, you have forgotten what you included or mentioned in your resume.

Your resume should not include buzzwords or soft skills. Motivation, hard work, and leadership skills are what every employer searches for, but you’ll need more than that to convince an employer you’re the right candidate. It’s okay to leave off keywords like those, even if they’re on the job description.

Don’t just talk about those qualities; show them through your experiences and accomplishments instead. “Worked as a project manager with ten subordinates” is a better statement to use, and it explains to recruiters or hiring managers the size of the teams you have led and your specific role. 

It’s a lot more effective than simply saying you are familiar with leadership. Words like “hard-working,” “determined,” or “go-getter” will never be searched for in interviews or on resumes in an ATS! You will not get through the ATS with these buzzwords. It will only make your resume worse.

In an applicant tracking system, the terminology that is searched is based on the settings. You should include both short- and long-form terms.

This is to increase the likelihood that the algorithm will find the long-form word or phrase. For instance, you might format your skill in this way: “Experienced in SEO (Search Engine Optimization).” 

As much as possible, your resume must be ATS-friendly. Therefore, you should be careful when using acronyms. There is no guarantee that an ATS will know the full title of a company versus its acronym. It’s rather wise to include the complete acronym of the title on a resume. Titles, companies, and lingo should apply the same rule, too.

This next tip is a given, but it wouldn’t hurt to emphasize it once again. Although some hiring managers would usually ignore and eliminate CVs with misspelled words, ATS would not understand what you wrote down. Humans can at least take a chance in guessing or reading beyond what you’ve written, but an ATS will automatically reject your CV.

The ATS will look for keywords that match and that are relevant headings, too. Having wrong grammar and spelling will not register as a match, and you might lose your chance to apply even if you’re qualified for the job. Hence, a little proofreading and editing go a long way!

Regardless of how similar the two positions might seem, make sure that your resume reflects the requirements of each position. Each job description will likely be different in some way, so customize your resume to reflect these differences.

Anyway, companies also differ from one another. Get acquainted with the company’s values and objectives by visiting their website. Using what you learn will help you stand out on your resume and cover letter.

Apply Even If You Think You Might Not be Qualified

It may seem like you must have a CV that is a perfect match with the job description the moment you think that an unerring computer will be reading it, but this isn’t the case. An ATS determines a candidate’s best match, and there is rarely a 100% match. So, don’t be too hard on yourself, and apply for the job anyway.

Although you may not be the perfect match right now, you may still be the best possible match in this situation. Despite lacking the required professional experience, the willingness to learn and enthusiasm to succeed can still make you a great employee.

Recruiters may use application tracking systems to search for CVs containing a specific qualification if a job vacancy requires a particular skill or qualification (as many do). If the search is conducted online, be sure your CV contains a section describing your skills and qualifications.

Ensure to list all of your relevant qualifications and skills in a language that the recruiter can easily understand. 

Clean Up Your Social Media Presence

While some companies analyze your social media presence, it is unclear whether this is a good or a bad thing. As such, not only do you need to make sure your CV will pass an ATS, but you also have to ensure your online presence will do the same.

You have control over what the ATS finds, and that’s the good news. Firstly, review your privacy settings on each of your social media profiles and choose what you’d like to keep private and what you’re comfortable making public.

You should also clean up any uncomfortable or indecent comments or posts. Being prepared is better than losing a job opportunity due to an Instagram post from several years ago. 

Include Relevant Information

Your resume is scanned for information and experience relevant to the job you are applying for in an ATS. An accounting job applicant should not submit two pages of sales experience. Due to the lack of relevant information in your resume, the ATS will likely reject you.

Identify the skills you have or how you reword your experience to make it more relevant to the position if you do not have any relevant experience. The skills you have that are flexible can help you better match the requirements of this job.

Include Referrals in Your Application

Employers have always valued referrals as an essential part of hiring. The hiring manager wants to get a first-hand account of your work ethic from someone with knowledge of your past. The online application will often ask if you were referred to the position by a company employee. If so, be sure to include your previous workmate’s name here so you have a better chance of being selected.

Even some organizations allow you to submit your application straight through the applicant tracking system to a hiring manager, so if you know one of the people in the organization, you should use this system to your advantage.

Don’t Make Your Resume Too Fancy

To avoid confusion with the applicant tracking system, take care not to enter any irrelevant data. Your CV must be easy for the ATS to navigate without tripping up because of complex formatting. Some formatting tricks that appear fine to human eyes can be confusing to an ATS.

If you don’t want to remove your visual references, you must remove everything that might cause a parser problem, even headers and footers. Craft a resume that appeals to an actual person, not a robot.

Follow Up Regarding Your Application

Do not let your robots cause you to lose sight of real humans. If your employer uses automation to streamline their candidate search, it does not mean you have to do the same. Your cheerfulness, passion, and personality will leave a lasting impression if you demonstrate them.

Reaching out to someone within the organization may help you get a second look at your application, even if you cannot contact the hirer directly.

Send a note through your network indicating that you are interested in the position. In that case, your application may be found in the applicant tracking system, and the employer may take the time to look at it.

Back-Up All Your Claims

Additionally, you will have to support every claim you put on your resume. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to exaggerate your abilities. Be honest as much as possible. Even so, it doesn’t mean you can’t mention that you took a class at a well-known university.

It is still resume-worthy to have attended a school ranked higher in the algorithm, even if you did not complete your degree there. You will be a more appealing candidate to the algorithm who is looking to interview you tomorrow.

Update Your Information Online

You don’t have to submit only your resume to an applicant tracking system. To make sure all your information is matchable, they may also search the web. Make sure your online profiles are up to date to maximize your application.

Make Use Of Simple And Understandable Bullet Points

Using bullet points on a resume can highlight a resume’s accomplishments and qualifications when used appropriately. It is possible, however, for the bullets to become scrambled if you choose elaborate symbols. Your resume’s bulleted list should not contain complex characters.

To ensure that your bullet points enhance your resume rather than render it incompatible with an ATS, use the most straightforward options, such as a solid circle, an open circle, or a square.

Beating the Applicant Tracking System - fact 4

Final Thoughts

You need to become familiar with resume screening robots to get hired. As employers today can reach more people with a few simple clicks, job seekers like you are up against numerous qualified candidates. 

The competition is tougher than ever before! However, because only 25 percent of resumes make it past the initial electronic screening process, you still stand a good chance of standing out – as long as you use resume writing tactics that will help you move beyond the resume screening process to get in front of real hiring managers.

You can make your resume more attractive to hiring managers if you follow these tips. In the meantime, consider interview coaching so that you can get an offer as fast as possible. You can learn more about interview skills by watching video lessons, answering helpers, and practicing drills from online resources.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.