Applicant Tracking Systems

Navigating an Applicant Tracking System - Best Practices (NACE)

Many employers use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These are designed to: 

  1. Streamline the application process
  2. Weed out unqualified candidates
  3. Screen and rank candidates with the hopes of selecting the top person
  4. Allow for specific screening questions, which you will notice when applying to many jobs these days.
  5. Help a candidate stay updated throughout the process

How can a student best format their resume for an ATS? 

  • Typing the document in Word is ideal. Many ATSs have issues with PDFs, though this has improved lately.
  • Avoid templates, text boxes, and tables at all costs. An ATS does not read these well
  • Use standard business fonts, size 10-12 preferred
  • Margins of .5-1” are recommended
  • Avoid headers/footers, especially with large amounts of information
  • Basic bullet points are okay, round or square are best
  • Left align the document, don’t center it, aside from your name and contact information at the top
  • A numerical date on a resume is best (12/2021). The month spelled out is acceptable (December 2021). Avoid abbreviations (Dec. 2021). Avoid general time periods, such as “Fall 2021.” 
  • Reverse chronological order works best with an ATS
  • Resume should be keyword optimized. A good starting point for this would be language and terminology from the job description. This must be EXACT! For instance, “manage teams” is not the same as “manage a team of 10.” 
  • An ATS will grade the resume for a match on a scale of 1-100% Anything over 90% match is doing really well, and is actually hard to get. Most employers start with candidates who score an 80% or higher; some go as low as 55%
  • Programs like Job Scan can help you get your resume to better match a job description. Word cloud generators are a handy tool too because they identify most frequently recurring words in a job description. These can then often be worked into a resume. Programs like Job Scan can be costly, and free versions can be extremely limiting
  • Be sure to differentiate between preferred and required qualifications. You will need to demonstrate the required qualifications
  • Many ATS companies exist. Many show score, rank, referral source, etc.
  • It may be good to have both abbreviations and spelled out items (think degrees, certifications, etc.)