How to beat the ATS

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Somewhere between 75% and 80% of applications made at an Applicant Tracking System are never seen by a live person.

When you consider that 98% of Fortune 500 Companies 66% of large companies and 35% of small companies use Applicant Tracking Systems, there is a VERY good chance that you relying on an ATS to be the gatekeeper to your next job.

How do you make sure you aren’t part of that 80% mentioned above? Format and Content!

First, what is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

For all practical purposes, an ATS is the company’s job site.  If you want to be more technical, here is one of the official definitions…

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs. An ATS can be implemented or accessed online at enterprise- or small-business levels, depending on the needs of the organization. An ATS is very similar to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, but are designed for recruitment tracking purposes. In many cases they filter applications automatically based on given criteria such as keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience and schools attended. 


Why are Applicant Tracking Systems used?

Like the robots on car assembly lines or self-checkout lines at the grocery store.  Applicant Tracking Systems are used to save money. This is achieved by lower labor costs from increased efficiencies.

How do Applicant Tracking Systems work?

ATS bots screen and filter candidate profiles and resume information through direct inputs and resume parsing.  Candidate information is distributed to recruiters (or moved to the next step in the process) upon meeting certain criteria.

The dirty little secret?  Roughly 75% of all applications made through an ATS never make it past the Bots and go into the proverbial black hole.

How do you beat the Applicant Tracking System?  Format and Content.


For the purpose of this conversation, Format will refer to the technical aspects of the resume, not how the resume looks to a person or how it is organized.

ATS Parsing software has a hard time pulling text from headers,  footers and columns.  Often, the text in these areas are never parsed out of resumes OR only partially parsed.

ASCII Text is the only text that every relational database can read.  Special fonts and characters have to be translated by parsing software into ASCII Text and often, these are translated incorrectly.

Bolding, shading and images are never pulled out by Applicant Tracking Systems.

The best way to make sure the format of your ATS resume is correct is to use a text editor like NotePad for PCs or TextEdit for MACs.  These applications keep you from using headers, footers and columns.  Further, they only accept ASCII Text.  You will not have the opportunity to use any special characters.

Need proof?  Paste your current resume in Notepad or TextEdit to see what an ATS might see.

Use ALL CAPS for bolding, carriage returns for spacing, dashes bullet points, etc…

There is no need for page breaks with an ATS formatted resume.


Every bit of text on your resume is content.  Section headers, job titles and descriptions are all keywords and are parsed by the ATS.

Use the most common words for resume section headers.  Work Experience, Education, Certifications, etc…  This helps the ATS navigate the document.

Use the most common job titles and not necessarily the title used at your previous job.  For example, if your employer called Buyers, Market Reps.  Use the more common Buyer, as your title.  No ATS would equate a Market Rep and a Buyer.  Ideally, you would use the EXACT title in the job listing to which you are applying, on your resume.

Keywords.  Your resume needs to have the same words that are in the job listing.  Many of those keywords will already be in the body of your resume.  For the words that aren’t, include them in a Keyword section at the bottom of your ATS resume.  

Include variants in your keywords.  For example, Pattern Maker, patternmaker, Technical Designer, Tech Designer, Allocator, Allocations, Planner, Planning, etc…

With respect to software, it is common for companies to use the software company and the name of the software interchangeably.  For example, a pattern making job listing may request that the candidate be proficient in Gerber but what the candidate actually needs to know is Gerber’s Accumark software.  

Use acronyms AND full words.  The ATS may not know the difference, for example, between a UX Designer and a User Experience Designer, AI and Adobe Illustrator, TD and Tech Designer, etc…

We recommend that every fashion industry job seeker have a “Show” version of their resume, the one that would be handed to a recruiter before an interview, and a “Go” version that is optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems.

Chris Kidd is the owner of,,, and

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