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How to Beat the Resume Screeners

Nobody ever got a job offer from a robot!  

You probably know that most medium and large employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).  This means that when you submit your application, the Applicant Tracking System will screen it for keywords and relevant phrases to identify the best candidates.  However, the reality is that it's not always the strongest candidates who pass through the screening; often it's the candidates who know how the Applicant Tracking Systems work.  Your goal is to pass through the screening so that your resume will be reviewed by a human being, who can actually hire you.  Here are some tips will help:    

Match keywords exactly.  Don't rephrase the requirements.  Use the exact terminology that the employer uses in the job posting.  For example, if the employer requests 3 years of experience in marketing, don't talk about your communications experience.  Always match your language to the employer.      

Customize your resume for each position.  Since each employer will phrase things in a slightly different way, it is essential that you customize your resume and application for each position.  If you are using the same resume for every job, you will miss some crucial keywords and your application will be screened out.       

Keep your formatting simple.  Applicant Tracking Systems are notoriously glitchy.  They are not able to read fancy formatting and they will therefore screen those resumes out.  For that reason, it is better to keep your formatting simple.  Send your resume as a Word document and refrain from using graphics or fancy fonts.  Also, keep your margins to at least one inch all around.  

Have a longer version of your resume.   The one piece of good news for job seekers is that unlike humans, Applicant Tracking Systems don't mind long resumes.  In fact, it is better to submit a longer resume because it is more likely that you will hit on the correct keywords.  So if you are applying to large organization, where it is likely that they are using an ATS, use a 3 or 4 page resume.     

Follow up on your resume.   The easiest and most effective way to beat the resume screeners is by using your network.  Try to find someone connected to you who works at the company.  Let them know that you applied for the position and ask if they would be willing to give you a referral.  If you don't know anyone who works there, reach out to the hiring manager.  You may not get past the gate keepers, but if you do, it's an effective way of getting noticed.  

Only a small percentage of the applicants will make it through the Applicant Tracking System, but it is only the first step.  The good news is that most people find it easier to interact with human beings.  If you are prepared for the interview and you look professional, you'll be ready to impress any employer.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Nokhoog_buuchachon at