Working Past the ATS Gatekeeper

By Emily Nahem | Career Counselor | Office of Career & Life Design

It is becoming increasingly common for companies to use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen candidates. These systems are beneficial for employers and recruiters, saving time and money by eliminating unqualified candidates from their potential job pool.  

ATS’ are designed to target keywords, including job title, experience level, and desired skills. The goal is for the computer system to efficiently find qualified candidates that meet the specified criteria.  

Whether you love or hate them, this is the future of job search. If you understand the system, you can create a resume with the keywords that match the job description. 

Below are 6 steps for converting your job skills into keywords that can unlock the ATS Gate, as referenced from this article, How to Get Past the ATS Gatekeeper by Converting Your Job Skills Into Targeted Keywords

Step 1: Start with the Basics 

If you are applying for a specific position, try to incorporate key words from the job description onto your resume. For example, if the description lists having previous PowerPoint experience and you do, make sure to include it. 

Step 2Do Some Research

Check out the company’s LinkedIn page to get a better idea of the company culture and mission. To get a full understanding of the skills needed for a particular career or job, you can check out the Bureau of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to get a sense of other keywords to add on your resume or cover letter.

Step 3Add Some Variety

As you read the job description and search for relevant keywords, think about synonyms for the words you find and create a list of keyword variations to use in your resume. Not every hiring manager or recruiter will use the same terminology when conducting an ATS search.  

Step 4Match Things Up

You should try to match your existing experience, skills, and accomplishments to the keywords on your list. Select the best matches from your professional experience, then create statements and descriptions that incorporate the keywords you’ve identified.  

Step 5Filter your Data

The next step includes adding the keywords to your resume. You’ll want to include the keywords in your education, experience, accomplishments, and skills that best fit the job posting’s keywords and criteria. 

Step 6Format for Machines and Humans

Keep in mind that after you clear the ATS hurdle, your resume will be seen by a person. Don’t try to fool the ATS by using strange fonts or other tricks to hide keywords in your resume. Instead, distribute a selection of quality keywords. Place the most important keywords where they are most likely to be seen by that person–at the top.  

With some research and time, you can identify targeted keywords for your dream job and include them on your resume. By following these steps, you won’t slip through the cracks on a great job opportunity. 


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