When searching for a new job, you’ve probably applied for jobs online by submitting resumes via email or completing online applications. You may not know that your resume could be stored in an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Research reveals that ATS’s are used primarily in midsize and larger companies, and in nearly all Fortune 500 companies.

ATS software helps hiring managers: 1) manage applications for open positions; 2) screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job; 3) make the hiring process more efficient; 4) comply with EEOC regulations. Hiring managers use ATS software to quickly identify candidates who have the desired skills, education and experience for specific job openings, without having to sift through hundreds of resumes.

When a resume is submitted, the ATS “parses” the information and places it in specific fields inside the ATS database, e.g., work experience, education and contact info. Then, it analyzes this data for criteria relevant to the open position, i.e., years of experience or certain skills. After that, it assigns each resume a score, ranking the candidates in comparison to other applicants, so hiring managers can identify the best fit candidates for the job.

The ATS uses a keyword matching system (established by the most relevant keywords outlined in the job posting) to rank and select candidates. Keywords are nouns, adjectives or phrases that describe skills, abilities, knowledge, education, training and experience. In the ATS, keywords in a resume are graded in two ways: 1) appearance: whether they appear in the resume at all and how many times; and 2) relevance: whether they appear in the correct context, not as random, disconnected words.

To increase your chance of getting found in an ATS query, you first must be qualified to do the job you apply for; then you need to tailor your resume by naturally weaving in relevant keywords from the job posting. One way to identify these keywords is to use “word cloud” technology. Here’s how:

  1. Locate the posting for the position you want to apply for.
  2. Select and copy all the text to a Word document or clipboard.
  3. Go to www.tocloud.com or www.wordle.net to create a tag cloud.
  4. Paste the text into the text box and generate the word cloud.
  5. Note that the word cloud will highlight keywords and phrases from the job posting. The larger the words, the more relevant they are. Click here for a word cloud example.

A word of caution: never put skills you don’t have on your resume as an attempt to “trick” the ATS into selecting you: once a resume is chosen, it will be read by human eyes.

ATS software isn’t picky about the resume length, so you can submit a document that is two or more pages. However, an ATS is strict about formatting. Click here for a 1-page guide: “Formatting a Resume for ATS Compliance” which includes a handy checklist.

Applying for jobs can be a competitive, frustrating experience. However, if you modify your resume according to how an ATS works, you’re likely to “game” the system into choosing your resume over hundreds of other applicants.

© Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach 2013