HELPFUL TIPS: Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

By David Pastore
As long as employers rely on applicant tracking systems to screen resumes, qualified job seekers’ only hope for passing through them successfully is to understand exactly how these systems work.
Jon Ciampi, CEO of Preptel, has intimate knowledge of applicant tracking systems. He previously served as a general manager with Sum Total Systems, a maker of applicant tracking systems, and his new company helps job seekers penetrate these systems.
Ciampi shared his insider secrets on how applicant tracking systems work–and how job seekers should best format their resumes to get through them. Job seekers can increase their resumes’ chances of getting through an applicant tracking system by heeding the following do’s and don’ts:

  1. Never send your resume as a PDF: Because applicant tracking systems lack a standard way to structure PDF documents, they’re easily misread, says Ciampi.
  2. Don’t include tables or graphics: Applicant tracking systems can’t read graphics, and they misread tables. Instead of reading tables left to right, as a person would, applicant tracking systems read them up and down, says Ciampi.
  3. Feel free to submit a longer resume: The length of your resume doesn’t matter to an applicant tracking system, says Ciampi. It will scan your resume regardless of whether it’s two pages or four. Submitting a longer (say three or four page) resume that allows you to pack in more relevant experience and keywords and phrases could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system.
  4. Call your work experience “Work Experience:” Sometimes job-seekers refer to their work experience on their resume as their “Professional Experience” or “Career Achievements” (or some other variation on that theme). “People get very creative on their resume because they think it will help them stand out, but in fact it hurts them,” says Ciampi. “Often the computer will completely skip over your work experience because you didn’t label it as such.”
  5. Don’t start your work experience with dates: To ensure applicant tracking systems read and import your work experience properly, always start it with your employer’s name, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title. (Each can run on its own line). Applicant tracking systems look for company names first, says Ciampi. Never start your work experience with the dates you held certain positions.

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