Submitting a resume to an applicant tracking system — successfully!

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Q: I am applying to several larger companies, after a significant downsizing.  I have been told that most of these employers use software to weed out candidates.  How do I make sure that my resume gets reviewed and lands on the right desk?

A: Most larger companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to organize and track resumes.  Some of these systems can be very helpful to hiring managers.  However, many candidates feel that they serve as an unskilled gatekeeper and screen out resumes in an inhumane way.

Here are some tips on submitting, with the intent of getting an interview:

  1. Keep your format simple. Remove any logos, charts or graphs. Lots of borders, headers, footers or highlighting should be avoided.  Sometimes an ATS is confused by anything that it doesn’t interpret as text.  Some logos appear as a black box when the resume is uploaded by the hiring manager.
  2. Review the instructions for submitting your resume. Is a word document preferred?  Is a PDF acceptable?
  3. Select a simple font. Avoid “wedding invitation” fonts.  Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri are all acceptable choices.
  4. Remember your key words and make sure you have a good resume headline. Often an ATS will scan your resume for key words.  If your resume has specific key words, your resume jumps to the top of the list. If this employer uses the phrase account executive rather than sales representative, then you should consider embedding these key words in your resume if possible.  If you have access to a job description, the job description can help you with a company’s internal “company lingo.”
  5. With or without an ATS, be truthful. Don’t fabricate or lie.  Four years of college does not equate to a degree.  Either you have a degree or you don’t.
  6. Ensure that your resume is aligned with your LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn profile should be similar to your resume.

Finally, if you have any internal contacts at your target companies, these employees can be incredibly helpful in getting you past a human or technology gatekeeper.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.