How to Pass ATS Scans

 In Job Application Tips, Resume Advice

Many large companies (200+ employees) use the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – software that scans, sorts, and tracks candidates applying for various roles to help recruiters narrow down the pool. ATS are designed to identify key requirements and keywords in resumes and ensure that the best matches are passed on to the hiring managers.

It is hard to tell which companies use ATS and which do not. You need to write your resume for your target human reader and at the same time know how to optimize it for that first, machine-run round of screening.

There are hundreds of different ATS, and it is always a great idea to identify decision-makers via LinkedIn and company websites to follow up. However, you also need to ensure that your resume is ATS-optimized. On average, a job ad receives 250 applicants and 4-6 of them will be selected for an interview.

Here are some suggestions to help you pass the ATS scan.


  • Specifically for ATS applications, consider creating a well-structured .txt file with clear headings (EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, AWARDS) and career entries (use a separate line for COMPANY, EMPLOYMENT DATES, and ROLE TITLE).
  • Avoid all tables and graphics; they are not read properly by the ATS.
  • Use * for bullet points in your .txt resume.
  • You can also upload your resume as .rtf or .doc format.
  • Choose a standard, sans serif fonts like Arial or Calibri.

Content Tweaks:

  • Read the job description carefully and highlight the top requirements. Note the ones that are currently not on your resume.
  • Update the role title on the resume using the exact words of the role title in the job description.
  • Optimize the top part of your resume (career summary and areas of expertise) with 2-4 keywords from the job description.
  • Do not keyword-stuff your resume.
  • Add all details and achievements you want. There is no length limit for ATS; however, it is best to strike a balance between completeness and concision (2-3 pages).
  • Spell out all abbreviations.

Resume Formats for Various Purposes:

  • You can always keep your resume in several formats for convenience: PDF for email applications, .docx for editing, and .txt for ATS.
  • Because ATS are not error-proof and qualified candidates sometimes get eliminated, always follow up by email or phone (if allowed) within 5 business days to check if your resume was received and to offer additional information (references, tests, samples, etc.).
  • When following up by email, attach your visually appealing resume in PDF and bring a print copy with you to an interview.


About the author:

Tanya Mykhaylychenko is a professional resume writer with a background in content writing, university teaching, and IT staffing. She is a member of Editors Canada and Career Professionals of Canada. For more information, please visit and contact her to schedule a free introductory consultation.

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