We do everything online nowadays, and that includes applying for new jobs. In fact, for some companies, attempting to apply for an open position in person will actually hurt your chances. In many cases, when you apply for a job online, your resume goes through an ATS, or an applicant tracking software. The program eliminates applicants who are not qualified for the open position. There are some great benefits of applying online – you get to do all of the work at home in your pajamas, while businesses spend less time and money sorting through endless resumes. Most large corporations use this program, but some small businesses do as well.

What many applicants don’t realize is that only 72% of resumes are ever seen by an actual person. While the ATS may be ideal in theory, especially for the employer, in practice, it actually really hurts your chances of landing a job. Part of the reason for this is because an ATS is generally a lot stricter than a real person – you may feel fully qualified for the position you’re applying for, but if you say you have less than the required 5 years of experience, your resume is going in the trash.

The biggest reason why your resume isn’t getting past the ATS is because the computer can’t understand it. Your resume isn’t optimized for a non-human brain. It may be attention-grabbing and professional, but that’s not good enough when it comes to an ATS. Keep in mind these dos and don’ts when applying for a job online:

  1. DO NOT use special characters, graphics, or images. Use the standard font, such as Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, Lucinda, Tahoma or Trebuchet. Make it look clear-cut and easy to read without sacrificing any professionalism.
  2. DO NOT send your resume in a PDF or any other unusual format. Filling in all of the open fields is a good way to eliminate this problem, but using a Microsoft .doc or .docx version should be fine.
  3. DO NOT use the same cover letter and resume for each position. DO use the language used in the original job description, and make an individual cover letter and resume for each new application. Using certain keywords can help you get past the ATS.
  4. DO NOT put an “objectives” or any other filler section into your resume. The computer only cares about “work experience,” “education,” “skills,” and “certification.” DO use those exact words as headers for your sections.
  5. DO bulk up your “skills” section. Most employers are looking for any special skills you may have acquired outside of your formal education. These skills will set you apart from other applicants.
  6. DO place your contact information at the top of every page. You might also want to include your LinkedIn account in your contact information.

What are some ATS methods that have worked for you? Tell us in the comments!


Abdel-Halim, Mona. “12 Ways to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems.” http://mashable.com/2012/05/27/resume-tracking-systems/. (30 Sept. 2013).

Howington, Jessica. “Applicant Tracking Systems: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” http://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/applicant-tracking-systems-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/. (30 Sept. 2013).