Resume Rules to Get Past the Robots

Get Your Resume Read to Make an Interview Happen!

If you expect to get your online resume seen and considered, you need to know what’s up; you need to know the rules because before a resume gets in front of an actual person it often has to get past the “Gatekeeper”.

I’m not talking about the small companies in a community where the owner runs the business or has a hand in the hiring, I’m talking about those companies that are getting hundreds of applicants for a single position. In fact 50% of mid-sized companies, and nearly ALL large companies, use a Gatekeeper to scan resumes before any decision maker ever gets their eyes on it.

jacked man

Gatekeeper = ATS

So who’s the Gatekeeper for these employers? Actually it’s not a who, it’s a what.

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Yup, computer software that efficiently and ruthlessly scans resumes that come in and then send along the ones that make the cut to the powers that be; a decision maker who decides whether or not an applicant gets in for an interview.

Which means that even if an applicant is ridiculously qualified and has amazing skills, achievements and experience… even they might not make it past the Gatekeeper. People need to present their information and qualifications in a way that the Gatekeeper understands otherwise their resume is going to get ditched and no one (aka human being) is going to see it.

What Your Resume is Up Against

75% Rejected. For Real?

For real. Studies have shown that 75% of applicants are getting rejected because the software that’s reading their resume can’t read it.  The ATS is confused and doesn’t know what the resume’s talking about, which means that if an applicant wants their resume read, rated highly and passed along to a real person with an opinion and influence (which they obviously do), then they have to know the rules.

keep it simple

Keep it Super Simple

Resumes that are submitted online have specific formatting requirements to make it easier for the ATS to read it, which means these resumes have to be simple with no fluff or fancification (which is surprisingly a real word).

“First contact” with a company or recruiter isn’t the time to be sending a creative and comprehensive resume  that will catch an actual person’s eye. The ATS doesn’t have that kind of eye; it could care less. Save those resumes and online portfolios for when you get a chance to talk to a real person during an interview, at a career fair, or through a networking opportunity. They’ll be impressed so save it for them.


Follow the Rules. Stay in the Game.

That said, here are 16 rules to follow if you want the online resume you send to get a thumbs up by the ATS so you’ll make it in front of a person who’ll want to talk to you:

  • Formatting:  Save and send your resume as a .doc or .txt file
    • DON’T send your resume as a .pdf (unless you’re specifically asked to).
      • The ATS sees a pdf as an image so doesn’t read what’s on it; which means it gets rejected ASAP.
  • Fonts:  Use simple, basic fonts.
    • Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, Helvetica or Georgia are good bets.
  • Color, graphics, images, or tables.
    • Don’t use them. ATS can’t read them = resume rejected
  • Section Headings:  Keep them standard and stick with some of the basics like:
    • Qualifications
    • Skills
    • Education
    • Work Experience
    • Employment
    • Achievements
  • Headers and Footers. Keep them empty
  • Online resume templates. Don’t use them here.  Why?
    • They often have hidden formatting going on in the back end that we can’t see but the ATS can. Not good so don’t do it.
  • Employment and Education Sections:
    • List the name of the employer or school first THEN the dates you worked or attended there.
  • Upload your resume as an attachment and include your name in the filename.
    • Example. JohnSnowResume.doc
  • Keywords, keywords and more keywords.
    • Scan the job posting and pull out the unique and specific words and phrases in the listing.
    • Include each of those words or phrases 2 or 3 time throughout your resume where they best fit in.
    • Don’t just stuff your resume with keywords though since your resume has to make sense for the person who reads it after it get the OK from the ATS.
  • Acronyms: Write out all acronyms and include the acronym as well.
    • For example… Certified Pubic Accountant (CPA)
  • Spelling and grammar. Check them, then check them again.
    • If something’s not spelled correctly it’s gibberish to the ATS.
  • Left alignment for resume text. Right alignment can end up making the formatting look wonky.
  • Years written as 4 digits.  Yes = 2017   No = 17 or ’17
  • Ditch “Objective” & “References Available” (it’s assumed you have them). Both sections are old school and a waste of space.
  • Don’t include a list of “soft skills” like “positive attitude” or “team player”.
    • They’re not proven and are subjective so no one knows if you’re being entirely honest; especially the ATS.
    • Instead include your soft skills within the content of your resume’s work experiences and achievements.
      • Example: Instead of “team player” you might state “Collaborated with a team of 5 to achieve a successful fund raising goal of $20,000.”

So, there you go. In a nutshell you've learned...

  • The importance of optimizing 1st contact resumes to be read and understood by computer software so they’re passed along to humans rather than ditched in the trash.
  • Applicants should consider creating a second resume and/or online portfolio presence to showcase their creativity and share all of the awesomeness that the ATS can’t appreciate.
    • This will be the resume that’s given to people in person during an interview, at a career fair, or through a networking opportunity. They’ll be impressed so do this for those situations because it’s easy to read and looks great (more to come on that some other time).

So, go ahead and create that standard no frills resume because it’s important!   But also make sure that you follow the rules so you’ll beat out most of the applicants. You’ll end up making it past the robots and in front of the interviewers!