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Diversity Blog > Job Seeker Advice

6 Hacks to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

6 Hacks to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

 By EmployDiversity

Automated recruitment tools have made life more efficient for employers, but have created more obstacles for job seekers looking for face-to-face interviews

In 2003, William Gibson, author of the seminal science fiction book “Neuromancer” wrote, “The Future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Fast-forward to the 2020’s and corporations are adopting cutting-edge technologies to automate recruitment while job seekers still try to get their resumes in front of human beings for an interview. 

Nearly 70% of HR professionals cited in a LinkedIn study that the HR software, called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), saves them time. A little over 40% say ATS helps remove unconscious bias and match candidates with jobs more effectively. Apparently, nearly 60% of HR users of ATS believe the systems are best at helping them source candidates, a couple of percentage points higher than the technology’s effectiveness at screening job seekers, recruiters say. 

While good news for corporate HR gatekeepers, the new normal is terribly frustrating to the 98% of applicants (out of hundreds or even thousands per job opening) who never hear anything back from a company after they’ve applied for work.

Meet the Interview “Terminator”

Applicant Tracking Systems are Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven computer systems that sort through the copious numbers of resumes recruiters and HR departments receive for job openings. An ATS is meant to solve an internet-related problem that began 20-years ago with the likes of internet job board giants like recruiters were receiving too many resumes online to manually qualify.

Enter AI. AI has the ability to sort through thousands of resumes in seconds. AI algorithms — nothing more than pre-programmed conditions — determine who matches the criteria the HR department has imparted on the software. Meet the conditions, and a candidate may be eligible to meet with a human being (probably in HR) face-to-face, though perhaps not in-person. 

The problem with the ATS “black hole” is that candidates never know where they stand in the job-seeking process once they’ve submitted their resume or completed a company form. They may (or may not) soon after pressing the Send button receive a tersely worded email that their application has been received. In most instances, they will hear nothing further back.

Top 6 ATS Hacks

There are ways to give your resume a better chance of making it through the digestive tract of the robots. All the suggestions require you to “process” like a machine, not “consider” like a human.

Make a skinny resume

You may feel that the world should know your true value through all the awesome contributions you’ve made to organizations over the years. If you are just out of school, you may feel you need to pad your resume to appear convincing to recruiters. In either instance, don’t fatten your credentials. 

Instead, keep the length of your resume down to a page. One way more experienced applicants can achieve the goal of a concise resume is to just write about the achievements of the past ten years.

Keep It Sweet and Simple (KISS)

Strip the resume of the traditional section that describes your passion(s) and purpose in life. And skip the Objectives section, too. The machines haven’t been programmed to weigh one desire or another. Also, keep acronyms to a minimum, unless they’ve been cited in the job description. ATS algorithms are HR gatekeepers, so the use of superfluous acronyms may work against you. 

And while it’s a good idea to use keywords, don’t keyword-stuff; that is, use the same words repeatedly in the resume. The ATS will assume you’re trying to game the system.

Express results

Machines like numbers. The most effective use of numbers in a resume is to cite how you “raised department revenue by 50%”, or “drove down expenses by 20%”, or “doubled minority recruitment hires in 2019 alone.” 

Write for the Job

Every statement in your resume should be relevant to the job at hand. If the job is not an exact fit, make it seem like one by transferring the results you achieved in a previous role to the open position at hand. 

Mobile-ready version

With the majority of searches occurring on mobile devices now, format a version of your resume that you can upload to ATS through your hand-held device. Mobile and desktop formats of documents can look quite different. If your resume has passed the ATS gatekeeper,  make it easy for HR professionals on-the-run to be able to review your original resume with little effort.  

Read up on ATS vendor companies

While ATS systems are customized to meet the special requirements of companies, you can figure that probably 80% or more of the software functionality is the same, no matter the organization. Look up ATS vendors and read their online pitches to find out what sort of criteria they use to qualify candidates. ATS systems use at least 25 criteria to judge the merits of a resume. Try to find out what they are before you apply and make an effort to address those automated conditions.


Technology has made it easier and faster to send resumes to companies. Unfortunately, the very tools that allow job seekers to become more efficient in their job search are working against them. However, with grit and some research, you can hack the machines to get in front of the humans who make the final decisions in organizations.