5 Secrets to Get a Résumé Screened In

CPC Resume Strategy

By Sharon Graham.

Many job seekers spend hours and hours posting résumés online without knowing or understanding what’s happening on the receiving end. They get extremely frustrated when days, weeks, and sometimes months pass without being invited to even one interview. By understanding how these systems operate, career practitioners and job seekers can apply various tactics to get past “the screen.”

Nearly all large and mid-sized organizations use some form of Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Most job boards, recruitment firms, and recruiters do as well. An ATS is a software program that enables hiring companies to track applicants and handle résumé data electronically. To appreciate how significant an ATS is to your candidacy, you need to understand the process that a recruiter or employer goes through to select candidates:

  1. When a job opening occurs, someone familiar with the position fleshes out the job requirements and creates a job posting.
  2. The job posting is then entered into the ATS, which identifies the qualifications and competencies required by the ideal candidate.
  3. For each job that is advertised, many résumés are likely to come in. Résumés may also come in from job seekers who are not aware of the particular opening but simply wish to apply to the company.
  4. ATS technology quickly reads and stores all the résumés as they come in – whether through the website or via email. Hardcopy résumés can be scanned into the ATS system.
  5. The system analyzes all the résumés in its database and compares them to the job posting, ranking each based on how well they match keywords and phrases. The recruiter may also perform a keyword search to find specific applicants who match the competencies required. Either way, the system will separate out poor applicants so that the recruiter never has to see those documents.

Although the ATS process alleviates the recruiter’s workload, it may also eliminate strong candidates from contention. Even if you sent your résumé exactly as the recruiter or employer requested and it is “screened out”, it will never be seen. Now that you understand how the ATS process works, here are five tips to help your résumé be “screened in”:

  1. Create a résumé that works in a technology-based ATS environment. A clean, plain text résumé is preferable when applying for jobs online. You can upload or email an MS Word document because the ATS will “strip it down” and convert it to plain text.
  2. Tailor your résumé to the specific job requirements referenced in the posting. For best results, a significant amount (but not all) of the job posting text should be included in the résumé. ATS systems and recruiters know when you are trying to “scam” the system.
  3. Submit a longer résumé to pack in more relevant keywords and phrases. If there is no job posting available, go to the National Occupational Classification (NOC) to determine keywords and phrases for your target position.
  4. Use a reverse chronological résumé format so that the ATS can calculate how many years of experience you have based on the skills mentioned in each position. Use generic headings. Stick with traditional terms such as “Work Experience.” Creative headings might get missed as the system is not built to recognize phrases that it does not already have programmed in.
  5. Don’t get “fancy” with your résumé. Leave off tables, charts, graphics, colours, and other visuals because the system won’t be able to read them correctly. Be careful about your formatting, too. Use a common font; don’t use bold or italics and avoid any odd spacing such as full justification as the ATS might not read the text correctly.

If you apply these techniques, you will significantly increase the chance that your résumé will be selected. However, you must remember that other résumés will also be “screened in.” Ensure that you provide something exceptional in your document so that you can stand out as different and better than the rest.


If you’d like to learn to create exceptional résumés that get positive attention, consider earning CPC’s Certified Résumé Strategist designation.


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