New Resume Black Holes: Applicant Tracking Systems

WorkCoachCafeThe infamous Resume Black Hole is that place where resumes seem to disappear forever after job seekers submit them.  It is very discouraging, and, here at, we’ve been trying to help job seekers avoid having their resume disappear in that black hole.  (See the links at the bottom of this article for more ideas.)

In this week’s post, guest contributor Don Goodman addresses the issue of making the “Applicant Tracking System” (a.k.a. “ATS”) happy – or, at least, what to avoid to make your resume less likely to disappear.

Applican Tracking Systems are typically used by large employers who fill hundreds of jobs a year and have thousands of resumes to review.  Not every employer uses an ATS, but if you are submitting your resume to a large employer (more than 500 employees), chances are very good that they do.

How to Avoid the ATS Black Hole

A recent study indicated that over 70% of Fortune 1000 companies are now using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which is the software that interprets your resume, feeds it into a central repository, and ranks it according to keywords.

For example, Microsoft gets about 50,000 resumes per week, so they need a system that will automatically review these and only show those that are a good fit. HR also wants to ensure compliance with EEOC rules so they will insist that your resume goes through the ATS.

Note that even if you give your resume to a friend who works at a large company, the Human Resources folks will probably still insist it is fed into the Applicant Tracking System.

So here are six important tips to ensure that your resume will be properly interpreted by the ATS.

6 Tips for Avoiding the ATS “Black Hole”

Many different vendors sell ATS systems, and some large companies have created their own home-grown versions.  So, no one has all the answers to this issue.  These tips won’t absolutely guarantee that your resume will make it through every ATS system successfully, but they will help a great deal for most.

1. Do not use Microsoft tables.

Most Applicant Tracking Systems cannot read information enclosed in tables.  So, if your name or other important sections of your resume are in tables, remove the tables, and convert the sections to text.

2. Start your resume with PROFILE or PROFILE SUMMARY.

Below your name and contact information, this section header tells the ATS what it is looking at. So if you just have a job title like SALES EXECUTIVE, followed by your value proposition, this will not be seen without the Profile header. Instead have PROFILE: SALES EXECUTIVE and the Applicant Tracking System will start correctly reading the section after the word “profile.”

3. Clearly denote other key sections.

Below your PROFILE or PROFILE SUMMARY, the other key sections are EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, CERTIFICATIONS, and AFFILIATIONS. So don’t preface your career chronology with something like “Value Offered.” It might not be seen.

4. Ensure your positions are understood.

The Applicant Tracking System is looking for Company name, Title, and Dates of employment and these must be entered in such a way that these can be identified.

The company name should be followed by Inc., Corp., LLC or something similar so the system can identify a company. You must also have these three components next to each other.

For example:

This may not be interpreted correctly –

ABC Software Inc.
Leading provider of CRM solutions
Senior Project Manager (6/2006-Present)

Instead show it as this –

ABC Software Inc. – Senior Project Manager (6/2006-Present)
Leading provider of CRM solutions

Or as this –

ABC Software Inc.
Senior Project Manager
Leading provider of CRM solutions

Note too that if you have held multiple positions at the same company, you need to repeat the company name again.

5. Use Headers for subsequent pages.

If your resume is longer than one page long (which is fine),  have HBS Software Inc. (or whatever is extending to the next page) continued and/or your name and contact information at the top of the subsequent pages, this can confuse the Applicant Tracking System.  It is better to use the MS Word Page Header function keep that information hidden from the ATS.

6. Submit your resume in the right format.

Send the resume in MS Word .doc format, not .docx and not PDF files as not every system can read these.

Bottom line, follow these rules and your resume will be correctly interpreted by most Applicant Tracking Systems.  And, also don’t forget to have a “pretty” version of your resume to hand out, too, in networking and job interviews.

About Don Goodman

Don Goodman, a professional resume writer and President of About Jobs (, a resume writing and job search assistance company, is the Information Technology (IT) Job Search Expert for  Find more of Don’s articles (which usually have applicability and insight for more than IT  job seekers) in Job-Hunt’s IT Job Search column.

A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and Stanford University’s Executive Program, you can read his blog at call him at 800-909-0109 or e-mail him at dgoodman [at] You can also follow him on Twitter at @JobExpert.

For More Help Escaping the Resume Black Hole:

How to Beat the Resume Black Hole: Finding the Right Keywords

How to Beat the Resume Black Hole: Using the Right Keywords

Climb Out of the Resume Black Hole in Three Steps

How to Avoid the Discard Pile

How to Get Your Emailed Resume Noticed




  1. Interesting to learn that the ATS cannot read tables. Was not aware of this. I don’t use them often, but I do usually use them for my Core Competencies sections. But it looks like I am okay on the rest of the requirements. Thanks for the insight!

  2. I have an even easier way of ensuring that my CV gets seen by the right people: I don’t apply for roles with companies that expect candidates to directly interact with Applicant Tracking Systems. Ever. I’m a professional software developer, and when I find a company that’s actually dumb enough to let software choose the ‘best’ people to work for them rather than the other way around, I know not to waste my time. It’s amazing how many of these companies eventually get around to employing internal and external recruiters, who often approach me on LinkedIn or similar. When they do, I invariably have a frank conversation with them about why I’m not interested in the employer brand they’re representing. Use them at your peril, employers. It’s like the boy who cried wolf: if you demonstrate by your actions that you’re not serious about recruiting the right people, then the right people won’t be interested in you when you eventually do wake up and smell the coffee.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Interesting approach, Rachel.

      I concur with you about the problems that ATS causes both job seekers and employers. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that these systems cause a portion of our unemployment problem since they are flawed (built by humans, of course) and since many job seekers are unfamiliar with them and how they work. With large employers, however, there are very few alternatives.

      Hope you find the job you want with an employer who is as smart as you want, too!

      Good luck with your job search!

    • Wow, this is wonderful. I know this is a response of over 2 years. But I really understand this. I wish I knew what systems(company) did this. Because I would know actually how it is that I should respond, let alone it wouldn’t mess with me mentally. I really appreciate this tip.

      Thank you

  3. Wow, Thank you for this. It’s encouraging to know now that I don’t have to continue beating myself up, and now be with confidence. I sure wish I knew out right which companies had a system like that in place.

    Again I thank you.

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