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2/8/21 Resume

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS): Explained

Daniel A. Donenfeld

Hey there, and welcome to The College Resume Blog!

As a college student or recent graduate searching for internships or entry-level jobs, you may have briefly heard of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

Maybe you’ve heard that they’re these monstrous machines that immediately toss your application in the trash, to which you wouldn’t be entirely wrong about.

However, there’s much more to know, and the ATS could actually be your best friend on the pursuit to landing your dream role.

So, what are they? And why are they important?

Let’s find out…

The Basics

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are scanning softwares used by almost all companies that serve as an initial filter in the application process.

The ATS processes resumes by analyzing how compatible they are with job descriptions. Before any hiring manager or recruiter even looks at your resume, it must first pass the ATS, which is what makes it such a huge obstacle between you and an internship/entry-level position.

To put it in perspective, more than half of the resumes that go through the ATS are eliminated before reaching the human eye…

Collaborating with the ATS

Contrary to what you may be thinking right now, the ATS should not be your enemy, but actually your best friend during the application process. However, if you ignore its existence and apply for roles blindly, it could very well become your worst enemy.


In simple terms, if you give the ATS what it wants, it will enable you to move on. If you don’t, it will just spit you out before any hiring manager or recruiter even gets a chance to read your resume.

Well, what does it want, and how can I beat it?

Great question! And honestly, a very simple one to answer. It may seem beyond your power to comply with a robot, but you’d be surprised:

1. Three things: formatting, formatting, and… yep, formatting

If you choose extravagant fonts and layouts for your resume, chances are the ATS will have trouble reading it, resulting in it filtering you out negatively.

A very common mistake we’ve noticed among college students and recent graduates is that they select fancy resume templates because they believe these decorative designs will enable them to stand out.

Although they may look nice, the ATS despises them.

What the ATS wants is a clean, black and white resume that highlights your education, experiences, achievements, skills, etc.

What the ATS doesn’t want is complex designs, symbols and fonts.

2. Take note of job posting keywords, located in job descriptions

Take a moment and think…

Have you been applying for every position using the same resume?

The reality is this: you need to craft a job specific resume for every single internship/entry-level position you apply for. This may sound tedious right now, but it will pay off in the long run.

What are job specific resumes?

They’re simply tailored variations of your industry specific resume.

If you go through many position postings within your field, you will realize that there are overlaps among keywords used; this is important to consider for your industry specific resume, which is general to your field.

So, when you read the job descriptions found in actual postings, take note of the keywords you see. Jot them down on a Google Doc and have them handy.

Now, here’s where the magic happens…

3. Write your job specific resume with new keywords

While writing your tailored resume, include the new keywords you jotted down. Verbatim.

Why verbatim?

Because although hiring managers and recruiters may understand variations of the words, the ATS likely won’t, so be very mindful of this.

When you’re updating your resume, in addition to implementing a great deal of the keywords from the job description, also be sure to include many numbers that illustrate your accomplishments.

Companies will not hire you because of what you’ve done, but rather because of what you’ve achieved.


Due to the fact that nearly all Fortune 500 companies utilize the ATS, it’s crucial that college students and recent graduates submit job specific resumes for each internship or entry-level position they apply for.

After all, you want human eyes to also read your resume, not just robot ones.

Note: Resumes that beat the ATS will not necessarily attract the attentions of hiring managers and recruiters. With that in mind, it’s important that you don’t go overboard with keywords just to solely ensure you beat the bot.

You definitely don’t want to leave your hiring managers and recruiters scratching their heads, trying to decipher your keyword jargon-filled resume.

Thanks for reading!

Still feel discouraged about this whole ATS thing? Good news, you’re in the right place!

We offer a variety of services, including industry specific and job specific resume writing, where we craft sleek and effective resumes tailored to both your general industry, as well as actual internship or entry-level job postings that you send us.

We do the dirty work for you, so you can land the positions you earn.

Not only do the resumes we craft at College Resume beat the ATS, but they also appeal to the eyes of the humans reading them later in the application process.

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