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3 Tips for Optimizing Your Resume for an Electronic Scan

Imagine asking your work colleagues a question and getting 800 responses. That would be a lot to sift through, and probably would not help you get to the right answer in a reasonable amount of time.

Now imagine you place an ad for a job and get 800 résumés. It happens routinely at medium-sized to large companies. For this reason, many companies have adopted applicant tracking systems (ATS) that include resume filters or scanners. These search your information and determine if you’re a likely match. You may feel you’d have a better chance if they could just see your resume and meet you, but companies simply don’t have time to do that for all 800 candidates.

Like it or not the scanners are here to stay. To help you get through them as successfully as possible, we reached out to Regina Leingang, a leadership development consultant with Baton Rouge General Medical Center and president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Association for Talent Development.

Here are her tips to help you pass these electronic filters.

Follow Directions

The entire point of resume scanners is to weed out resumes that are not a good fit for the position. If you don’t fully complete the process or don’t include everything that’s asked of you, your odds of making the cut are much lower.

You should start the process with a full resume ready to share, as well as a cover letter and references who’ve been alerted to your job search and have agreed to speak to potential employers, Leingang says. The particular tracking system or scanner that you’re applying with may not require all of this information, but many do, and you’ll want to be prepared just in case.

“If you’re asked to copy and paste a cover letter, it’s required and will be scanned just like a resume,” Leingang says. “Not including one will get you booted.” The same goes for not including those references, and for not e-signing any forms you’re asked to read and agree to. If you don’t follow the entire process, you’re never going to make the cut.

Use Your (Key)words

If you’re applying to an ad that includes a job description, you need to use some of the keywords from the description in your resume. The filter is likely scanning for some of these words.

“If the position is for a customer service representative, you should word it similarly and sprinkle references to customer service throughout the resume,” Leingang says. “If you want a manager position, have a management bent to your resume.”

She cautions not to overdo it though. “It needs to make sense and be accurate. A human will eventually read this,” she says. You can’t just have nonsense keywords bundled together and expect to be called for an interview; even if you did somehow sneak through to the interview with that method, it would become quickly apparent that you included keywords on your resume that you don’t actually understand.

Keep It Simple

If you have a fancy version of your resume that you mail or email to companies not using an ATS, that’s great. Your information is already there. Keep that version for non-ATS companies, but use the information to prepare a much simpler version to use for companies with scanners.

“Different companies use different browsers, different versions of browsers and different programs to scan resumes,” Leingang says. Different fonts, bullet points and odd formatting can look very strange in different programs. She recommends keeping your résumé as simple as possible to avoid it turning into a mess when it’s converted in the ATS.

You should also pay attention to how the ATS wants the file. Some want specific file formats such as .doc, .docx or .pdf, she says. PDFs are usually preferable, but you should save it in multiple formats in case you need them.

Lastly, Leingang recommends adopting a standard file-naming system that will help the person on the other end of that ATS sift through your information. She likes “Last Name, First Name – Job Code #####” and then the appropriate file extension. For example: Leingang, Regina – Job Code 001234.pdf

Get in the habit of doing this for all your jobs you apply for and you won’t risk people being unable to find your application or accidentally naming it something incorrect.

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