One of the resume questions I get most often is regarding keywords. People hear stories about a mysterious computer system that screens resumes and discards those that don’t have the magic words!

The stories are true. Many companies, particularly large companies doing high-volume hiring, use Applicant Tracking Systems (known as ATS) to streamline the hiring process. An ATS scans incoming resumes to measure how well the resume matches the job posting—simply by comparing how many keywords from the resume correspond with keywords in the job description. The more resume keywords match the post, the higher the ATS score. Resumes with sufficiently high ATS scores get passed along to a real, human hiring manager. The rest may never see the light of day.

You can easily see why HR teams and hiring companies favor ATS. It can save tons of time, eliminating the need for a hapless human to sort through piles of bad-fit resumes.

But as we all know, even smart computers can be really dumb. ATS doesn’t know anything at all about the job or what makes for a good applicant. All it knows is the words on the job posting and whether or not those words appear on the resume.

So, yes—your resume needs to contain the magic words that will get it past the ATS gatekeeper. But doing so isn’t really all that hard or complicated. Here are a few tips to help.

 

Reverse Engineer Your Resume

ATS is looking for keywords that appear in the job posting? So give ‘em what they want! Read through the job posing to identify the keywords ATS is likely to be looking for

Look at this job opening currently posted on LinkedIn for a position with Amazon, an ATS user:

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To optimize your ATS score for this job, make sure your resume includes keywords such as Project Management, Information Technology, Buying & Planning, and Automation.

And remember, computers don’t recognize that “IT” and “Information Technology” or “Program Manager” and “Program Management” are really the same thing. Use the exact verbiage from the post.

 

Tweak Your Resume for Each Job Application

Optimizing your resume for ATS may require that you tweak your resume each time you submit it. You don’t need to rewrite your whole resume, but take the time to make minor tweaks to align the verbiage of your resume with the exact wording of the job posting and maximize your ATS match.

 

Include a Keyword List on Your Resume

This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it’s useful for both computer and human readers. Consider creating a section of your resume that lists keywords likely to be on ATS’s radar. I often create such a list within the Qualifications or Profile section of the resume.

Here’s an example from one of RedRocketResume’s recent clients. Within that all-important Qualifications section, we created a list of keywords that should satisfy ATS while also giving human readers a quick rundown of skills, improving the overall clarity and focus of the resume.

 

For IT professionals, a list of keywords can be especially important to ensure ATS knows about your expertise using tech tools, platforms, and languages. In this resume, we included a list of general skill sets as well as a list of tech skills. All of these should make ATS happy!

ATS is a fact of modern job searching, but it takes only a little know-how to make ATS work in your favor. So don’t obsess over figuring out how to game the system. Take these simple steps to optimize your resume’s keywords, then carry on with confidence.