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The Shocking % of Resumes That Fail Employers Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) System

In the days before modern technology, recruiters would read through every job application that arrived on their desk. These days, however, Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) systems can scan resumes in seconds, rejecting those that fail to meet certain criteria.

And the number of resumes that get rejected right away has never been higher.

This guide will look at how and why so many resumes fail applicant tracking systems, and why you need to get an ATS-friendly resume written and why it's more important today than ever before.

blue background with the words "Get Your Resume PAST THE ROBOTS"

75% of Resumes Fail to Pass ATS Systems

A 2019 study from job search services firm Preptel found that a whopping 75% of resumes failed to pass ATS systems. In other words, three of every four resumes submitted never even get read by real human recruiters, and only one in four is good enough to pass those initial ATS scans.

Those numbers become even more daunting when you see how widespread ATS usage is becoming. Reports show that almost all Fortune 500 companies now use ATS systems.

And they’re not the only ones. Lots of mid-size and smaller businesses have also begun to embrace ATS technology to streamline their recruitment processes. So, regardless of whether you’re applying with a global brand or a local business, your resume may have to run the ATS gauntlet.

Why Do So Many Resumes Fail?

So, why are such a lot of resumes getting rejected, leaving countless applicants with no chance of impressing a prospective employer? Well, there are several potential causes.

Lack of Keywords

One of the main focuses of any ATS system is to scan through resumes and look for relevant keywords that are connected to the job in question.

This allows the system to weed out applications that don’t appear to be relevant to the role, or applicants who don’t appear to have the right set of skills and experiences.

Let’s say a company is trying to find a marketing professional, for example. The company’s ATS system will typically be set up to spot a list of marketing-related keywords in applicants’ resumes.

That list might include common marketing terms and concepts like “analytics,” “public relations,” “market research,” and “sales cycle.” Or it could include words related to desirable traits in a marketing professional, like “creative,” “innovative,” “detail-oriented,” and “cool under pressure.”

If the right keywords aren’t on the resume, it’ll get kicked out right away. That’s why applicants are now being encouraged to consult keyword lists for their desired professions and carefully tailor their resume content to incorporate those words and phrases.

a circile image with the words Applicant Tracking System Process that shows processing of resumes by ATS

Formatting Issues

As reported on CNBC, another of the most common reasons resumes get rejected simply comes down to the formatting.

Incorrect use of headers and footers. Obscure fonts. Unusual date formats. Confusing abbreviations. Non-standard layouts. Inclusion of graphics and visuals.

All of this can impact the way a resume is read by an ATS system. And if the system can’t read your resume correctly, you’ve got a high chance of being rejected right away, even if you’ve got all the right skills and experiences for the role you’re applying for.

So, while an applicant might think that they’re being creative and standing out from the crowd with their uniquely formatted essay, they might be putting themselves at a serious disadvantage.

To avoid this issue, it’s important to focus on clear and standard formatting practices when preparing your resume.

That means following a standard layout and avoiding any unnecessary use of graphics, headers, and footers. All dates should be written in the standard MM/YYYY format and avoid using abbreviations without first explaining what they mean.

Wrong File Type

As well as ensuring that the formatting of your resume is up to the right standard, it’s also crucial to check that you’re uploading or emailing the correct file type.

Again, this is a common reason why so many resumes get rejected. Certain ATS systems just aren’t programmed to handle irregular or uncommon file types. That goes for the likes of JPG, HTML, PUB, and RTF files.

Even PDFs can sometimes pose a problem for ATS programs. And, as you might expect, if an ATS isn’t even able to open your resume, it won’t be able to scan through it and see all the hard work you’ve put into writing out your summary, skills, experiences, and achievements. So, it’ll get rejected.

To avoid this, it’s best to stick with standard Microsoft Word document files. That means either a DOC or a DOCX. These are read by all ATS systems and shouldn’t pose any issues whatsoever. You may also try a PDF but be warned that certain systems will struggle with it.

a robot with the words "Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and how companies use ATS to screen job seekers

Unclear Headings

Yet another reason why an ATS system might reject a resume right away is if it struggles to understand the headings. Some candidates like to get creative with their headings, writing things like “What I Do Best” instead of “Key Skills,” or "Core Competencies," for example.

Well, ATS technology doesn’t tend to appreciate that kind of technology. It’s programmed to look for standard headings that are found on the vast majority of resumes. And, if it can’t find them, it may struggle to accurately process your resume and extract the data it needs to approve it.

To avoid this, don’t make the mistake of using unusual headings, and don’t try to be too “out of the box” with your layout. Keep it simple and follow a standard format. You’ll have more opportunities to get creative later when you’re speaking with a real human recruiter.

Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

Clearly, ATS systems are here to stay. They’re part of the ongoing, worldwide push towards automation in almost all working processes, and more and more businesses are adopting ATS technology with every passing day.

If you’re looking for work, you must adapt. And that means making sure your resume is 100% ATS-friendly. Proper use of keywords, combined with a neat and tidy layout, can help your application pass the ATS test, which should lead to more interviews and job opportunities.

If you’re not sure about how to optimize your resume, or if you simply want to give yourself the best chance of landing your dream job, one of Denver Colorado's best resume writers who understand ATS software can help. Expert Resume Pros understand exactly how ATS works and can improve your resume to avoid rejection. Contact us today to learn more.

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