The Latest About ATSs (Applicant Tracking Systems) and Your Resume

Most ATSs (Applicant Tracking System) work by analyzing the HTML behind the content in your Word resume. (That’s one reason I strongly urge people to NOT use any kind of "resume template", but that’s another topic for another time.)

It used to be that any aberration in the code, such as a page break or image or table, would not only make the employer’s ATS system freak out, it would reject your resume altogether. And you’d never know.

Over time, however, ATSs no longer freak out. They still will not read those parts of the resume, but now they don’t dump the whole resume like they used to, in most cases. So it will ignore an image, like a bar chart, in your resume instead of ignoring the whole resume. (Tip: be sure to include narrative of that bar chart, telling us what’s in it, in American English.)

For those who obsess over keywords they "must" use in their resume, and obsess over having an ultimate ATS-friendly resume, I say "Good to try to be 'matchy-matchy' but instead, NETWORK with others at companies that interest you so you can be nominated by them to 'get inside'."

Over the years, THAT’S the approach I’ve seen work, Internet or no internet, ATSs or no ATSs. 

For much more from Joanne on Applicant Tracking Systems, see her videos on YouTube. And see her other career guidance in her newsletter here on this site, and in,, and LinkedIn 

Who made up these silly rules about resumes?

I talk to tons of people about their resumes. And something I often hear goes like this:

"I didn’t know I could put that on my resume!"


"I thought you weren’t supposed to put that on your resume."


"I heard that you should address only skills on your resume."


"Really? I can include that information about myself?"

In other words, it’s envisioned that there is some unknown, unnamed authority out there who dictates -- or is imagined to dictate -- "rules" about resumes. The result is resumes that are too "safe": they read like everyone else’s, use legalese or similar hard-to-digest language, ignore other parts of your life, and don’t present the real person. They are not alive with YOU.

It needs to be YOU on paper (or on the screen).

When I read someone’s resume, here’s what I look for, because this is what hiring managers look for:

1. Can I tell what they do and what their impact is? If I have to read down to the bottom of page 1 before I can answer this, the resume needs fixing.

2. Do I see evidence of success? Accomplishments, achievements? Or is it just a list of "Responsible fors"? Each story of success tells your story. Don’t hide these. It’s not bragging to talk/write about these because it helps the hiring manager learn about you and thus helps them do their job

3. Can I see some pattern of growth: taking on new levels of challenges and succeeding with them?

4. Does it read well? Or does it have typos, repeat the same phrasing, or use legalese like "including but not limited to", all of which bog down the energy of the resume and cause the reader to tune out? Does the language show knowledge of the field in the form of keywords and vocabulary?

So I believe that if you do skydiving, pop that into your Summary of Competencies after you’ve filled it with more serious stuff. (You won’t believe the response you’ll get to that one! I had a young engineer who put that avocation on his resume and that word alone generated phone calls to him.)

If you love to fix process problems, say so. If selling to a customer who refused to buy from your company before, and you relish that kind of win, say so. You don’t have to hide your enthusiasm: you are a real human being! And as a professional, you DO love aspects of your work. Talk about that.

If you are told you are firm yet fair, or are approachable by new team members, or if you are an avid reader, or have listened to 30 business podcasts a month for 2 years straight, or have taken up marathon runs at age 50, say so. These are skills, too. Yes, those are all phrases my clients have used, once we talked about how to avoid silly rules of sterility for colorless resumes.

It makes a difference. And if the company doesn’t like it, they won’t contact you -- which is a good thing because you’ll avoid going with a mismatch that way.

In short, throw off silly rules and show how good you are. All of you.


What silly rules have you heard about? Comment below to add to the discussion -- thanks!

Is It Age Discrimination, Really -- Or Are You Just Whining?

Here’s a message from a handful of 60+ year-olds after reading the complaints of some others that age who “are getting passed over” in this hot job market “because of age discrimination”. 


Dear fellow professionals in your 50s-60s:


Hey, older worker: get with it.




And attitude-wise.


Get with it in terms of your skills: learn that new technology. Stop complaining and saying things like, “There are companies that are deliberatelymoving to zip codes that are harder to get to by those of us who are older and live in the suburbs! Can you believe it?!” That’s silly and the false belief only keeps you in victim mode.


But second: lower your expectations of pay until you get really good at the new thing. You know, like the 30 year oldyou used to be. You’ve done this before and now you have to do it again: stop whining and just do it. Don’t expect to get paid more than the 30 year olds just because you “have experience”. You still have to prove you’re worth it now. Yeah, you have to prove it again. And you’ll have to prove it again and again. That’s just the way it is now. Stop wasting time crying about it, and focus instead on increasing your value today.


Sure, you’ve honed a skill over many years. Now you apparently don’t want to adjust to the economic reality that your skill is dated. Or that only you can do it (not true). Too bad.


Maybe you entered [name your field] for the money, back when fewer people went into it. Maybe you had the desired skills then and had them for years. But now lots of people are in your field and you’re not so special any more. And you resent those younger competitors.


Maybe you’ve learned a new skill, which is great, but you’re crushed that everyone isn’t falling all over you. Could it be because you are asking for an outrageous salary from the get-go? Or you’re making demands about, say, working from home from day 1?


Younger competitors are willing to try anything, and work anywhere, so people like to hire them. Meanwhile, you get irritated when you’re asked to work that holiday eve, or to deliver the project in one week instead of two. Or if the company is downtown instead of in your lovely suburb.


So either stop complaining or step up to the bar and make changes. If you still want to complain, because it earns you membership in the Woe Is Me Club, don’t complain to us and others who are reinventing ourselves. We’re too busy getting restarted. And people are noticing.



Your peers moving on to something great

Blog Archive