How To Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System

The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a recent and welcome addition to the recruitment process. Now hiring managers do not have to spend days going through thousands of applications to find 20 people to interview. With the ATS software, they can do that in a much shorter period of time.

While the ATS is extremely beneficial and instrumental in saving time for the Human Resource management team of a company, it can be a problem. See, by scanning all these applications looking for specific terms, your CV may get lost in the process. No matter how qualified you are, if you do not pass the ATS screening, you miss out on this opportunity.

The advantage of the Applicant Tracking System software is that it is easy to beat a system. Like with all technology, there is a loophole that lets you work the system to your favor.

How the ATS Software works

Basically, the ATS software scans all the submitted applications and finds those that are relevant to the position advertised. It is usually the first stage of the recruitment and responsible for rejecting thousands of applications based on their relevance to the job title.

If you are applying to a position that requires you to submit the application online after creating a user account, that company may be using the Applicant Tracking System software.

Major companies that are the pioneers in their industries employ this software. Otherwise, it would be difficult to sort all the applications they receive. Firms such as Price Water Coopers, KPMG, and Deloitte are such multinationals.

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What to actually write in your CV

In the first part of this series, I showed you where to get beautiful CV templates to help you upgrade your traditional resume. A beautiful CV is critical as it attracts the recruitment team and gets you closer to the interview. The three resume builder templates offered (novoresume, canva, enhancv) are all free. If you missed that piece click the link below to read it first.


The second part of the series talked about what to include in your resume. The school-taught way of writing a CV included a lot of information that is irrelevant to the current process. As technology in the workplace evolves, so does the recruitment process. Information such as your marital status, religion, and age are not that important.

Granted, some firms may actually require this information. If that is the case, they normally state explicitly in the job advert. This article also delved into the correct measure of soft and hard skills you need to include and your pitch. To go to the article, follow the link


This third part of the CV writing series is about how to combine the first two pieces and beat the Applicant Tracking System software. It will talk of what are keywords, where to include them, how to make your resume appealing and how to move on to the human recruiter stage of your application.


A keyword is a specific set or phrase of words that the ATS software is programmed to look for. Think of it as the words you type into Google to find a specific article.

For instance, if you wanted to know what Applicant Tracking System is you would type ATS recruitment software into the Google search bar. Google would then scan billions of articles on the internet searching for that specific keyword and present the findings in the first page based on their relativity to your search.

The more times that keyword and its synonyms appear in an article, the more relevant that article would be, and Google would show it first. That specific word phrase is a keyword. The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software also does the same to the job applications it receives. For instance, if the firm wanted a macroeconomist and statistician, the job post would probably read something like economics and statistics.

The job description would include words like statistics, microeconomics, research, financial analyst, accounting… The Applicant Tracking System would be set to look for such keywords in the application. If you majored in mathematics and statistics you would probably be a better fit for this job than a financial analyst.

However, if your CV does not include your background in microeconomics- an integral unit in your first year- the ATS software would reject your application. Together with all the agricultural economists and chemistry teachers. You want to include relevant keywords in your application to pass the Applicant Tracking System software stage.

How to Find Keywords

The better the package you are applying for, the more detailed the job description. It may include words like 5 years in a similar position, masters in position, management position, CPAK certification, team player…

By now you should know the most popular qualifications in your industry. When reading the job description, find words that are specific to the position advertised. Duties are also a strategic place to find the keywords.

A sample of the duties page of an economist

In the pictured example, keywords may include market trends, research, and reports, design policies, collect and analyze data, solve economic problems. Including the word, ‘economics’ may also be an added advantage.

How to write keywords

Now that you have the keywords you need to apply for the position, you need to know how to include them in your resume. You need to avoid stuffing them unnecessarily into your application as this will be detected automatically.

You cannot just write design policies and solve economic problems in your CV. Because as much as it may pass the Applicant Tracking System software stage, it will go through a human recruiter and poor grammar skills will put them off.

  • Market trends – Forex or other predictive software
  • Solve economic problems- problem-solving skills
  • Collect and analyze data- SPSS and Microsoft Excel
  • Design policies – use a business model

If you can, transfer the keyword into a skill. If not, include it in your experience section. For instance, in the design policies keyword you can draft something like – advised and contributed immensely in the designing of the Kenya Vision 2030 policy model. On market trends- constantly analyzes the forex market trends in the Sydney market to make trade winning decisions in the London market as a  hobby.

Where to Include Keywords

Now that you have your keywords and you know how to write them, you need to know where to put them in your CV. Appeasing the Applicant Tracking System software while still maintaining your beautiful and straightforward resume is important.

Skills section– this is normally the easiest place to place them and it is easily editable depending on the job description. Use the keywords to find the hard and soft skills required by the firm. In the pictured example, CPAK, SPSS, research and problem-solving are attractive attributes.

Experience section; if you have a longer phrase or was actually actively involved in a specific duty in your past employment, include that keyword in Experience. You will want to pair it with a strong niche-specific word. (Collected and analyzed data from 50 samples and presented the results in a bar graph…)

Education; If you studied for the job you are applying for, this is a strategic lace to entice the ATS software. Include courses or units relevant to the job. Your 4th-year thesis is also an added advantage and shows consistency in your career goals.

Sales Pitch; Once you have placed all the words you can think of in the sections above, you can utilize your pitch section for the important one. For instance, if you are a statistician and they need an economist, include this word in your pitch.

Resume keywords to include in your CV to beat the ATS software.

ATS Friendly Headings

This last minute addition is more of an afterthought but important. Having made a beautiful CV, you may be tempted to be more unique and go out of the box. Avoid that with headings. Include larger font, clear headings in your CV that will be picked up easily.

Use titles such as Experience, Education, Skills and avoid their synonyms.

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