Applying to a New Job? Dos and Don’ts With Automatic Applicant Systems


Have you ever submitted a “quickapply” on LinkedIn only to find that there were 800 other job hunters just like you? Applying to jobs digitally has a much lower barrier to entry than the old-fashioned route of manually staking out the desk of every recruiter in town. You are dealing with competitive pools of hundreds of applicants pretty much every single time you apply to a job.

That is why online job applications require filters. Big companies can almost be guaranteed to use a filter system called the Applicant Tracking System, or ATS.

Applicant filters are used by employers to weed out the lowest common denominators that inevitably accompany any online job posting. In other words, irrelevant job applicants almost always turn up on job postings simply because services like LinkedIn make it very easy to do so.

Most ATS’s scrape for keywords and are befuddled by charts and images.

Copy and Paste or Upload?

The important thing is to avoid charts, graphs, and any special formatting. The ideal formatting for an ATS is text-only. Of course, the ultimate decision will come down to what the website allows you to do. Many times, either user input or file upload is impossible.

The document type matters too. ATS will generally show preference for Word .docs and simple-formal .txt than PDF, RTF, JPG, or PNG. You will also want to load your H2s and H3s with keywords if you can. These are your headers on Word. The H2 for this section is “Copy n Paste or Upload?”

Stay away from anything extra in the code of your resume like downloaded fonts or really any font that is out of the ordinary. And definitely stay away from image-file resumes, however, there is no industry standard.

Who Uses ATS?

There is no way of knowing if the company you are applying to makes use of ATS, but it is safe to assume that most Fortune 500 companies do. If you are applying to a major company, it’s good practice to submit an application with consideration to the items in this article.

The immense consumer packaged goods CPG industry is known for implementing ATS. This could be particularly relevant to job applicants in the twin cities. Many of these companies, like General Mills and Land o’ Lakes are hiring. Consider using the tips in this article if you are applying to jobs through CPG executive recruiters in the twin cities.

What Keywords is the ATS Looking For?

There is no way to use inspect element to figure out what the company is looking for or any nifty hack like that, but you can do some research to figure it out.

The most important tool you have is the competition’s job postings. You can go through a few similar job posts and compile a list of all the relevant buzzwords. You will want to be exact. Humans might understand synonyms and similar words, but bots will not. One way that popular resume writing services recommend for hacking this problem is to include a slash with both words you are thinking of including.

Find postings for similar roles and do the same.

Focus on active verbs that make you sound like a hero. “Manage, increase, led, won.”

For extra oomph in your research, you can find skills and qualifications in resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

How Much Does the ATS Matter?

According to, only 5% of candidates are hired from job postings. Most job hires come from personal relationships. Working on yourself will make you a stronger hire by virtue of people simply liking you more. Focus on getting your resume to the right person for a foolproof method of getting a job.

If you are relying on some exceptional skill or advantage you hold over your applicant competition, some optimizations for ATS’s might make more of a difference than if you are actually a perfect fit. For example, if you are a voice actor applying for a position as a flight attendant because you also happen to speak five languages, you might have trouble with the airline’s ATS.


Most jobs nowadays use filtering systems. These ATS’s can make or break your application before it even reaches a recruiter’s eyes. To avoid getting put in the wrong pile, make sure to invest a little time into keyword research, use the right file format, and organize the info in your resume in a clear and relevant way.


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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

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