The Power of Keywords: Optimizing Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

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The future depends on what you do today.” Mahatma Gandhi

The job search process has undergone a lot of changes in recent years due to technological advancements, the impact of global events, and new trends.

Today, most job openings are advertised online through various job boards, company websites, and professional networking platforms. Job seekers can easily search and apply for positions from the comfort of their homes. However, the process of getting through to the point of being selected might not be so easy.

With the implementation of the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), getting to the interview stage has become more challenging. Many companies now use (ATS) software to screen and filter resumes before they even reach human eyes. Before getting to the point of impressing hiring managers, you need to stand out from the highly competitive crowd and beat the robot.

If overcoming the obstacle of applicant tracking systems, your resume must still captivate the attention of human recruiters. Research reveals that 40% of recruiters spend less than a minute reviewing a resume.

This means that it is not enough just to list your competencies anymore. Crafting a resume these days calls for a strategic approach. One of the key strategies for success is incorporating relevant keywords.

In this article, we will explore the power of keywords and provide actionable tips for optimizing your resume for ATS.

Optimizing Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

Statistics about resumes showing only 2–3% of resumes result in an interview, does not sound encouraging. However, the right approach can help. 

Although resume content is deniably important, how you manage the content can carry equal weight. There is an additional effort required around creating a resume to increase your chances in a job hunt. 

You can choose between optimizing your resume via do it yourself approach or laying your trust in various online tools.  

Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems

When searching for a job, it’s essential to understand how applicant tracking systems work.

Employers use it to automate and streamline the hiring process, making the flow more organized and effective, especially with a large volume of applications. The main function of ATS is to screen and filter resumes based on specific criteria and keywords defined by the employer.

When a candidate submits their application online, the ATS scans the document and extracts relevant information, such as:

  • Contact details
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Qualifications, etc.

The ATS then uses algorithms to evaluate the resume and match it against the requirements of the job posting.

When it comes to large businesses, statistics say 75% of resumes get rejected by ATS. The reason is a lack of keywords or not meeting certain criteria, which leads to automatic rejection or deprioritization.

Choosing the Right Keywords

To optimize your resume for ATS, start by carefully reviewing the job description and identifying the keywords that are relevant to the role. These keywords are typically specific to the job title, required skills, and industry-related terms. 

Look for the most frequently mentioned qualifications, responsibilities, and requirements in the job posting. Additionally, consider incorporating industry-specific acronyms or abbreviations that are commonly used.

Be cautious not to overstuff your resume with keywords, as it can appear unnatural and may raise red flags for both ATS and human reviewers. Instead, focus on strategically placing keywords in the appropriate sections of your resume.

Optimizing Resume Sections

To effectively optimize your resume, it’s important to strategically place keywords in specific sections. The most important areas to include keywords are:

Professional Summary/Objective

Craft a summary that incorporates relevant keywords early on. This section should provide a snapshot of your skills, experiences, and career goals.


Results-driven marketing professional with 5+ years of experience in digital marketing and brand management. Proficient in SEO optimization, content strategy, and social media management. Seeking a challenging role to leverage my expertise and drive impactful marketing campaigns for a dynamic organization

Core Competencies

Create a dedicated section highlighting your core competencies or skills using relevant keywords. This section can be presented as a bulleted list to enhance readability.


  • Digital Marketing: SEO optimization, content creation, social media management, Google Analytics
  • Project Management: Agile methodologies, cross-functional collaboration, timeline management
  • Sales: Relationship building, lead generation, client retention
  • Communication: Written and verbal communication, presentation skills, interpersonal skills

Work Experience

use keywords naturally in the descriptions of your past job roles and achievements. Emphasize your accomplishments and highlight how you utilized specific skills and achieved results.


Digital Marketing Manager, XXX Company

  • Implemented SEO strategies resulting in a 30% increase in organic website traffic.
  • Led cross-functional teams to develop and execute successful social media campaigns, resulting in a 20% growth in follower engagement.
  • Utilized Google Analytics to analyze website performance and make data-driven recommendations for improving user experience.

Education and Certifications

Incorporate relevant keywords related to your educational background and any certifications you have obtained. Mentioning specific courses or qualifications can demonstrate your expertise in a particular area.


Bachelor of Science in Marketing, XXX University

Courses: Digital Marketing Strategy, Social Media Marketing, Data Analysis for Marketing

Certifications: Google Ads Certifications, HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification

Formatting and ATS Compatibility

While keywords are essential, it’s equally important to ensure ATS compatibility in terms of resume formatting and structure. Here are a few key tips:

  • Choose an ATS-friendly font like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman, as most ATS systems recognize them.
  • Avoid special characters and symbols, as ATS may have difficulty interpreting special characters, symbols, or non-standard formatting.
  • Use standard and commonly accepted resume formats such as .DOCX or .PDF to ensure compatibility with different ATS platforms.
  • Avoid complex formatting and stick to a clean, professional layout with clear headings and bullet points.
  • Incorporate relevant headings like “Work Experience,” “Education,” and “Skills” to help ATS identify and categorize information correctly.
  • When detailing your previous job titles, it is advisable to use standard job titles and industry-specific terminology.

Resume Creation Tools

There are plenty of tools that you can count on in crafting your resume, showcasing qualifications effectively, and optimizing it for ATS. 

Online Resume Builders

Platforms like Novorésumé, Rezi, Canva, and Zety offer user-friendly templates and drag-and-drop interfaces to create professional-looking resumes. These tools provide pre-designed sections, formatting options, and suggestions for content, making it easy to create an aesthetically pleasing and well-structured resume.

Grammar and Spell Checkers

Tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor can help you polish your resume by detecting grammatical errors spelling mistakes, and suggesting improvements for clarity and conciseness. These tools ensure that your resume is error-free and professionally presents your information.

Resume Optimization Tools

ATS optimization tool or so-called resume checker helps you tailor your CV for specific job applications and increase its chances of passing through ATS screenings. These tools analyze your CV against job descriptions, providing insights into how well your CV matches the desired keywords and criteria. 

Rezi platform offers keyword optimization via ATS-friendly templates, plus additional content analysis, resume scoring, cover letter builder, and integration with job boards.

Keyword Research Tools

Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, and WordStream can assist in identifying relevant keywords for your industry or specific job roles. By incorporating these keywords naturally into your CV, you can demonstrate your alignment with the desired qualifications and enhance your visibility to both ATS and human reviewers.

Resume Critique Services

Online services such as TopCV and CV-Library offer professional reviews and critiques of your resume. These services provide expert feedback on content, structure, and overall effectiveness, helping you identify areas for improvement and make your resume more impactful.

Resume creation tools can be very helpful in avoiding job seekers’ common mistakes.

The majority of tools can be accessed for free, although some offer additional advanced features at a cost. 


In today’s digital hiring landscape, understanding how to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems is essential. By incorporating relevant keywords strategically and ensuring ATS compatibility, you increase your chances of getting noticed and reaching the next stage of the recruitment process. 

Remember, while it’s crucial to effectively target ATS algorithms, don’t forget the importance of crafting a compelling resume that will also impress human reviewers. Strike the right balance between keyword optimization and showcasing your skills and experiences, and you’ll be well on your way to landing your dream job.

Optimizing your resume with keywords for ATS is not a guarantee for success in a job hunt, but it is certainly a step closer to it. It will ensure that your qualifications are recognized by both automated systems and human reviewers, enhancing your visibility, competitiveness, and overall chances of landing an interview.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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