How to Beat the ATS Part 2-Keyword Optimization

How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS): Part 2 — Keywords

In our last post, we covered some tips and tricks for how to format your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems, aka the “resume robots.” Today we’re going to focus on content, specifically keywords.

When writing your resume, think of it as a website. How are you going to get the number one spot on a page of Google search results? Anyone who works in web design or marketing knows that in order to get that top spot, you need to focus on your Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Applicant Tracking Systems work the same way, scanning your resume for specific keywords. This is why it’s so important to tailor your resume to each position.

Before you apply, look over the job posting and make sure you are using keywords that show up in the listing. For example, if you’re applying for a Graphic Designer position, make sure you include the phrase “graphic design” at least once in your resume.

What other kinds of keywords should you include?

There are some great online tools (e.g., Resume Keyword Optimizer) to help you quickly scan a job listing and find the most common words or phrases used within it. Generally speaking, there are a few categories of keywords to consider when optimizing your resume:

Company names

Including the name of the company in which you are applying is an easy way to show an ATS (or recruiter) that you have customized your resume. This could be important to them if they’re looking to weed out lazy, cookie-cutter resumes.

Including competitor company names can also be valuable. Hiring managers and recruiters love to employ candidates that have worked for a competitor, assuming you don’t have a non-compete in place. These candidates already understand the category and competitive landscape, and can bring in new ways of thinking to their organization. Even if you have worked for a long list of businesses or bigger/more impressive companies, including your experience with a competitor can really set you apart.

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Using the listing as your starting point, identify the top skills required for the job at hand. Which of these skills do you have? Try to mirror the wording from the listing, expanding on it with additional related keywords. For example, if the listing calls for “online research skills,” add a bullet like this (bold indicates a potential ATS keyword):

  • Conducted online research using x / y tools, synthesizing data to craft actionable insights for monthly trend report

Whenever talking about your skills, be sure to frame them up with resume power words—action oriented verbs that can clearly articulate your point without reusing the same words over and over. Starting every bullet with the same word, like “managed,” is exhausting for any reader!

Software and tools

Every industry has universally accepted tools, platforms, and programs used by almost everyone. If you work in a creative profession, don’t just list “Adobe Creative Suite” on your resume. List the individual programs that may be most relevant to the job (e.g. InDesign or Dreamweaver).


One super easy (but important) keyword consideration is how you treat acronyms. Always write both the full phrase and the acronym to ensure an ATS will pick up the term. For example, don’t just write “Assistant Account Executive,” write “Assistant Account Executive (AAE).” This applies to software, tools, and industry lingo as well. For example, “Business to business (B2B).”

Wrapping it up

Keywords are a crucial component of resume building…maybe even the most important component. It can be hard to think in the keyword mindset while remembering your work experience and trying to write well-crafted bullet points. Once your resume is sketched out, take a designated editing pass through the keyword lens. With a few tweaks and additions to your wording, you can ensure your resume is ATS-ready!

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