The Dos and Don'ts of ATS

What is an applicant tracking system and why is it keeping you from getting the job you want?

Applicant tracking systems, also known as ATS, are a type of software that organizes applicants for recruiters and HR. ATS are used by all different sized companies to sift through large groups of applicants.

The primary goal of ATS is to act as a tool to simplify the hiring process for a recruiter. Just like a search engine, after a recruiter's search, some applicant tracking systems rank applicants by keywords (skills, job positions) and filters (i.e. location and education).

Recent research found that 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS while a Kelly OCG survey estimated 66% of large companies and 35% of small organizations rely on recruitment software. Nike, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Allstate are a few examples of companies that use a tracking system to scan your resume before it ever gets to a recruiter.

CNN: Getting vetted by AI (2020) AI Assessed Interviews (2019)

CNBC: Robots Reading Resume (2018)

Wall Street Journal: Robot-Proof Applications (2020)

There are pros and cons to ATS, just like every other software an employer could use. Systems are designed to look for specific keywords and types of backgrounds for advertised positions, meaning good candidates who are switching careers might slip through the cracks of the system unnoticed. 

This is where Quinncia comes in to help ensure you are prepared! 

To even further ensure you are prepared, we've created this ATS cheat sheet to highlight some common dos and don'ts. See below.

Areas of Improvement

PDF vs Word

Create your resume in a Word document or Google doc, then export it as a PDF. When you upload your resume online, be sure to use that PDF. Uploading your resume as a Word doc rather than a PDF can cause your file to lose its format and the ATS won't be able to read it. Also, if you scan and save as a pdf, or create your resume in some kind of design software like canvas or photoshop, it will be an image and will not parse. 

Additionally, if you use a PDF too many times it tends to get corrupted and becomes less reliable. So be sure to save new versions of your PDF resumes when you are actively applying for jobs. 

Section Titles


  • Resume Summary / Objective
  • Work Experience
  • Education
  • Skills Section
  • Include Contact Information


  • Awards and Honors
  • Volunteer Work
  • Languages
  • Hobbies and Interests
  • Publication

Work Experience

You do not need to separate leadership experience, relevant experience, etc.

  • Just put it all under work experience and the ATS will pick it up 
  • It’s Ok to have a special projects section, but not recommended
  • If you do wish to separate your experiences, just be sure to have the word ‘experience’ in the section title

Contact Information

Include best way to contact you - phone number, email, or LinkedIn profile 

  • No need for home address anymore



Quinncia University

Quinn School of Business

Bachelors of Science in Accounting 


Quinncia University, Quinn School of Business

Bachelor of Science, Accounting (or)

Bachelor of Science

Major: Accounting

Quantifying Experiences


Designed a social media campaign to promote summer specials


Designed and launched a social media campaign resulting in a 30% increase in engagement

“Preformed X to do Y resulting in Z”



  • For the word “management” use the abbreviation “mgmt.” 
  • Abbreviate months using the first three letters of the month’s name. Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., and so on. Be consistent. 
  • You can also abbreviate degrees in your education section. Use M.B.A. for a Master of Business Administration, Ph.D. for your Doctor of Philosophy, and other common degree abbreviations like M.D., B.A., etc.

Common Mistakes 

Graphic Resumes

  • ATS systems cannot effectively parse these resumes
  • Save these designs for later stages in the interview


  • ATS systems can’t read photos
  • Professional headshots may instantly reject the application if an error occurs or a company might decide to reject applicants that include pictures to keep their hiring process bias-free


  • Columns pose problems for ATSs
  • Punctuation is needed, use bullet points or another kind of delimiter to separate columns 

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