Career Advice

Is AI Rejecting Your Job Application? Here's How To Avoid Being Digitally Denied - and Impress Once in Human Hands

We’ve all heard the statistic that employers only spend a few seconds reviewing your résumé. Now, thanks to technology, artificially intelligent algorithms scan it even quicker. With more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies and over 70% of large employers using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help manage their recruitment and hiring processes, making your way past the algorithm is the first (critical!) step to getting hired.

The good news is qualified applicants can optimize their résumés for the ATS. But first, you need to understand what they’re looking for and how the information on your résumé is used to rank you alongside other applicants.

What you need to know about applicant tracking systems

With many job openings receiving hundreds – or even thousands – of applicants, the sheer amount of information to review can be immense. ATS’s are used by employers, in part, to reduce this complexity and instantly sift through résumés and application data, and filter candidates against the requirements found in job descriptions to reveal the top-matching candidates.

By taking steps to optimize your résumé, you can increase the chances of getting your application past the algorithms and into the hands of a human where it can really impress. Here are some tips for making sure your application gets the consideration it deserves:

ATS Résumé Tip 1: Favor simple formatting

There are a ton of résumé templates and formats you can download to make your résumé visually attractive – and that might have helped back in the days when you needed to stand out from the pack to human eyes. But algorithms are merely there to gobble up data, so additional “flair” won’t get you anywhere and could even end up rendering your résumé unreadable once it’s converted into plain text for an ATS.  As an Executive Résumé Writer, I understand the desire to have an attractive and modern-looking résumé, but the penalties far outweigh the benefits in the 21st-century hiring environment.

A good rule-of-thumb is to eliminate the use of columns, graphics, or photographs on your résumé. ATS’s may even have a hard time with serif fonts (which have extra strokes or decorative designs on the ends of letters). In this case, don’t overthink the aesthetic details – use a standard, default font and concentrate on the content.

It’s not just ATS’s that have a hard time with these new modern résumés—HR professionals are bound by strict Equal Opportunity laws to ensure that gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, veteran, or disability status don’t weigh on hiring decisions. To best remove bias from the equation, some HR professionals employ methods to block a person’s name, address, or any other information that might give away a person’s race, gender, or even economic status.

ATS Résumé Tip 2: Understand keywords and how they are used to rank you against other candidates

ATS’s essentially utilize gamification by assigning you a rating based on specific content in your résumé. More specifically, it ranks you alongside the other candidates by determining which keywords you used and how often they appeared throughout the résumé.

The best way to determine what keywords, phrases, and skills are important to the employer is by looking at the job posting. That’s right – it’s an open-book test! The company is telling you precisely what they are looking for within their job description. Scan through multiple job postings and job descriptions to make sure you include all the key skills, experiences, and keywords you see used over and over again, as well as variations that might appear. This also means that you should have multiple versions of your résumé depending on which one best matches the job opening for which you are applying.

A great place to add keywords is by adding an “Expertise” or “Core Skills” section after the summary on your résumé. I usually recommend adding anywhere from 12-15 keywords to add an extra layer of assurance that your résumé includes all the right words.  And to keep the formatting as simple as possible, this should be done within a table format instead of a text box.

ATS Résumé Tip 3: Once you get past AI, don’t forget you still need to impress the human recruiter! 

It’s important to remember it’s not all about computer algorithms — they’re just the first step.

Once you meet the criteria to move on to the next phase, a human reader may very well scan your résumé quickly to determine if you have the skills and experience to be successful in that new position. Your résumé needs to convey a clear picture of who you are and what you can do for their company.

The best way to accomplish this is by communicating your results-based achievements. It might seem simple, but you would be surprised by how many résumés I see that exclusively focus on duties, tasks, and responsibilities. While this information is important, results-based achievements are what sets a great résumé apart from a good one.

How to write results-based achievements

Think about the most important ways that you helped your previous employers–from client successes and revenue increases to projects managed. And then figure out ways to quantify them. This isn’t about a list of duties and responsibilities.

For instance, if you are in sales, your current résumé might read something like: 

  • Responsible for managing current accounts, prospecting new business, and cold-calling new customers. 

But that sounds…meh. You need to highlight your accomplishments in both concrete and measurable terms. Ask yourself how many accounts, how much did you sell, were there any specific sales accomplishments you can put into numbers?

Wouldn’t this sound better?:

Managed 150 client accounts across multiple industries, including retail, manufacturing, energy and financial services

  •  Achieved 107% of renewal rate goals and drove $300K in net new business within the first year
  •  Exceeded quarterly sales goals 125% and finished as the #2 sales rep in annual sales by working closely with clients to determine their needs and develop customized solutions.

Numbers matter! But if you’re drawing a blank because your role doesn’t work in hard numbers, here’s a tip: employers of all sizes in all industries need to make money, save resources, and create time and efficiency improvements.  For the not-so-obvious accomplishments, it’s helpful to quantify them in terms of range, frequency, and scale.

It’s also not enough to just say you accomplished something. You need to back it up with how you achieved it. For example, let’s imagine you saved your company X amount of money. You want to demonstrate how you did that, so your prospective employer understands the steps you might take to help them when they hire you.

Instead of saying:

  • Saved $10M throughout my tenure.


  • Saved $10M in operational expenses through a lean transformation roadmap with over 1500 Kaizen events.


You’ve worked hard in your career and the valuable expertise you’ve gained can benefit your next employer. Now it’s time to master the application process, so you can get past the algorithms and impress the humans – and land the job you deserve.