The 3 Biggest ATS Mistakes You’re Making and How to Fix Them

Many employers fight an uphill battle to not only find the right candidates for the job, but to also weed through countless applications in order to find the perfect hire. That’s why so many hiring managers have implemented applicant tracking systems (ATS) into their hiring strategy.

As we’ve said in the past, ATS’s are recruitment software designed to help employers find the best fit, most of the time by setting up specific standards. For example, if the ATS is designed to pick up candidates who have five years of experience in accounting, those applications will be flagged and given to the hiring manager.

Although there are some tricks to beating an applicant tracking system, these could actually be hindering your chances if used wrong. Here are the three biggest ATS mistakes job seekers make and how they can fix them:

Mistake: Keyword stuffing

Solution: Sure, it’s important to use keywords from the job description in your application, but keyword stuffing is a big no-no. Why? ATS’ are also looking for context, not just industry keywords or phrases. Instead, use keywords from the job description and back them up.

For example, if the job description calls for a candidate who has worked in the restaurant management industry for at least three years, a candidate could indicate that they have three years of experience while at the same time gaining X amount of clients, or reported X number of gains in a quarter. The point here is to let the ATS, and ultimately the manager, know your strengths outside of the description.


Mistake: Not switching up your terminology

Solution: Many industries have multiple ways of listing things, whether it be titles, the way your degree is spelled out, job responsibilities, etc. Don’t think the ATS won’t be able to recognize these variations. Switch up your terminology in order to give you profile more variety, as well as give you application the best chance at getting noticed.

So, if you were the director of marketing, you can always list “marketing director” since you can then add the term more than once in your resume without seeming repetitive. The same goes for job abbreviations, such as CEO, temp, VP, etc. Spelling out these words or switching up between the two can add depth to your profile, as well as flag the ATS towards your application.


Mistake: Including more than what’s asked for

Solution: It’s great if you’re an overachiever. However, if the ATS only asks for one writing sample, only include one. If it lists room for three websites, add up to three. If it only wants applications in black, Times New Roman font, follow these directions. Like hiring managers, applicant tracking systems will skip over applications that don’t abide by the rules because it has simply been programmed to do so.

If for any reason you want to include more, there’s no harm in including a link to your portfolio, or following-up with the employer directly asking if they’d like more information. Remember, hiring managers and ATS’s are just as bogged down as you are. Don’t give them a reason to skip over your application by not following the rules exactly. They are there for a reason.


What are some other ATS mistakes? How can job seekers avoid them?

About Mary Marino

Mary Marino is the founder of, a job search resource. has launched its “Occupation Pipeline” widget, a unique tool which enables users to search employment opportunities by sourcing occupations and employers, rather than job titles. Connect with Mary at or on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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