The key to securing an interview during the job search is understanding how to navigate applicant tracking systems (ATS) effectively through careful formatting and keyword optimization. Many applicants are rejected outright during the initial phase of the hiring process because their documents fail to meet the necessary ATS requirements. Through this guide, we’ll provide you with valuable insights to ensure that your resume is fully equipped to achieve these keyword benchmarks and advance to the next stage of the application process.

How to Identify Keywords for ATS

To identify the appropriate keywords for your field, you need to evaluate a wide range of job descriptions. Any time you notice that a keyword is repeated more than once throughout the posting, this indicates that the organization is searching for this particular term using their ATS. As you analyze different job postings, you may begin noticing patterns. For instance, cross-functional leadership is a term you’ll likely encounter across many postings, making it a safe bet to include on almost any job application. Understanding your industry’s most important key terms will significantly increase your chances of landing the interview during the job search.

What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

In the simplest terms, ATS uses a software algorithm that parses resume documents for specific key terms that align with the organization’s needs. According to data from, over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system to screen candidates during the hiring process. To maximize your chances of securing the interview, you’ll need to ensure that your resume is properly equipped to meet the unique requirements of each individual job posting. Below, you’ll find a list of modern ATS tools that are commonly used by recruiters and hiring managers during the application process:

  • Greenhouse
  • BreezyHR
  • Workable
  • JazzHR
  • BambooHR
  • Lever

Formatting Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Another important aspect to consider is whether or not your formatting is ATS friendly, as submitting certain templates can confuse the applicant tracking systems. For example, you’ll want to avoid text boxes and graphics, as these can cause your experience to appear jumbled and unorganized once it reaches the HR department. Although flashy templates have grown in popularity, you’re better off using a simple font and design for most job applications to ensure that you aren’t impacting the ability of the ATS to identify keywords.

Only Submit .docx or PDF Files for Job Applications

When submitting your resume for a job application, you should primarily send a .docx or PDF file. Often organizations will specify their individual preference, so look for this as you apply for positions. In the past, .docx files were recommended because they were considered to be the most ATS-friendly file. As applicant tracking systems have advanced, PDFs are also a viable option and can help preserve your formatting and resume structure. If you choose to use a PDF, be sure to check whether or not the document has become flattened, as the ATS will be unable to scan the text.

Write Out Terms and Incorporate Acronyms

When building your resume, you should write out full terms and incorporate acronyms to optimize your document for any potential search parameter. For example, instead of just saying “Bachelor of Science,” you should write out “Bachelor of Science (B.S.).” While this may seem arbitrary, featuring the full keyword and its corresponding acronym will eliminate potential variables and ensure that the ATS correctly identifies your credentials and skill sets. This is especially important when featuring certifications, so take the extra time to feature both forms of each key term throughout your resume.

Don’t Try and Cheat the ATS

Some candidates have attempted to circumvent applicant tracking systems by pasting wholesale job descriptions into their resumes as small white text. While this is likely to fool the ATS into thinking that the candidate is qualified, the text will still be visible when the HR department evaluates it. This sends a message that you’ve packed your document full of keywords in bad faith and are willing to cut corners during the hiring process. You’re much better off simply taking the time and effort to customize your document for individual job postings and showing hiring managers how you’ve applied these relevant skill sets at various points throughout your career.

Common Keywords for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

To help you optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems (ATS), we’ve provided a list of common keywords you may encounter during your job search. Keep in mind that this list is a general guide that features important terms from a number of industries and that you’ll need to evaluate each job description as you customize your document carefully. That being said, many of the skills listed here are utilized across a wide range of fields and are worth featuring on your resume:

  • Account Management
  • Agile Methodology
  • Budget Management
  • Change Management
  • Client Relations
  • Communication
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration
  • Cross-Functional Leadership
  • Customer Service
  • Customer Success
  • Data Analytics
  • Data Analysis
  • Employee Relations
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
  • HR Management
  • Leadership
  • Logistics
  • Marketing
  • Patient Care
  • People Management
  • Process Improvement
  • Product Management
  • Program Management
  • Project Management
  • Relationship Building
  • Sales
  • Software Development Lifecycles (SDLC)
  • Strategy Development
  • Team Building
  • Team Management

How to Align Your Resume with the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Now that you understand how to navigate applicant tracking systems (ATS), we’ll walk you through how to identify appropriate keywords from a job description and incorporate them into your resume. In the example below, we’ll be examining a job description for a technical project manager position with a software technology company:

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Job Description Example

XYZ, Inc. is a leading software technology company with a proud background in delivering innovative technology solutions to solve consumers’ real-world problems. Our organization is seeking a technical project manager to join our team and provide strategic direction for the long-term growth of our project management organization (PMO). This position will involve planning and leading large-scale technical projects in coordination with the product management department.


  • Oversee all aspects of software development lifecycles (SDLC), develop project roadmaps, and collaborate with product management teams to perform quality assurance testing on new features and ensure alignment with product vision
  • Identify process improvement opportunities and drive automation to enhance the efficiency of the project management organization (PMO)
  • Expertise in stakeholder management, product development, and solution design


  • 4-7 years of technical project management experience
  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
  • Strong knowledge of Agile, Scrum, and Waterfall Methodologies
  • Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) in Software Engineering

According to the job description, the ideal job applicant should have the following qualities and/or experience:

  • Technical Project Manager
  • Agile Methodology
  • Automation
  • Cross-Functional
  • Process Improvement
  • Project Management
  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
  • Project Roadmaps
  • Product Management
  • Product Development
  • Technology Solutions
  • Solution Design
  • Scrum
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Software Development Lifecycles (SDLC)
  • Software Engineering
  • Quality Assurance

Next, we’ll integrate these keywords from the job description into the job seeker’s resume. Notice how rather than simply listing the keywords, the candidate provides tangible examples of them using these skill sets throughout their career:

Technical Project Manager Work Experience Example

Technical Project Manager
Illuminate Software Corp., May 2016 – Present

  • Lead the project management organization (PMO), create project roadmaps, oversee stakeholder management, and identify automation opportunities for data entry manual processes, which reduced project delays by 10%
  • Coordinate with cross-functional groups to resolve project roadblocks and ensure on-time deliverables using a hybrid approach of Agile and Waterfall methodologies
  • Partner with the product management team to refine solution design, identify feature enhancements, and coordinate software development lifecycles (SDLC)



Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Software Engineering
University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA September 2012 – May 2016

Key Skills

  • Technical Project Management
  • Product Development
  • Quality Assurance
  • Scrum
  • Process Improvement



  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification, 2016

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