Defeating Robots: 75 Percent of Resumes Are Never Read by a Human

April 09, 2019 by Josh Hrala

For hiring managers, applicant tracking systems (ATS) have drastically reduced their workload. Gone are of the days of shuffling through a stack of resumes to find the ideal candidate for a role. Now, bots and programs can screen applications before they ever reach a single person, helping move the process a long at a rate that was unheard of in the past.

This is horrible news for job seekers.

According to a study by Preptel, a job search firm, 75 percent of all resumes are never seen by a real human being. Instead, they are filtered out by ATS without a second glance. This shocking stat is even crazier when you consider that almost all major companies use these systems, too.

“More than 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to streamline the recruiting process and keep up with the thousands of applications received weekly, but plenty of smaller employers have embraced the tool too, according to data collected by Jobscan,” reports Kerri Anne Renzulli from CNBC.

This means that if you are trying to land a new role, chances are that the first gatekeeper you will have to deal with will be a cold, heartless robot that simply turns your valuable skills and experience into a data set using keywords and other triggers.

With only a quarter of applications getting passed these bots, many job seekers who are likely qualified for a role will never get an interview. And this sad fact isn’t going anywhere soon because, like we mentioned above, most corporations use ATS. It’s only a matter of time before smaller firms join up with them, too.

So what’s the answer?

Beating Bots: Format, Simplicity, and Keywords

Renzulli goes over several ways a job seekers can up their odds of beating ATS. The first is to keep everything formatted in the right way.

According to her report, people should stick to Word Docs or a pure text file since these are universally accepted by ATS. Normally, job boards or listings say what file type they want. However, when in doubt, use Word.

PDFs have been becoming more and more standard, too. Just make sure that it is an accepted file type because some older ATS will not be able read it.

Basically, this first step is just ensuring that your resume isn’t thrown out because the system can’t understand the document.

The second is to keep things incredibly simple. This means forgoing any nice design elements that look good to the human eye but fail to be recognized by a computer. For example, if you have a nice chart that details your skills, it’s more than likely causing the ATS to throw out your resume for the same reason a wrong file type would: ATS simply can’t make heads or tails of what it’s looking at.

The same can be said for titles (headers – not job titles). While it may seem right to list a section like “My Goals and Experience” or something along those lines, this, too, will trip up the system and cause it to reject a resume. Instead, keep it to well-known job titles, experience, and certifications.

Skills, job titles, and things of that nature are more likely to be programmed into the ATS. After all, someone has to tell the computer what it’s looking for. These systems are not smart on their own; they’re basically just fancy filters.

Keywords, Keywords, Keywords

Keywords. We can’t say it enough. What keywords, though? That’s a good question.

First, let’s talk about how all of this works. Just like Google crawls the internet and ranks pages, ATS looks for specific words or phrases in a resume and then ranks them based on how many of these keywords there are.

But how are you supposed to know what to optimize for? This is a the tricky bit. The standard advice is to closely examine the wording in the job description/post. So, for example, if the job you are applying to lists a set a skills, make sure that your resume has those skills with the exact wording. If the post says says it requires a person with ‘impeccable customer support skills,’ your resume should say that you have ‘impeccable customer support skills.’

Renzulli, who spoke with Amanda Augustine, an expert resume writer from TopResume, said that job seekers can use word bubbles to help understand what keywords they should target, too. There are a few online tools that will allow you to copy in a whole page of text and then present you with a group of bubbles that shows which words are repeated the most. Your resume, once you load it into the system, too, should have those same densities.

Lean On Experts

As you can see, getting passed ATS is a tricky task. Sure, job seekers can go it alone if they spend tons of time prepping each resume before they send it out. However, the best way to go about resume writing is to have an expert do it for you.

At Careerminds, our outplacement service has leaned on the support of expert resume writers for years. Why have participants write their own resumes when there are experts who can take out all of the guesswork?

A recent study also found that professionally written resumes land new jobs faster (and at a higher pay rate) than resumes written by sole individuals.

And it wasn’t just a little bit faster or a little higher pay, either. According to the study, a professionally written resume increased the chances of finding a new role by 32 percent with 68 percent of participants landing a new role in under 90 days. Out of those that landed a new role, 42 percent earned a higher position.


The real takeaway here is that ATS has become a fact of life for job seekers. Hiring managers aren’t likely to go back to the old way of doing things. So, the job hunt has fundamentally changed.

The best thing for job seekers to do is to use an expert service to craft a resume. However, there are ways that individuals can increase their chances of being read by a human (keeping it simple, using common job titles, and paying close attention to keywords).

When it comes to outplacement, expert resume writing must be a standard practice if participants have any hope of landing a new role in today’s world. Learn more about our programs here:

Download Our Outplacement Buyer's Kit Here!
Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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