What Is an ATS Resume Test?

FT Contributor
A stylized image of a magnifying glass being held up to a resume on a computer screen.
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An applicant tracking system (ATS) resume test (also called an ATS resume checker) appraises a resume’s ability to make it past automated applicant tracking ATS software, bolstering the chances that the resume will be seen by a human hiring manager.

ATS resumes tests will check elements like keywords and formatting to determine whether the resume is ATS friendly. Because getting around an ATS can be a very imprecise science, a huge benefit of a resume checker is that it can provide some objective feedback to optimize your resume.

How Applicant Tracking Systems Work

ATS software is used primarily as a means of streamlining the hiring process, as well as improving the efficiency of onboarding and other similar tasks. The primary function of the ATS is essentially to cull the herd of applicants. Before any resume can reach a real human being, the software assesses it and — based on what it is programmed to look for — automatically discards the resume or passes it along to the employer.

ATS Resume Checker vs. Resume Scanner

An ATS resume checker simulates the way that an actual ATS resume scanner evaluates a resume. This is done by accumulating and analyzing information from a variety of ATS software to determine what they are commonly looking for. Based on that information, an algorithm is crafted out of the common variables.

Unfortunately, ATS resume checkers are not completely reliable — at this time, it is impossible for them to be. To begin with, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ATS software programs available on the market. It is a billion-dollar industry.

They are all programmed differently, and furthermore, different data will be plugged into the system based on the specifics of each individual job posting. This results in far too many variables to consistently account for without fail. On top of that, the resume checkers are also created and released by many different companies. There aren’t any universal standards or regulations.

The only real way to determine how accurate checkers are is by consulting reviews or using a trial-and-error approach. In short, it is still very valuable to research ATS resume scanners and review one’s own resume as well.

Tips on How to Get Past ATS

What are ATS scanners and checkers looking for?

An ATS scanner is searching for specific keywords. These keywords will change based on the job posting. For example, an ATS scanner being used by a school district might be looking for keywords or keyphrases like, “Master of Education,” “M.Ed.,” “Teaching Certification,” or “curriculum design.” An ATS scanner being used for a lifeguard job posting might search for “Automated External Defibrillator,” “AED,” “CPR certified,” or “first aid.” These terms will vary based on the individual job posting.

That notwithstanding, there is often substantial overlap within general fields for good keywords. An effective ATS checker will be programmed to look for those common terms as well.

Additionally, an ATS scanner often discards a resume if it cannot correctly interpret information in the document. An ATS resume checker will document that an ATS scanner would have tossed out the resume, and include that information in the final report — but rest assured, it won’t toss out your resume as well.

There are plenty of ways to optimize a resume to pass an ATS resume scan.  A resume checker just provides some additional objectivity in that process.

Don’t Forget: The ATS Isn’t Hiring You

In the midst of all of this stress just trying to get a resume past the ATS scanner, it is important to remember: this is just the first step. The point of surmounting the ATS is to get the resume into the hands of a human recruiter. Trading a resume’s appeal to a person for its appeal to the ATS would be a huge mistake.

There is such a thing as over-optimization. A resume stuffed to the gills with good keywords may check boxes for an ATS scanner, but it will appear odd, robotic, and spammy to the recruiter. They may even recognize exactly why it looks that way and feel concerned that it was a necessary measure to exploit the scanner’s programming. The purpose of the scanner, after all, is to weed out undesirable candidates.

Furthermore, it is still worthwhile to assess one’s soft skills and prepare to describe them. At the very least, they could be helpful during the interview phase. Being well-rounded and personable is not obsolete.

Free Resume Checker Resources

Not only are there many resume checkers available, but some of them are free. Here are just a few:

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