Have you ever tried to upload  your resume to an online job board only to find that your beautiful formatting is mangled and some information is completely missing? Have you received a call from a recruiter who asks you to clarify information that you are sure was included in the resume that you sent them in the mail? Have you ever been asked to enter every detail of your resume into a form on an employer’s website?

Have you ever wondered why these things happened?

What is an ATS?

ATS stands for applicant tracking system. Applicant tracking systems are software applications that intake, sort, process, and store information gathered from job applicants’ resumes and other sources. Recruiters, hiring managers, and job boards use ATS to collect and manage the massive amount of data they receive from job seekers. From resumes to ratings, it is the ATS that keeps track of everything.

But before the ATS can begin keeping track of your data, that data has to be converted into a form that the ATS can consume. This means that the resume you send in the mail or as a scanned image has to be parsed by the ATS before it is stored.

This parsing process is not always perfect. Different applicant tracking systems are able to read and extract written information with varying degrees of success on accuracy notes Max Zahn in his article, 95% of Fortune companies let a robot decide which applications are good–here’s how to get past the tech.

The problems with parsing

As Gregory Austin explains in his book, Resume Writing: Secrets From a Corporate Recruiter, the ATS parsing process is why your beautifully-formatted resume is sometimes transformed into a mangled mess when you upload it to a job board or an employer’s website. And, parsing is why sometimes the resume you submitted isn’t the resume recruiters and hiring managers see. Hiring professionals who use an ATS are more likely to be looking at the version of your data that is stored by that system.

And, if you haven’t already guessed, it is the limitations of the various tracking systems’ abilities to parse resumes that causes employers and job sites to request that you manually enter each piece of your data, even when you’ve already provided them with a resume.

Making the ATS work for you is like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Making the ATS work for you

Don’t despair, though: ATS are getting better at parsing all the time. Plus, the manual entry of data provides you with an opportunity to ensure that talent managers have the most accurate and up-to-date information about you. A resume doesn’t always have enough room for you to include every detail of your work experience or skills. Think of the online forms you must complete as bonus space to include not just the information contained in your resume but to expand on it.

Finally, remember that the ATS doesn’t just store your resume as an application for a single position but as a universal data source about you as a job candidate. So, when you’ve submitted a resume customized for a particular position with a company, use the online ATS data entry form to add skills and accomplishments that have a broader appeal.

How can you make your resume ATS-friendly?

The number one way to make sure your resume isn’t decimated by the ATS is to keep the document’s formatting simple writes Martin Yale, author of Knock ‘em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide. While the latest ATS may be able to handle charts, colorful fonts, and fancy bullet points, older systems can’t. Use standard headings that clearly identify each section of your resume and avoid intricate fonts that are difficult for optical character recognition programs (OCR) to read.

The second most important step for making your resume ATS-friendly, particularly when you are applying for a specific job, is to use the right keywords. Once the ATS has collected your data, it can be searched, sorted, and ranked. To appear in a hiring manager’s or recruiter’s search for qualified candidates for a specific position, your data must include the skills necessary to perform that job. These skills and other job requirements are the keywords for that job.

2 Key Steps:

Step 1. Keep the formatting simple.

Step 2. Use the right keywords.

Putting the ATS to work for you

Not every job seeker is a fan of ATS, believing that the systems block qualified candidates from getting in front of a human decision-maker. But, when you understand how and why recruiters and talent managers use these systems, you can begin to put the ATS to work for you. By ensuring that your resume is ATS-friendly, you’ll improve your chances of making it past this digital gatekeeper and in front of a human decision maker. The rest is up to you.