Colors or Keywords: Solving the ATS

Colors or Keywords: Solving the ATS

I've never been one to pick sides. Which is probably why I've never solved a Rubiks Cube.

I am, however, one to spend a fair amount of time watching documentaries of all sorts.

I recently watched the short documentary 'Speed Cubers' on that former mail-order DVD club turned content streaming, password restricting, price raising app we all hate to love, but shall remain Nameless for fear of this letter falling into the wrong hands and my account being locked out later tonight when I sit down to binge watch Breaking Bad for the 6th night in a row. Ok, it'll be the 9th night, but who's counting?

'Speed Cubers' documents the amazingly talented Max Park and Felix Demzegs on their quest to become world speed cube champions.

It's a story of rivalry, friendship, and overcoming challenges.

Which got me thinking about job search and, more specifically, the rivalry between job candidates and their ever present foe - The ATS.

If you're not familiar with the ATS (applicant tracking system) then count yourself lucky, as it's been the bane of job seekers for much to long.

Today, we will dive deep into what the ATS is, what it is not, and what can be done to mitigate the negative impacts that it can bring to bear on your job search.

Ok, let's quickly acknowledge that today's intro was the anthesis of speed cubing. I seek your forgiveness and encourage you to read on. It gets better. Much, better.


Let's face it—the world of job hunting can sometimes feel like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube in the dark. So let's shed some light on the enigma that is the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Why Should You Care?

Cracking the ATS code is like having a VIP pass to the job application concert. You want to be front and center, not stuck in the nosebleeds, right?

Learning the art of ATS optimization not only increases your chances of getting noticed but also propels you past the initial digital hurdles in the hiring race.


Many job seekers fall victim to common misconceptions, holding them back from getting their transferable talents noticed by their target employer audience.

Here are 5 reason why:

1/ Keyword Overdose

Some believe in the myth of keyword saturation - thinking the more, the better. Reality check: Quality beats quantity. Be specific in tailoring your resume to each job, emphasizing relevant keywords naturally within the context of your achievements that align specifically to the requirements listed in the job description.

2/ Format Fiasco

Formatting matters! It's not just for aesthetics; it affects ATS readability. Keep it clean and straightforward. Avoid the maze of complex layouts, fancy pastel colours, and glamour headshots and stick to standard fonts to ensure your resume doesn't get lost in translation - a melancholy but gloriously romantic film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen, by the way. 95% rotten tomato score, but I digress.

3/ One-Size-Fits-All Resumes

Each job is unique, and so should your resume be. Resist the urge to recycle the same old document for every application. Highlight the skills and experiences that align with the specific job description. Showcase your results, not your job duties.

4/ The Keyword Match Mirage

ATS is getting smarter, friends. It's not just about keywords but their relevance. Simply matching keywords won't cut it; your resume needs to tell a compelling story about your fit for the role. Answer the question that nobody asks but everyone, including the ATS is thinking "What's in it for us if we work with you?"

5/ Networking Neglect

Think passing through ATS means you can skip the virtual cocktail party also known as networking? Think again. Networking opens doors, (and sometimes windows) of opportunity and provides valuable insights that could be the secret ingredient that lands you your dream job.

Now let's break down how to solve the ATS, step by step.

Step 1: Tailor Your Resume

Your resume is not one size fits all. Be specific, align your skills with the job description, and showcase your unique qualifications. For inspiration, consider the success story of yours truly, who landed 4 lucrative job opportunities in < 3 weeks back in 2019 by emphasizing the right keywords in context. I turned down all 4 and started Educated Exit, instead. But the point still applies - tailor like a, well, tailor.

Step 2: Format for Success

A clean and simple format isn't just visually pleasing; it ensures your resume is ATS-friendly. Learn from my younger self who made many mistakes in this regard prior to landing my first gig at IBM. A recruiter suggested that by simplifying my resume format, I would see a significant increase in callbacks. She was right. Thanks, Kelly!

Step 3: Network, Network, Network

Don't underestimate the power of connections. Our very own Director of Resume Services, Kelsie Marks turned a casual networking event into a job opportunity - several times, actually. *Note to self - make sure Kelsie's bonus is healthy this year* Seriously though, networking isn't just a bonus - it's a crucial part of the job search journey.

And there you have it.

By following these steps, you'll not only navigate the ATS effectively but also elevate your entire job search game to Max Park levels. If you can manage to do it in less than 3.13 seconds, expect to hear from the director of documentary content at Netflix. And me. I mean, you're going to need an agent, right?

Until next week...



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