19 Tips to Avoid the Online Job Application Black Hole


By Lynne Williams

Nearly 75% of resumes are never seen by human eyes when submitted through applicant tracking systems for online job applications. Why? Formatting and more.

The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is an automated resume screener and there are over 200 ATS systems available today. Resumes go through a parser and are read by a bot before a human. The bot assigns a mathematical score to your resume against the job description as it reads entire phrases and not just keywords. The terminology for the technology that reads phrases in your resume with the words before and after the keywords is called contextualization.

Your score is then validated and is moved on to be viewed by human eyes — or it goes into the black hole because it did not match at a high enough percentage. This is extremely frustrating for those who are qualified for positions but can’t get past the bots.

You must have a base resume and then customize the keywords to match each and every job application. If you don’t know how to do this, there are workshops available this week that will teach you how.

Here are some other tips for the ATS “deconstructed resume”, which is different than your “pretty” resume that you snail mail, email, or hand to someone.

Tip #1: Customize your “future-forward” resume with key titles and keywords for the position you are applying to

Tip #2: Remove all images, graphics, logos, or pictures, as they may not be readable by the ATS

Tip #3: Use a font no less than 11 point and Arial is recommended for the ATS resume

Tip #4: Don’t hide keywords in white text and try to cheat the system, as they come out black on the other end

Tip #5: Remove irrelevant positions from your resume

Tip #6: Beware of special characters – no arrows or checkmarks; solid black bullets seem to work for most ATS systems

Tip #7: Avoid any kind of shading, tables, lines that cross the entire page, fancy borders, and section breaks on the ATS resume

Tip #8: Check for spelling errors—the ATS may miss keywords if they are misspelled

Tip #9: Place your contact information at the top and not in the header and make sure you have included your customized LinkedIn URL.

Tip #10: Add the dates of your employment after your employer, city, state at the far right of the page

Tip #11: Send your resume from a Word document, unless requested otherwise. PDFs can be readable or nonreadable images. Uploading a resume is preferred to copying and pasting your resume into text boxes.

Tip #12: Do not upload your resume multiple times. This may hurt, rather than help and raise red flags.

Tip #13: Mirror the language in the job description on your ATS resume to showcase your expertise; use the niche terminology

Tip #14: Only type typical resume sections and use the sections of LinkedIn as your guideline

Tip #15: Quantify your accomplishments and achievements in bullet points in your work experience rather than stating your responsibilities

Tip # 16: Use jargon and buzzwords from your industry so the applicant tracking system tools that index and crawl submissions pick up these key phrases and terms

Tip #17: Use keyword and text analyzers with your job description so you have a helping hand with technology for data-driven decision making

Tip #18: Develop two resumes: pretty formatted and deconstructed for ATS

Tip #19: Include your social media handles on your resume to show you are current and relevant with your technology skills

Need more details on the ATS? Attend the workshop on Tuesday, May 19th to learn more. See the events list below.

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Upcoming Events


  • 5/15 Integrating Emotional Intelligence into the Job Interview
  • 5/16 How to Develop Successful Job Search Strategies
  • 5/18 Career Success Group Meeting
  • 5/19 BENG Meeting
  • 5/19 Mindsets Matter: How Changing Your Thoughts Changes Your Results
  • 5/19 Accomplishment Stories
  • 5/19 BENG Meeting
  • 5/19 Beating the Applicant Tracking System
  • 5/20 PowerThinking Resilience Building Call
  • 5/20 BENG Meeting x 2
  • 5/20 Strategic Research-based Approaches to LinkedIn
  • 5/21 Nonprofit Career Network Meeting
  • 5/21 What’s Your Shtick? Personal Branding Online and Off (determine your keywords)
  • 5/22 Assessing Organizational Culture & Leadership
  • 5/23 Resume Accelerator Workshop
  • 5/26 Work Search Buddies



Lynne Williams is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group. Contact Lynne by phone at 484-393-2951, email at director@greatcareersphl.org, on social media @GreatCareersPHL and #GreatCareersPHL and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lynnewilliams. Check out the new website!