Job-seekers have always faced hurdles in their search for employment. They have to present themselves in a way that will get them noticed, impress an interviewer with their intelligence and charm, and have the right mix of skills and experience to beat out the competition. Today, however, there’s another hurdle faced by job-seekers, and it’s one they may not even be aware of: artificial intelligence (AI) résumé screenings.

According to some estimates, almost 40% of businesses now use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to pre-screen candidates for open positions in their organizations. Those systems use AI to sort through all candidate résumé submissions to identify just a handful of applicants that then proceed through the later stages of the hiring process, including a human review of their credentials, an interview, and hopefully, receiving an offer of employment. To get that far, though, job-seekers need to know what it takes to get their résumés past the ATS and into the hands of a human that will make the ultimate decision. To help, here are three simple tips to craft a résumé that’s AI-friendly and likely to survive pre-screening.

Keep it Simple

As sophisticated as today’s AI solutions are, they’re still many years away from perfection. That means they’re still prone to error, and not all that great at understanding things they’ve not been trained to expect. On a résumé, that means that the best solution is to keep things simple. A quick look at these successful résumé examples reveals that they all have one thing in common – they’re all very easy to read. To get past an AI screener, stay away from complex fonts and stick with Times New Roman, Courier, or Arial. Include sections that use simple, easy to understand headings like:

  • Qualifications
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Skills

Avoid using flowery language or any unnecessary linguistic embellishments. They may help impress a human reader, but the machine will reject the résumé and move on.

Include the Right Keywords

For the most part, today’s AI résumé screening systems don’t really understand what they’re reading. Instead, they’re looking for whatever they’ve been programmed to find, and in the case of résumés, that means specific keywords. To deal with that, it’s a good idea to tailor your résumé to the specific job you’re seeking. Include the phrases and wording that was used in the job posting you’re responding to. That’s because there’s a good chance that whoever wrote the job posting also programmed the ATS in what to look for, using the very same language. Don’t make any attempt to use the same language over and over (no more than two or three times). Most AI systems in use today can spot such obvious keyword stuffing, and will simply disregard your résumé. Instead of repeating yourself, identify additional keywords to use with Google’s keyword tool. That will further improve your chances of surviving the AI cut.

Choose the Right File Format

For years, job applicants have been encouraged to submit their résumés in Adobe’s ubiquitous Acrobat PDF format. That made perfect sense in a world where job-seekers wanted to make sure that the person receiving their résumé would be able to view it with a minimum of hassle. AI, on the other hand, has to rely on optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the text in a PDF into data it can understand. As anyone that has used OCR can tell you, the results aren’t always perfect. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to achieve excellent OCR results with PDF inputs, so it’s best not to risk it at all. Instead, submit your résumé in good old reliable Microsoft Word format. Most ATS screening systems can natively read the format, and that will make sure that every word in your résumé will appear as intended to the screening AI.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it’s no longer worth it to try to design a resume to stand out from the pack. It’s a better idea to make it clean, easy to read, and specific to the job you’re seeking. Not doing so will only lead to missed opportunities as AI screeners prevent your résumé from ever seeing the light of day. If you want to stand out, focus on including some flair in your cover letter, which will be read by the hiring manager after you get past the AI screening process. With any luck, you’ll get your time to shine in an in-person interview, having run the AI gauntlet and survived – which should be the ultimate goal of any job-seeker.


  • Andrej Kovacevic

    Editor @ Tech Loot, freelance copywriter, fintech blogger, content manager

    Andrej is also a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is pursuing an ongoing mission to share the benefits of his years of hard-won expertise with business leaders and marketing professionals everywhere. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices. If there's a new and exciting technology, there's a good chance Andrej is writing about it somewhere out there.