The KIT Protocol for Writing an ATS-Proof Resume
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What Is an ATS (Applicant Tracking System)?

ATS is a program that takes care of the recruitment needs of a company. In recent years, such systems have grown to be an industry standard, and currently, 90% of the world's top companies use them in their hiring process. Some notable applicant tracking systems are Taleo, Greenhouse, Jobvite, and iCims.

Once you have applied via an ATS, it will guide you through most or all of the application process – it will inspect your CV, conduct some aptitude or job-related tests, sometimes even an automated interview.

As in an old-fashioned application, your resume will be the first thing the ATS looks at. Learning what the ATS is looking for in your resume will help you make sure it passes on to the next phase.


ATS Resume Myths

To succeed in writing an ATS-compatible resume, it is important to first understand what ATS does and what it doesn't do. Being a relatively new area for most job seekers, there are a number of myths and misconceptions out there.

So, let's set things straight:

Myth 1 – Resumes Are Checked Exclusively by an ATS

The truth – if you pass the ATS, your resume will then be reviewed by an HR recruiter.

The ATS is not intended to replace the HR department entirely, but to aid it in alleviating the overload of resumes. In the same way as online aptitude testing, an ATS is only the first stage of sifting the majority of unsuitable candidates in the first round.

Myth 2 – If a Resume Is Suitable for a Human, It Is Also Suitable for an ATS and Vice Versa

The truth – there are some common features among the requirements of HR recruiters and an ATS, yet, they are by no means identical.

Your resume should be written with the HR recruiter in mind and structured to meet the special requirements of the ATS.

Combine this guide with our comprehensive resume writing guide to get the full scope of the subject.

Myth 3 – ATS Are Dumb and Easily Tricked

The truth – ATS contain sophisticated text analysis algorithms that are getting constantly smarter. The developers of the world's main ATS platforms are the cutting edge of technology companies, like Oracle (Taleo) and IBM (Kenexa BrassRing). Using "black hat" tactics to pass them is more likely to do harm than good.

In addition, as I said in myth 2, even if you do manage to trick your way around the ATS, an HR employee will still have a look at your resume. In that case, being seen as someone who is trying to manipulate the system can have much more severe consequences than being rejected – it can get you blacklisted for any future position in that company.

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How to Write A Resume That Will Pass The ATS – The KIT Protocol

ATS is quickly becoming the standard gatekeeper for the overflow of resumes in the job market. Making your resume ATS-compatible is no longer a bonus, but a necessity.

No ATS is identical to another, and each has its own algorithms and preferences regarding a good resume. However, following the KIT Protocol is a good way to minimize the chances of your CV being caught in the AI sift.

KIT stands for Keywords, Integrity, and Technicality. Let's walk through each of them.


keywords Keywords

Eventually, an ATS resume inspector is a text analyzer. It will take your resume, compare it to a set of predetermined conditions, and grade it accordingly. The more your resume conforms to the ATS requirements, the higher your chances are to make it through.

Therefore, you have to choose the right keywords for the position you apply for and use them wisely. Follow these steps when forming a resume for a specific job:

  1. Identify all the keywords in the job posting and divide them into 3 categories:
    • Job requirements
    • Hard Skills
    • Soft Skills
  2. Cluster similar keywords to narrow down the list.
  3. Write a CV outline according to the standard CV structure. Keep it as minimal and concrete as possible. The structure includes 5 sections:
    • Header
    • CV Summary
    • Professional Experience
    • Education
    • Skills
  4. Start allocating keywords to relevant sections:
    • 1 most important hard skill keyword in the header (what is that skill? We'll get to that).
    • All other hard skills go in the skills section.
    • Divide soft skills and job requirements keywords between the CV summary and professional experience. You may also sprinkle some in the education section, if relevant.
    • After most of your soft skills are neatly spread throughout your resume, repeat the most important ones in the skills section as well.
  5. If you have some keywords remaining in your list or if you feel you want to solidify even more keywords, use these tips to maximize your keywords coverage without overdoing it.
  6. If you have not passed length limitation, put in some skills and professional experience you think is relevant, even if they’re not in the keywords list.

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Example – Applying the Keywords Technique Start-to-Finish

Let's take this job posting as an example (source: Glassdoor for SmithGroup)

1. Identify and Divide Keywords by Category

In the first stage, we find and mark keywords in the job posting according to the 3 categories: job requirements, soft skills, and hard skills.

Project Manager

  • Manage one or more projects by negotiating project scope, fees, job production and quality, fee management and collection, monitoring project accounts as well as establishing and executing project work plans. Manage whole or portions of large-sized projects.
  • Develop and manage positive client relationships and work as the client’s advocate by identifying and balancing client expectations within the context of contractual obligations, corporate goals, and client satisfaction.
  • Communicate with all project participants, internal staff, consultants, clients, owners, contractors and jurisdictions in an effective and collaborative manner.
  • Develop and define project schedule to meet contractual obligations and to match team size and skill. Establish and update project staffing requirements, on an ongoing basis, consistent with contractual obligations.
  • Provide technical and administrative supervision of the multi-disciplinary project staff assuring the technical, administrative and schedule targets are met within the framework of corporate policy and in accordance with applicable professional and corporate standards. Take responsibility for overall client satisfaction, service, quality, and financial performance.
  • Manage project communique, delivery and deliverables to ensure the highest quality of documentation and professionalism.
  • Participate in business development efforts through learning/understanding the local client market, participating in professional organizations and supporting proposal development and interviews.

An ideal candidate has:

  • A bachelor's degree in Architecture or equivalent.
  • leading medium to large-scale projects of varying types and complexity.
  • LEED AP and Architectural Registration preferred. Experience and ability are major contributors in lieu of Architectural Registration.
  • Demonstrated effectiveness in working in a multi-disciplinary team setting, collaborating, mentoring and client satisfaction.
  • Thorough knowledge of the entire project delivery process and ability to lead design efforts through all project stages, including leadership with the client, contractors, and internal team.
  • Proficiency in the Microsoft Office Suite, and Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. Experience using Deltek Vision for financial management, reporting and resource planning preferred.

2. Cluster Similar Keywords

Let’s list all the keywords we have and mark similar keywords:

Hard Skills

Develop and define project schedule, A bachelor’s degree in Architecture, LEED AP and Architectural Registration, Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe Creative Cloud, Deltek Vision.

Soft Skills

negotiating, positive client relationships, client satisfaction, Communicate in an effective and collaborative manner, targets are met, Take responsibility, Professionalism, learning/understanding, collaborating, ability to lead, leadership.

Job Requirements

Manage one or more projects, monitoring project accounts, executing project work plans, large-sized projects, contractual obligations, staffing requirements, technical and administrative supervision, project communique, Documentation, business development, multi-disciplinary team setting, design efforts.


3. Write an Outline

Let's create an outline for John's resume (we'll leave out the contact details as they're not really a part of this process):

John Doe

Summary:

A project manager looking for a project management position.

Professional Experience

2015-2019       Project manager at Boyce & Weller

2012-2015       Architect team leader at LBK Architects

2010-2012       Architect at LBK Architects

Education

2010 B.S.Arch.

University of Southern California

Skills

  • Excel, word
  • AutoCAD
  • Scheduling programs

4. Allocate Relevant Keywords

Now we can begin “planting” keywords in our CV outline.

Step 1- One most important hard skill in the header

The hard skill to go in the header is your profession or certification. In our case, John has two: architect and project manager.

Since they can both be incorporated rather easily in the header, he’s more than happy to put them both in:

John Doe B.S.Arch., Project Manager

Step 2 - All hard skills in the skills list

This step is fairly technical and does not require creativity. The only thing you should pay attention to is using the same keywords as the job posting:

Skills:

Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel)

Schedule definition and development

Assuming John has proficiency in both Adobe Creative Cloud and Deltek Vision, it would have been very simple to put them in as well. However, let’s assume that he doesn’t. We’ll set those keywords aside for the moment and get back to them in the keyword maximization section.

Step 3 - Allocating soft skills and job requirements

Now, John will start “beefing up” his CV summary, job experience and education with sentences containing keywords from the soft skills and job requirements categories. Yet, rather than simply “stuffing them in”, the phrasing should be natural and careful, for two reasons:

  • ATS algorithms can detect such keyword stuffing attempts and reduce scores.
  • HR recruiters have also seen one or two "stuffers" in their careers.

Let’s start with John’s first job:

2010-2012 - Architect at LBK Architects

Led the design efforts of 4 small-sized planning projects with a team of planners and advisors. Managed the planning process documentation procedures. As head planner, maintained strong professional relationships with clients to ensure their satisfaction.

This process requires some writing skills, and you may be baffled when you see it for the first time. But remember that when it comes to your job, you know what you’re talking about. Look at the keywords in the job posting and try relating them to your experiences at work. It may be difficult at first, but after doing this a couple of times, it will seem natural.

Now let’s move on to the second job:

2012-2015 - Architect team leader at LBK Architects

Managed a team of architects in planning 20 small-to-medium-scale projects. Took responsibility for the team’s production and quality of work, adherence to schedule, and staffing requirements, all to meet project goals and contractual obligations.

And the third (current):

2015-2019 - Project manager at Boyce & Weller

Managed 2 large-sized construction projects with a total budget of $50 million. Led the execution of project work plans to the highest professional standard. Negotiated with contractors and supervised the project's financial and administrative aspects to maintain the time frame and budget.

We’re done with the professional experience section. Now let’s put some keywords in the CV summary:

Summary: An experienced project manager and architect looking for a project management position. 9 years of experience in working at overseeing the progress of the planning and execution processes of large-scale projects and effectively communicating with multi-disciplinary teams. Also interested in utilizing my learning abilities to promote business development in the organization.

Step 4 - Repeating some important soft skills in the skills section

It’s not easy to decide which soft skills are best to include here, but these two tips can help:

  • See if any skill repeats itself more than once in the job posting
  • Consider the list of soft skills most valued by employers:
    • Integrity
    • Communication skills
    • Courtesy
    • Responsibility
    • Interpersonal skills

In this case leadership, communication, collaboration, and responsibility seem like good choices.


5. Maximize Your Keyword Coverage Without Overdoing or Lying

John still has some keywords left on his list. This may be because there are too many keywords, or because there are skills or relevant work experience he does not have. In addition, he might feel he needs some extra flesh on his resume and will aim to make the best out of the keyword process.

If that’s the case for you, use the following techniques to maximize your keyword coverage:

Put the Keywords in a Different Context

You may not have exactly the skills and experience the job posting details. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t put them in your resume at all. Try playing around with the context of the words to incorporate them into your CV.

Examples:

  • John doesn’t have a LEED AP credential, but he did take some online courses provided by LEED. That can go into his education section to include the keyword LEED.
  • John may not have knowledge in Adobe Creative Cloud but he might have knowledge in the Microsoft Azure Cloud and Adobe Illustrator, both of which are widely-used, relevant programs for architects. These skills can address the keywords “Adobe” and “Cloud”.
  • John might have never managed communique in his professional career, but may have been responsible for it in his position as the student magazine editor. That can go as an additional accomplishment under the education section to cover the keyword “communique”.

Remember: Don’t exaggerate or lie, and don’t put irrelevant stuff just to add keywords! Referring to your communication skills and customer relations as a pizza delivery guy is not likely to get you shortlisted for a management position. Put in your resume only things that are relevant and that you have actually done.

Take Additional Keywords from External Sources

ATS keywords include, but are not limited to, the words in the job posting. Sometimes, HR managers add their own keywords to the software behind the scenes. To address these unknown keywords, try using these two sources:

Source 1 - Your Prospective Employer  

Visit the employer’s website. Look for core company values, corporate culture and points the company emphasizes (e.g. sustainability, customer service or innovation).

Source 2 - Personality Tests

Personality tests (or behavioral tests) are intended to check the degree to which your soft skills, behavior, and level of motivation fit the job. You are likely to encounter them at a later stage of your application process.

The tests are position-oriented, and each job has its own unique soft skills set (e.g. managers, technical positions, customer service representatives, etc.). It is helpful to learn the personality profile most suitable for your prospective position and include relevant soft skill keywords.

Learn more about personality tests and how to prepare for them.

Use Word Clouds to Check If You've Missed Anything

Word clouds like wordclouds.com are a tool to visually represent the most common words in a text. Although you can't (and shouldn't) reach absolute similarity, it is helpful to compare your resume's cloud to the job posting's to see if you missed some important keywords.

Putting both the job posting and John's resume in the word cloud, we get the following results:

Job Posting Resume

word cloud job posting

word cloud resume cv

Looking at the clouds, it seems that John's resume is good overall, but it might be helpful to put a bit more emphasis on the terms: client, contract, design, and quality.

6. Add Some More Information

If you still do not feel your resume is solid enough, and you haven’t passed the recommended length yet, include some other skills and experience that might be relevant.

These can be, for instance:

  • Volunteering work
  • Courses
  • Honors, if you have any
  • Relevant hard skills not mentioned in the job posting

Remember: Customizing your resume for an ATS is indeed crucial, yet it is equally important to polish it for the HR coordinator that takes it out of the slush pile. This 3000-word guide can help you create the perfect CV for HR recruiters, as well.


integrity Integrity

As mentioned previously, never, but NEVER, lie or exaggerate in your resume. Not only that it will not take your resume out of the "resume black hole", it might get you blacklisted.

Refrain from using these counterproductive cheats:

  • Irrelevant or dishonest skills
  • Hidden keywords (entering keywords hidden from the human eye (white font, for instance) to get a higher match score from the ATS.
  • Repetitive keywords that create odd-looking sentences (example: Managed a team of deputy managers in a project management firm to develop and implement business management policies).

technicality Technicality

It is important to remember that ultimately, an ATS is a computerized system. Your CV, then, has to be technically customized to be compatible. Follow these guidelines to make sure the ATS doesn’t skip anything on your resume:

  • Check the required file type for the ATS you’re applying through. Usually, a .docx file is the safest bet.
  • According to resume.io, 25% of candidates include valuable information in the document header. ATS is often “blind” to headers and footers. Therefore, include all information in the body of the document. Don’t use headers and footers.
  • Do not include graphics, images or charts.
  • Use a simple, standard template so the ATS doesn’t scramble your CV.

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Summary

Understanding and beating the ATS is only one of the aspects of good resume writing. And yet, it cannot be ignored or underestimated. Following the KIT protocol maximizes your chances of getting the highest match rate for a potential job.

The KIT protocol contains three components:

  • Keywords – find the relevant keywords in the job posting and include them in your resume in a smart, natural way.
  • Integrity – keep your game clean and don't try to manipulate the system.
  • Technicality – understand the technical requirements of applicant tracking systems and make sure your resume adheres to them.
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