The reason your online job applications are getting rejected (it’s not you!)

Posted on Posted in Job Search, Resumes

You’ve applied to what seems like a thousand jobs online – and so far, gotten nothing but rejection emails. Your resume is great, and you’re qualified for the job – so what’s the problem?


When you apply online for a job, your resume is scanned and catalogued into a database – an applicant tracking system (ATS). You may have heard about using keywords to help you get found amongst the billion other applicants, but there are also some formatting options that will prevent your resume from being read correctly by the ATS. This could prevent your otherwise fantastic resume from getting into the hands of recruiters and hiring managers. I’ve even heard from some fellow resume writers that tripping up the ATS can trigger a rejection automatically.


The good news is that once you know what confuses the ATS, it’s pretty easy to fix. Here are 4 formatting considerations that could prevent your resume from being read by the ATS – and my suggested workarounds.


  • Placing your contact information in a header or footer. The ATS will skip right over any information entered in the document header or footer, so include it in the body of the text. Extend the margins if necessary to move the header closer to the top of the page.
  • Including critical information in text boxes. The ATS can’t see text boxes, so anything you enter in a text box won’t be included in your record in the ATS. Keep important information in the body of the document.
  • Using tables. Surprise – the ATS can’t process tables, either. While it might look nice, the text won’t be registered by the ATS. Instead, try using a symbol such as a vertical line to separate information in a single line of text.
  • Incorrectly formatting dates. The ATS doesn’t know what “summer” is, so the date for your internship in “Summer 2015” isn’t going to register. Instead, write out the names of months (June 2015 – August 2015).

Headers, text boxes, and tables are fine to use on your resume – just don’t submit it through an ATS. I recommend keeping a cleaner, more traditionally styled version to submit through the ATS. Bring your fancy version with you or, if you can, follow up your ATS submission with a direct email and attach your preferred version of your resume. Most times, you’ll still be asked to apply through the ATS anyway, so beat them to the punch by doing it before sending the email.

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