- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Applicant Tracking System: Useful Tool or Military Resume Abyss?
by Jessie Richardson, Contributing Writer

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Article Sponsored by:  CSX

If you have been at the job search game for a while, chances are good that the resume you submitted for at least one online job opportunity is still floating around in cyberspace. Military job seekers are frequently thwarted by furtive Applicant Tracing Systems. So what are they? The official definition of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is: a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment needs and resume data. The unofficial definition? A military resume abyss.

ATS vendors and professionals who use this technology claim it to be an excellent tool for managing large resume volumes, especially in today’s job market. However, an ATS can be a black hole for military job seekers if their military resumes are not properly targeted to job vacancies with appropriate keywords and highlighted experience. Here are some ATS guidelines to ensure your military resume gets to its intended destination and receives the highest ranking possible:

  • Paste your military resume into the body of an email to avoid getting caught by security software.
  • When emailing a resume, keep exclamation marks out of the subject line and body of the text.
  • Using keywords from the job opening post, include a professional summary at top of your military resume, followed by a list of bulleted qualifications and/or achievements.
  • Keywords alone aren’t enough. Context is also important. Back keywords up with experience that demonstrates familiarity with the subject.
  • Do not use abbreviations as it is unlikely that the ATS has been programmed with a list of abbreviations to stand in for keywords (unless abbreviations are used in the job posting).
  • Fill in all the information requested by an online application process, even if it’s listed as optional or already included in your military resume. Recruiters often sort by optional information to filter out applicants.
  • Opt for uploading your military resume instead of cutting and pasting if the systems allow this. This feature ensures the cleanest presentation.
  • Contact information should be located at the top instead of in a header or footer.
  • Do not include graphics on a resume.
  • Keep an eye on your spam folders. The ATS may send you an automatically generated email, which could be flagged as spam.

Finally, if you receive an automatically generated rejection email, immediately contact the recruitment or HR office for advice on the best way to replace your original military resume with one containing better keywords and phrases. Then tweak the professional summary and bulleted list of key skills and/or achievements. Don’t alter your work history. Next, contact the appropriate recruiter or HR specialist and request that your updated military resume be reviewed and considered for the open position. Remember, the squeaky, proactive wheel gets the grease.

With a little know-how, your odds of beating “the system” are greatly increased. Stick to the guidelines to gain a leg up on your competition and increase your odds of landing the interview.

For those who wish to seek professional help, reputable military resume writers understand the importance of replacing commonplace military jargon and acronyms with industry terminology and keywords. For more information on military resume writing services, please visit


Jessie Richardson, CPRW, is a candidate recruiter for Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI), the largest military-focused placement firm in the U.S., and former director of resume services at She is a Naval Academy graduate and regular commentator on job search best practices for military at the blog.

Return to January/February 2011 Issue