A Programmer’s Guide to Beating the Robots and ATS-Optimizing Your Resume

Written By Max Woolf

Imagine you find a fat job offer at one of those unicorn companies. It’s got sky-high pay, flex hours, remote work, and more benefits than IBM can offer.

It also comes with a Herman Miller chair, an SSD-powered laptop, two vertical and horizontal monitors, and a Zuckerberg-mansion-like kitchen that’s chock-full with free food.

You dive into writing your programmer resume with a rage-fueled focus in hopes of getting the callback. Four weeks later, you’re still unemployed and living on Top Ramen.

How come?! In short, you got rejected by the robots. A human eye has never seen your application.

Take heart. You’re about to learn how to cut through ATSs and land your dream job as an on-site programmer.

What Is the ATS, and How Does It Work?

Here’s the thing: Most tech companies get a whopping 250+ resumes in response to a job offer. Therefore,⁠ recruiters have to use special software to pre-filter applications.

The software is called applicant tracking system (ATS). It rips through programmer resumes and scores them for relevance.

How? Maciej Duszynski, a career expert at ResumeLab, explains:

The ATS checks tech resumes for keywords and compares them against the job description. As a result, only the most qualified programmers make it to a human review.

This is bad news if you don’t know how to modify your resume accordingly. But, on the other hand, it’s also good news. Because now you’re a quick scroll-down away from learning how to ATS-optimize your programmer resume and top the ranking!

Make a Crisp Programmer Resume Layout

You want your programmer resume to spotlight the perfect UX. Maybe drop some pictures or pick a nice font, right?

Bad move. ATSs will trip over anything fancy and reject your application out of confusion.

This means that you need to make a clear-cut programmer resume layout that’s ATS-friendly. Here’s how:

  • Slice your programmer resume into easily-navigable sections (e.g., skills, education, experience).
  • Stick to a recognizable resume format, for example, chronological, reverse-chronological, functional (highlights your skills over your work history), or combination (highlights both work history and skills).
  • Pick a classic font (e.g., Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman).
  • Break up your programmer resume with big headings and a ton of white space.
  • Make sure your bullet points are round.
  • Save your resume in PDF to keep the layout intact unless the job description states otherwise.

Once you lay out your resume in a user-friendly fashion, you will have increased your chances of landing your dream job.

Pepper Your Programmer Resume With Keywords

Now comes the juicy part.

Once you know how to keyword-tweak your programmer resume, you’ll be ATS’s best friend. It also means tech recruiters will throw job offers at your feet like rose petals.

What’s even better is that it’s as simple as coding a calculator.

First, skim through the job ad, and highlight crucial keywords related to duties and required experience.

Need a real-life example? Here’s a sample Java programmer job description:


  • Develop and maintain reports using SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).
  • Create system interfaces across multiple systems.
  • Design and modify programs using Visual Basic, MVC, ASP, JAVA, and C#.

As long as you have what it takes and you’ve done the tasks before, sprinkle the keywords into resume summary/objective, skills, and most importantly, the experience sections.

Also, be careful with acronyms. Make sure to use both the abbreviation and the spelled-out form to prevent confusion, for example, CLP: C Certified Professional Programmer.

Lastly, don’t try to game the system and keyword-stuff your programmer resume. Once you get ATS’s seal of approval, an actual recruiter will read your application. If they see through your keyword-stuffing trick, your resume will be flagged for malware.

Want a pro tip to boost your application success rate?

Make sure to use resume power words like streamlined, executed, introduced throughout your programmer resume to showcase the real-life impact of your work.

Don’t Let Things Fall Through the Cracks

You might be tempted to wish there were a surefire way to know an ATS would give you a high score, but you don’t have to. There are tools like Jobscan that can show a match-rate between your programmer resume and a job ad.

Best part? Jobscan can also give suggestions such as the following:

You are missing two important high-value skills on your resume. For example, “test automation” appears on the job description three times and is not on your resume. 

And so, before you send your application, run your programmer resume through an ATS testing tool. This way, you will be aware of any problem areas, and you will have the chance to resolve any possible issues.

In the End, It’s All About Preparation

As you can see, it might be everything but easy to get a solid programmer job.

In fact, if you don’t take time to ATS-tweak your resume, you won’t stand a chance against the competition.

But—if you know how to lay out your programmer resume, sprinkle it with just the right keywords, and use online tools that show your match-rate, you’ll skyrocket your application success rate.

Lastly, if you have trouble mining job ads for keywords, or you’d like to recommend any ATS testing tools that work best for you, drop me a line in the comments. Let’s chat!