How to Write an ATS-Compliant Resume
To start, if you don’t know what ATS is or how it applies to a modern-day job search – please read “What Job Seekers Need to Know About ATS”.
If you are aware of ATS and want to write a resume that ‘works’ for the system, read on.
The easiest way to ensure your resume will be accepted by an ATS is to submit a resume that is both ATS-friendly and human-reader ready. The two are not mutually exclusive; however, ATS-friendly resumes are formatted more carefully, while human-reader resumes may contain graphic elements that make the document easier to read and more attractive to the reader.
The ultimate goal is to have the resume reviewed by a human, even an ATS-friendly resume needs to be readable — and attractive — to human eyes. With this in mind, I provide all of my clients with a copy of each! A design resume (for networking and in-person distribution) and an ATS-compliant resume for online applications (that can still be easily followed by a person).
Some Quick ATS Resume Considerations:
1. If you are given the choice to copy-and-paste the resume or upload a file during an application process, choose the upload option. This will ensure formatting is retained for the eventual human reader.
2. Some applicant tracking systems can manage graphics (or simply ignore them), but since some systems can’t handle graphics ensure they don’t interfere with content…or ensure you translate information from a graphic into the body of the file.
3. One way to ensure a match with a posted job is to “mirror” the job posting in your resume, never copying and pasting the complete job ad (this will be flagged and get your application removed), but working to incorporate job posting details naturally into your resume content.
4. The main body of the resume is critical — some ATS software cannot read header/footer information, so if you include contact information in those sections it may not be read. (And remember, geographic location can be used as a filter – so include your city, state/province and zip/postal code.)
5. Populate the file with appropriate keywords. Work experience sections should also include the skills used in the role (including computer software and hardware, if relevant).
6. One nice thing about applicant tracking systems is that they are not sensitive to the length of the resume, so two or more pages are fine. Just remember that an eventual person could read the file and may be fatigued by long length. Keep all content relevant to the reader!
7. ATS may be sensitive to formatting issues. For example, don’t condense text or and try to avoid light colored font. These can make it hard for the system to read.
8. Even if hiring managers aren’t using a formal applicant tracking system, they often file documents on their hard drive. Use your name and targeted job title in the resume file (i.e: John Smith-Financial Accountant-Resume.docx) instead of the generic “Resume.docx”
So, does an ATS-friendly resume have to be basic and boring? Not necessarily — although formatting has to be carefully considered.
Fast Formatting Tips:
- Use a Microsoft Office Word file in .docx format (preferred). Or re-save your Word file as a “Text Only” (.txt) file.
- List your contact information at the top of the document – never in the header or footer.
- Create section headings that are clear and common like “Summary,” “Work Experience,” and “Education.” Make headers larger.
- Use simple bullets (•) or keyboard characters (*, -, or >).
- Ensure appropriate white space throughout the file.
- Put the targeted job title as the header of the resume. Make your intentions clear.
- List work history in reverse chronological order (this is easier for the system to read). List position information in the order of: company name, dates, position title, role requirements, and bulleted achievements.
- Match the language of the job posting as much as possible, authentically.
- Populate the file with relevant, repeated keywords and key phrases – with variations (ex: managed and managing).
- Add keywords to the file’s metadata.
- Don’t place resume details within tables. These details may not be read, or may be difficult for the system to read.
The easiest way to see how an applicant tracking system works is to try it out yourself. Since applicant tracking systems cost anywhere from $5,000 to several million dollars, there’s a free online service that job seekers can use to mimic the ATS called Jobscan. This system allows job seekers to assess their resume using the criteria that an applicant tracking system uses.
A caveat! This system isn’t perfect or exact and there is no way to truly know how each individual ATS has been set-up to parse resumes. Therefore, take any Jobscan suggestions with a grain of salt, adjusting content and strategy carefully for EACH application. Customizing a new resume for every application is key.
Finally, keep in mind that the best way to ‘beat the system’ is to work around ATS whenever possible. Online job applications yield a very low ROI for job seekers. Increased success strategies include networking and referrals – so diversify your job search tactics and pursue multiple avenues when seeking a new job (don’t rely exclusively on job boards). Make good use of your DESIGN resume and get it in front of people…because at the end of the day: people hire people!
Read more about: The Role of ATS in the Job Search!
And: Resume ATS Myths!