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How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

Caroline BantonUpdated Nov 7, 20214 min

How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

Updated Nov 7, 20214 min
How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

Caroline BantonUpdated Nov 7, 20214 min

How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

Updated Nov 7, 20214 min
How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly

The first eyes on your resume may not be the discerning ones of a recruiter; they could be the ruthless ones of a soulless bot. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) help recruiters weed through the piles of resumes they receive using digital scanning technology that assesses a resume’s formatting and content. But how likely is it that your resume will be screened by software, and how do you format your resume to pass that screening?

This article will explain how ATS’ work, how to format your resume so that it passes their screening, suggest template examples, and show how to include key content that will keep your resume on the top of the applicant pile.

What Is an ATS, and How Does It Work?

An ATS is a software system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to screen resumes. Examples are Oracle Taleo and Bullhorn. Ultimately, they are designed to streamline and simplify the recruitment process. ATS software manages job postings, filters applications, sorts resumes, and identifies strong candidates.

How do they identify strong candidates? When a candidate applies for a job, their resume is screened by the software. The software looks for keywords in the resume content that indicate the applicant has the right skills and background. The keywords are laid out in the job ad.

But how many companies actually use ATS screening based on keywords? There are conflicting opinions on this. According to a study by Capterra, three-quarters of recruiters use applicant tracking systems in the hiring process. On the other hand, LinkedIn finds that it is mostly big companies that use expensive ATS software, and a more likely screening strategy is “knock-out” questions.

Let’s cover the gamut here and look at how to format a simple resume for ATS software and consider other ways your resume can be digitally screened.

How to Create an ATS-Friendly Resume

The best resumes use a professional one-page resume template. A Microsoft Word or PDF file format is the best way to submit your resume, and the file type should not contain graphs or images. Why, because you want your resume to be machine-readable, and images and graphics are not.

Check Your Resume is Machine-Readable

To check if your resume will be liked by an ATS system, copy and paste the resume's content  into a simple text file. If the text remains readable and the structure is more or less the same, you’re good to go.

Match Phrases

Here’s why your phrasing is important when writing the experience section of your resume. If an ATS is screening for keywords, it will compare the content of your resume to the job posting. So, study the job posting, and include similar phrases in your resume sections. For example, if the job posting states, “detail-oriented systems analyst fluent in Java and C++,” be sure to include Java and C++ on your resume.

Use a Logical Structure

Both human and soulless bot eyes expect to see a logical structure. So, there's no need for a creative resume with a motivational quote in the header. Save that for your online portfolio. Put your name and contact details at the top of the resume, and then structure it in a standard way, either as a functional or chronological resume.

To understand the differences between a functional and chronological resume ,read “Which Resume Format Should You Choose?”

Similarly, use standard headers for the section in your resume. For example, use “Work History” or “Work Experience” not “Key Positions Held.”

Expert Hint: The chronological resume style has the most ATS-friendly structure because its sections are clear and easy to follow.

The usual rules apply when writing an ATS-compliant resume. If you are using a chronological professional resume template, add your most recent jobs first and include the company name, job title, and dates of employment. For any resume format, use bullet points to describe your accomplishments, not your responsibilities. Do this by including power words and metrics to show measurable achievements. Here’s an example:

Vertex Data, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Systems Engineer

July 2019 to Current

  • Led the devops team and brought a tax solution for corporations to market ahead of deadline.

  • Debugged 5 webapps written in Python.

  • Eliminated errors for a SaaS site by 25% through extensive debugging.

For details on how job seekers can write a winning resume, read “The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Perfect Resume.”

Use Bold, Italics, and White Space

A fascinating study by The Ladders looked at how recruiters screen resumes and, specifically, their eye-tracking. According to the study, hiring managers spend only seven seconds scanning a resume, but they are looking for specific things.

They tended to focus on the left side of the resume looking for job titles and headings. These should be clear and should stand out on your resume.

To optimize your resume layout for ATS, use a modern resume template with clear fonts, bold titles, bulleted lists of accomplishments, a mission statement at the top, and make good use of white space so that your resume is not cluttered.

Other Ways to Improve Your Resume for ATS 

Here are some ways to boost the quality of your resume for ATS,

  • Add your professional skills both in the bullet points and in a separate skills section where you list them. Make sure they are skills that align with the job description.

  • Always follow the instructions on the job posting. For example, if a specific job posting asks you to list relevant coursework, do so in your education section.

  • Include extra sections if they are relevant. For example, Awards and Honors, Certifications, Volunteer Work, Languages, Conferences, Publications.

ATS-Friendly Resume Templates

Below are modern ATS-friendly template examples for a chronological resume and a functional resume.

Chronological Resume Example

chronological resume

Functional Resume Example

functional resume

Other Screening Practices to Be Aware Of

Not all companies will use ATS software and screen for resume keywords. Another common practice to screen job applications is to ask questions during the initial application. Typically, an applicant will be led to a website where they will log in, enter their contact details, answer some screening questions, and then upload their resume and cover letter.

Depending on their answers, they may be “knocked out” by screening software. For example,  a job posting might state that a bachelor’s degree is required, and a screening question might be “Have you completed a college degree?” If you answer No, it might knock you out if it is a knock-out question.

Another screening requirement might be a cover letter. Cover letters are important, so always use one. For more details on that topic and a cover letter template read, “How to Write a Cover Letter.”

In summary, to land your dream job, it's worth taking the time to create an ATS-friendly resume just in case your application is screened by software. It’s also worth writing a great cover letter for your job search. Cover your bases and make sure your years of experience get the attention they deserve!

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications
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