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What’s an ATS-Friendly Resume and How Do You Make One?

Applicant Tracking System Friendly Resume

Are you applying for jobs and getting nowhere? If you’ve seen a fair few rejection emails – even though you believe you’re qualified for the roles – it could be because of your resume’s funky font.
Yes, really.

If you’re applying for a job, it’s extremely important to use an ATS-friendly resume:

  • Don’t use fancy formatting
  • Use a simple date format
  • Send your file as a .docx or .pdf
  • Include keywords that come up in role requirements

What Is an ATS and How Does It Work?

An ATS is an abbreviation of “applicant tracking systems”. These systems are commonly used by companies to help recruiters automate certain hiring functions. In the past, an ATS was simply a centralized database that stored candidate information. Nowadays, these systems can do a lot more. Here are some things they can do:

  • Read and sort through 1000s of resumes
  • Build, manage, and maintain career pages
  • Send emails and texts to candidates
  • Save candidates for future positions
  • Centralize all candidate’s interview notes and other information
  • Keep recruitment teams on track to meet hiring goals
  • Post job openings to job boards
  • View hiring performance reports

For a candidate, the most important function of an ATS is its ability to read and sort through resumes.

So, how does an ATS read a resume? When you apply for a role, the system takes your uploaded resume and organizes it in a way that it understands the data. Your ATS-friendly resume and any other information you included in your application are used to create a “candidate profile”. This profile can be searched, filtered, and even ranked by the ATS.

Its ability to process resumes helps to make the applicant pool smaller – it can automatically turn down those that don’t meet the requirements of the role before a recruiter sees those applications. Typically, unqualified candidates will then hear they weren’t successful, while qualified candidates are moved forward to either a phone screening or a pre-recorded video interview.

How an ATS works (a simplified version)

Resume Upload

Sam uploads his resume in a job application

ATS Scan

ATS scans his resume for relevant keywords

Keywords

The ATS finds some keywords – yay!

Qualified Candidates

The ATS moves Sam to a list of qualified candidates

Why Are Applicant Tracking Systems Used by Companies?

You might be thinking something along the lines of “Why do companies need to use an ATS, isn’t my application worth a human to view it?” Companies can receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for one role – particularly in the days of “one-click apply” and “work-from-anywhere”. The amount of time and labor it would take to get through all of the resumes manually isn’t efficient or financially viable for a company. Plus, it could take upwards of a year for the chosen candidate to find out they’d got the job.

Essentially, applicant tracking systems allow recruiters to focus on important tasks such as interviewing qualified candidates.

Why Do You Need an ATS-Friendly Resume?

Nowadays, the majority of mid-to-large-sized companies use an ATS to help with their recruiting methods. If you’re applying to a Fortune 500 company, 99% use an ATS. Some of the biggest companies, such as Google and Apple, have even built their own applicant tracking systems.

In short, there really is no getting around it. It’s crucial you’re using an ATS-friendly resume. If an ATS isn’t able to accurately read your resume, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get an interview, even if you’re perfectly qualified.

Fortune 500 Companies

99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS

How Can You Make Your Resume ATS-Optimized?

1. Don’t use fancy formatting (even tables can hurt your resume)

Many candidates like to get creative with their resumes in an effort to stand out. Some even pay to make their resume look like an artistic masterpiece. Unfortunately, an ATS will remove all of this, and likely before a recruiter sees it. More importantly, though, fancy formatting can cause errors in an applicant tracking system’s understanding – particularly if it's an older, less sophisticated system:

  • Text in headers and footers can get lost or cause errors
  • Complex tables (e.g. those with merged cells) can jumble text
  • Shading or colored fonts can void out any words included in that text
  • Logos (say, of previous employers) or graphics cannot be easily read by most systems
  • Bullet points that use irregular characters can confuse an ATS
  • Text boxes can be skipped by most systems

Our advice is to keep the formatting simple.

Green Check

Use a black, “safe” font between 10-12pts.

Green Check

Use basic tables (same number of rows and columns)

Green Check

Use plain
bullet points.

Some safe fonts are Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri and Cambria, and Georgia

Fonts to use in your ATS friendly resume

2. Use a simple date format

Applicant tracking systems tend to search for dates based on a MM/YYYY format such as 02/2021 or February 2021. Always use both the month and year as only providing a year can cause confusion. Some systems will assign a start date of January 1st to any work experience that only has the year.

Green Check

Job A:

March 2019 – Present

Red X

Job A:

Early 2019 – Present

3. Include keywords in your resume that come up in role requirements

After an uploaded resume goes through its first screening, a recruiter or hiring manager may search for job-related keywords. This helps to identify candidates with the right skills and experience. Now, having the right keywords isn’t as simple as copying in sections of their job description. Here’s what you can do:

  • Look at a variety of job openings for similar roles and determine which required skills or experience overlap.
  • Requirements that show up frequently are the keywords you should try to incorporate.
  • For example, if you were applying for a content writer position, and you noticed SEO was a popular requirement, you should ensure your SEO knowledge (as long as you have some) is listed on your resume.

Many popular ATSs can’t recognize the relationship between long-form words and their respective abbreviations or acronyms. This can lead to problems if a recruiter – or even the system – is searching for one version of the word. In the example above, SEO should be written as both SEO (the abbreviation) and Search Engine Optimization (the long-form) within a resume.

Don't Risk cheating

Don’t keyword-stuff your resume by adding “invisible” white text or listing out words.

While the ATS may fall for this, you could be rejected by a hiring manager for trying to cheat the system.

Don’t risk it!

Doc & PDF Icon

4. Send your file as a .docx or .pdf

Applicant tracking systems tend to favor the .docx or pdf file format. Formats such as .txt, .rtf, and .pages can be rejected by most systems. If you’re thinking of using an online resume builder, check what file type it creates. Some resume builders will generate your resume as an image (.jpg or .png, for example). And, if you read tip #1, you’ll know an ATS cannot read an image.

If they don’t specify what type of file to use, it’s always best to stick with a .docx to be extra safe.

Google Docs Icon

If you don’t have Microsoft Office or another method to create a .docx file, consider using Google Docs. You can download the resume in a .docx format for free.

5. Don’t apply to jobs you definitely aren’t qualified for

Nowadays it’s really easy to apply for dozens of jobs in only a few minutes – especially with tools such as Indeed’s one-click apply. However, if you’re applying to jobs outside of your qualifications to simply try your luck or get a job faster, an ATS will stand in your way and reject your application based on your failure to meet specific keywords/criteria.

This advice isn’t to say you need to have every qualification or skill set to apply for a job. For example, if you find an awesome job that requires five years’ experience but you only have two, it’s worth applying for. Many companies like to interview candidates that have similar skill sets or transferable knowledge, so they’ll cast a wide net in their search.

What’s an ATS-Friendly Resume Template?

If you follow all the tips above, you should end up with a resume that looks something like this:

Green Check

ATS-Compatible Resume

An Illustration of an ATS compatible Resume

Green Number 1All text is consistent in font choice and easy to read

Green Number 2Skills are listed in simple bullet points

Green Number 3Jobs are listed without the use of tables or complex formatting

Green Number 4There’s no information in a header or footer

Green Number 5Work experience lists dates in a readable format

Red X

NOT an ATS-Friendly Resume

If your resume looks something like this, you might be affecting your chances of getting a job!

An Illustration of Not an ATS compatible Resume

Red Number 1Text can become jumbled when housed in a table

Red Number 2A graph showing the skill cannot be interpreted by an ATS

Red Number 3Header for objective can go undetected

Red Number 4Logos are unreadable to an ATS

Red Number 5Dates aren’t formatted in an understandable way

Jobscans resume optimization tool

Check out Jobscan’s resume optimization tool. It lets you upload your resume and provides tips based on the common behaviors of commonly used applicant tracking systems.

ATSs Are Becoming Increasingly Popular – Don’t Miss Out on Your Dream Job!

Applicant tracking systems help recruiters to free up much-needed time and resources to help make an efficient hiring experience for candidates. To maximize your chances of landing a job interview, you have to be sure that an ATS can read your resume. By utilizing the tips above, you can be confident you’re giving yourself the best chance at getting past the first stage of the hiring process.

Once your ATS-friendly resume has made it past the first hurdle, make sure it is well-organized and easily readable by humans. The average recruiter scans a resume for about seven seconds. Make sure your most relevant work history, education and accomplishments are easy to pick up on a quick scan.

Happy job hunting!