Whether you’re looking for your first role since graduating, or you’re continuing to study and looking for some extra income, you may be surprised to learn that your colorful, creative resume may jeopardize your chances of securing an interview. Yes, you read that correctly. This is because many companies – including 99% of Fortune 500 companies – use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to help filter through high volumes of resumes and applications.
An ATS can search resumes for relevant keywords and parse information into a format the system can understand. Unfortunately, some systems can get “confused” with fancy formatting, imagery, and text boxes among other things, which can jumble up your carefully crafted wordsmithing.
If you’re a recent college graduate, you know the competition is high out there. To make sure your resume isn’t standing between you and your dream job, you need to make it ATS-friendly. We’ll explain how…
Keep the formatting simple (even tables can confuse an older ATS!)
Use a common font between 10-12pts in black
Use basic tables (equal number of rows and columns)
Use plain bullet points
Formatting to avoid:
Text in headers and footers can get lost or cause errors
Complex tables (e.g. those with merged cells) can jumble text
Text with shading or colored fonts can void those words
Logos and graphics cannot be read by an ATS
Bullet points that use irregular characters can confuse an ATS
Text boxes can be skipped by an ATS
Use a simple date format in your previous experience
ATS’s 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.
For example, writing a job title and duration like “Cashier: March 2021 – Present” is acceptable. Writing “Cashier: Early 2021 – Present” may confuse an ATS.
Include keywords that come up in role requirements
After a resume is uploaded into an ATS, a recruiter or hiring manager may search for job-related keywords. This helps to efficiently identify candidates with the right skills and experience. Here’s what you can do to stand out:
- Look at the job posting and job openings for similar roles
- Determine which required skills or experience overlap
- Try to incorporate keywords of requirements that show up frequently (so long as you have the skill set of course).
Send your file in a .docx or .pdf format
Tracking systems tend to favor the .docx or pdf file format. Formats such as .txt, .rtf, and .pages can be rejected by an ATS.
If it’s not specified what type of file to use, it’s always best to stick with a .docx to be extra safe.
Don’t apply to jobs you definitely aren’t qualified for
Nowadays it’s really easy to apply for dozens of jobs in a matter of minutes. However, if you’re applying to jobs beyond your experience to simply try your luck or get a job faster, an ATS will probably stand in your way.
For roles where you have most of the required qualifications, apply! Many companies like to interview candidates that have transferable knowledge or a good mix of skills, so they’ll cast a wide net in their search.
Happy job hunting!
By following these tips, you’re giving yourself the best chance at getting past the first stage of the hiring process. For even more great advice, check out our full article on making your resume ATS-friendly. Alternatively, visit our ultimate ATS guide to learn more about applicant tracking systems.