How to write an ATS-friendly resume | Photo by Markus Winkler

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Looking for a new job? You probably know that applying for jobs is not the difficult part: With just a few clicks, you can easily send out your resume to any company with an online job listing or email address. But, how can you make sure your resume is actually seen by someone who is doing the screening and hiring? That can be the tough part, especially if your resume isn’t ATS-friendly.

ATS, or Applicant Tracking Systems, are software programs that are used to collect, sort, scan, and rank resumes. They are used by 98% of Fortune 500 companies1 to process the scores of resumes that companies receive through job sites and their own online listings. Resumes are scanned by this system before they are seen by a human; an algorithm searches a resume for keywords that match the job description or required experience and automatically either moves it on to a hiring manager or files it in the virtual abyss.

If your resume is not optimized for ATS, it may never get seen by a recruiter or hiring manager at all. The hard truth is that 75% of resumes never make it out of the database2 to be seen by a human.

But, there are ways to improve your odds by understanding how ATS work and what tweaks you may need to make to your resume to ensure that the algorithm doesn’t pass you by. Don’t worry: Nothing here is too technical or difficult to do. Just keep reading for 4 tips for writing an ATS-friendly resume.

1. Keep things simple when writing an ATS-friendly resume

Remember: Your goal is to make it past an ATS scan, not wow people with your design skills. Choose a basic typeface like Times New Roman or Arial and follow a standard resume template that is easy to read and follow.

Avoid using images, charts, or other graphics that ATS are not equipped to read. And use basic bullet points so that the ATS don’t scramble your copy as it tries to make sense of it.

Finally, don’t put anything of importance (especially your contact information!) in either the header or footer of your resume. Some ATS do not scan those areas for content.

 

2. Don’t get too clever with headlines

Save your personality for the interview and keep the clever headings off your resume. It may feel ho-hum to stick to headings like “Summary”, “Skills”, and “Work Experience”, but you don’t want the computer to miss key information either.

 

3. Create a hybrid resume to highlight your skills

A hybrid resume format is gaining in popularity because it helps ATS identify key experience as it pertains to the job for which you have applied. Unlike a traditional “chronological” resume, a hybrid one includes a “skills” section at the top with a bulleted list of any technical experience, software knowledge, certifications or courses you’ve completed, and anything else you think will be relevant to the job.

After listing skills, continue your resume with a chronological listing of your work experience, from newest to oldest position, followed by your education and/or outside activities you think would be pertinent to your job search. Repeat any of the skills listed at the top of your resume in your chronological section as well.

Please note that you should ALSO be ready to provide a chronological resume to any hiring manager because many of them prefer to see this more traditional type of resume once you’ve made it through the ATS.

4. Customize your ATS-friendly resume for EVERY job listing

Though this may sound time consuming, it really is worth a few extra minutes to customize a resume before you apply for a job. Spend a few minutes going over the detailed job description and taking notes of the skills or specific knowledge the job requires. Know the keywords of your industry so that you use them effectively. Then, make sure you include these things in your resume wherever appropriate. Be sure to use abbreviations in addition to spelling out any skills or common requirements (e.g., CPA, Certified Public Accountant; MBA, Master of Business Administration).

Above all: Be truthful! Do not try to “game” the ATS by listing experience or skills you do not actually have. This will only backfire when the hiring manager starts asking questions.

 

By understanding a bit more about how Applicant Tracking Systems work, you can improve your chances of getting an interview for the job you really want. Just spend a few extra minutes formatting your resume, remove any photos or graphs, and tailor your resume for the job you want, and you may find that your resume makes it further in the application process than ever before.

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1 Over 98% of Fortune 500 Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) per Jobscan

2 75% of resumes never get read by a human per CNBC

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