How To Create an ATS Friendly Resume

Learn more about what an ATS is and how you can optimize your resume to get further in the hiring process

Carly Chalmers

When you’ve spent time and energy on creating a resume for your dream job, the least you can hope for is that recruiters have a look at it. If you don’t have an ATS compliant resume though, you run the risk of it getting lost in the void. Why is that? Because of software known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

If you’ve never heard of ATS, it’s time to find out what it means for you and how it affects your chances of getting called to a job interview. In this article, we’ll delve into what an ATS is and how you can optimize your resume to get further in the hiring process.


What is an ATS?

ATS (or Applicant Tracking System) is a human resources software that can be used to manage and streamline the hiring processes. It helps employers organize plenty of applicant resumes by collecting, scanning, sorting and ranking them.

The first part of the process means an ATS will collect all applications from job sites such as Indeed and LinkedIn. Second, they filter resumes by specific criteria and give them a score. The filtering process can exclude those who don’t appear to have mandatory qualifications. Lastly, recruiters can use keyword searches to find applicants that are a good match.

The applicant tracking system used to be mainly for large corporations dealing with a high volume of resumes. However, it has now become praxis in companies of all types and sizes. That’s why you should optimize your resume for ATS whenever you submit an online job application, regardless of the company.


Why do I need an ATS friendly resume?

A well-written and perfectly designed resume can still fall short if the format isn’t ATS compliant. A quality tracking system is programmed to scan for relevant keywords and other information like former employers, experience, and qualifications.

If an ATS can’t parse your resume, you won’t be ranked as a viable candidate, even if you’re qualified for the job. In a hiring process using an ATS, as many as half of the resumes may be deemed unqualified and rejected.

So, you run a risk of missing a callback and an interview only by not optimizing your resume. To be sure it doesn’t disappear into cyberspace, it’s a good idea to double check and make sure you have an ATS friendly resume.



How to build an ATS compliant resume

Creating an ATS compliant resume isn’t as tricky as it may seem. A few things will usually confuse tracking systems, just be aware of these and you’ll be fine. Follow the tips below to improve your chances of getting that job.


Make sure the text is indexable – no scans or image files

Having an ATS friendly resume is about more than just having the right content in there. You need to make sure it’s presented in a format the ATS can interpret. For example, there’s no point in using images or charts to show your skills since the ATS will be unable to read it.

In the same way, a scanned document will appear only as an image with no text. Your resume is then unlikely to go through the system and be seen by recruiters.


Simplify your formatting

With today’s many online design tools, there are plenty of fancy templates to use for your resume. Although it’s fun to get creative with a beautiful design, you want to be careful that it doesn’t end up looking like a complete mess when it passes through the applicant tracking system.

To scan the document for keywords, the ATS converts it to a text-only file. Any formatting is likely to disappear, and in the worst case – the rest of the information will be muddled up and unclear.

To keep your resume ATS-friendly, avoid things like:

  • logos
  • images, border, and dividers
  • tables and columns
  • graphics and other visuals
  • header and footer details
  • less common fonts

And here’s what you CAN use in terms of formatting:

  • bullet points
  • heading formats for headlines
  • bold, italics, and underline
  • colors

Keyword optimization

Making sure you add the appropriate keywords in your resume is a big part of achieving an ATS compliant resume. These keywords represent your skills and expertise, and they’re not to be confused with buzzwords or clichés such as ‘proactive’ or ‘result-driven.’

Start with having a good look through the ad. Note the terminology so it matches the keywords you use. Look for hard skills, such as spoken languages, software knowledge, and other abilities that are easy to measure. The most critical keyword can sometimes be the actual job title so check that your previous job title matches the job you're applying for.

Another thing to consider is the frequency and placement of the keywords. Some applicant tracking systems will work out your skills based on how frequently it shows up in your resume (two to three times throughout your resume is usually good to aim for). Other ATSs will determine your skills based on where in the document you’ve placed them. For the best result, optimize your resume with both of these systems in mind.


Select the right file type for your resume


Contrary to what many people assume, a PDF is not the most compatible with an applicant tracking system. While a PDF can be great for humans, it isn’t ideal for passing through the ATS. If the application specifically asks for a PDF, then go ahead and use it. Otherwise, a better option is a word document (.docx).

If you’re planning on using online software to build your resume, check that it can save the file in the format you want (Google Docs can!). You can also use a plain-text file, although this keeps you limited in terms of formatting.


Make your resume both ATS friendly and human friendly


Remember that the best resumes are both ATS friendly and pleasing for the human eye. The goal is to have a resume that piques the interest of recruiters. That’s why it needs to be readable and attractive, not only compliant with the applicant tracking system. In the end, it’s about people hiring people.