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15 Top Tips to Help You Create an ATS-friendly Resume

Follow these expert tips to ensure your resume gets past applicant tracking systems (ATS) and into the hands of human HR managers.

Ho Lin Profile
By Ho Lin 6 minute read

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Learn how to write an ATS-friendly resume

You’re serious about your job search. You’ve built a great resume that accurately depicts your skills and accomplishments. Now you’re anxiously waiting for a response from the HR manager. But what you might not know is that your resume is being read and screened by an applicant tracking system (ATS) before it even reaches human eyes. If you haven’t made your resume ATS-friendly, it might not ever get there. A growing reason many candidates aren’t getting reactions to their resume is the ATS. These tracking systems are scanning our documents, deciding if they fit certain criteria and “rejecting” those that don’t. Don’t be afraid or unsure of ATS, make it work for you. We’ll help you:

  • Learn how ATS works and what it’s looking for
  • Use our resume templates, examples and strategies to ace ATS
  • Give you formatting tips for your docs so you can focus more on content
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What is an applicant tracking system?

Applicant tracking systems are used by companies as a way to streamline the application process for their open positions. The purpose of an ATS program is looking for words that indicate technical and specialized skills relevant to the role along with competencies, training and other strengths. This is why it is important to use recognizable acronyms and abbreviations and the key phrases from the job description.

It is important to note that the ATS assigns a score to every resume and only submissions with the highest score ever get out of the database to a desk. While the type of ATS an employer uses can vary, an ATS score that’s above 80% usually assures a job candidate a chance to score a dream job. So how to pass ATS, and ensure your resume gets through with flying colors? Read on for our top tips.

How to pass ATS: 5 tips

Sprinkling some random keywords into your resume may have been enough when applicant tracking systems were young, but they’re far more sophisticated now. Simply mentioning C++ or Java a few times in your resume if you’re a programmer, for example, won’t cut it. To make sure you rise above “keyword stuffing” and make sure your resume is good to go with ATS, follow these keyword tips.

1. Submit resumes for roles you are qualified for

It sounds like common sense, but if you apply for jobs you’re not qualified for, chances are that the skills and experiences on your resume won’t match the job description of the job role. Matching keywords is the “key” for how to pass ATS. An applicant tracking system will most likely reject your application if you are not qualified. As long as you are truly qualified for the roles you’re applying to, you have a chance of faring well with ATS.

2. Carefully tailor your resume to the job description

Even if you’re applying to similar jobs in the same industry, no two jobs are exactly alike. Take the time to tailor your resume based on each individual job description. Examine your resume and be sure to focus on your job skills so they match the skills listed on the job description. This gives you the best opportunity to get noticed by the ATS and advance your resume to the next stage.

3. Customize your keywords based on the job posting

Using the right keywords is vital when it comes to resume scanners. The good news is that you don’t have to guess which relevant keywords to include on your resume or in your application. As previously mentioned, the keywords you should focus on in your resume can be found in each job description, ad or posting. If you want to get your resume through the ATS and advance to the next stage, do your homework and strategically place those specific keywords in your resume.

Below is a sample job description for a construction laborer. Note keywords such as skills with specific hand tools, “three years’ journey-level experience,” and “load/unload trucks and haul/hoist materials.” These are the skills and experiences you should emphasize in a resume for this position.

The Laborer role is essential and assists the project team in ensuring the timely and successful completion of construction projects.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Maintain a clean job site – pick up tools and equipment and secure the job site each day in order to eliminate potential hazards
  • Set up and take down ladders, scaffolding and other temporary structures
  • Load/unload trucks and haul/hoist materials
  • May assist with controlling traffic
  • Assist carpenters and other trades

Three years (6000 hours) of journey-level experience as a general laborer in the construction field. required.

To get this role: you would need a minimum of 3 years of experience and would want to include the following skills and keywords on your resume: carpentry, carpenter, Laborers Union, equipment, materials, operation, organization, loading and unloading, distributing tools and tracking inventory, possess the ability to operate and maintain pneumatic, electrical, mechanical and hand tools including air compressors, jackhammers, tie tampers, sandblasters, steam cleaners, hoists, drills, chain saws, cement mixers, chipping guns, weed whackers, spaders, stump grinders, fence stretchers, aerial lift buckets and other hand tools to assist craft workers in getting their jobs done.

4. Match keywords to your experiences

While ATS is more likely to pass your resume through by recognizing relevant keywords, how those keywords are presented is also important. The ATS as well as the hiring managers are looking to see how their specific keywords match up with your work history and skills. Using those keywords, craft content that highlights your accomplishments and shows how you are ideal for that job role. For example, if you are applying for a role as an administrative assistant with this job description:

Handle general office tasks such as filing, answering and directing phone calls, Organizing and scheduling appointments and meetings. Maintains contact lists and provides support to managers and employees.

You would want to reflect those skills in both your summary and work experience sections:

Summary Example:

Resourceful and experienced administrative assistant offering expertise in customer service, meeting scheduling, travel arrangements, task prioritization and file management. Dedicated team member with high attention to detail and strong organizational skills. Capable of handling multiple projects simultaneously with a high degree of accuracy.

Work History Example:

Home Systems – Administrative Assistant— Hoboken, NJ
07/2018 – Current

  • Managed office inventory by restocking supplies and placing
    purchase orders to maintain adequate stock levels.
  • Coached +11 new employees on administrative procedures, company
    policies and performance standards.

5. Include a skills section with strategically placed keywords

The skills section of your resume provides a quick glimpse of your abilities. That makes it the perfect place to include the most relevant keywords from the job posting. A skills section with the right keywords makes it easier to scan for the keywords that the ATS is programmed to look for. For example, if you are applying for a role as a retail sales associate with this job description:

Greets and receives customers in a welcoming manner. Serves customers by helping them select products. Drives sales through engagement and shared project knowledge.

You would want to highlight the following skills: Communication, problem-solving, leadership, Point of Sale (POS) software and organization.

How to pass ATS: Top 10 tips

The ATS assigns a score to every resume. Only submissions with the highest score ever get out of the database to a desk. This is ironic as computer tech has made it easier to find and apply for jobs, while something like an ATS is turning away an astonishing 70 percent of submissions. We need to optimize our resumes to ensure they pass the ATS challenge. Here are 10 solid tips for improving a resume’s ATS score. So above 80% ATS score is always good to get a dream job.

1. Use concise sentences and skip the fluff

ATS scans your resume looking for pertinent keywords and if it finds an overabundance of fluff, then it will reject your resume immediately. If you want to get past ATS, use concise sentences and only use language that pertains to your field.

2. Do not use graphics or images

More and more candidates are personalizing their resumes with everything from pictures to videos. Unfortunately, an ATS cannot read any of these enhancements as the way the program works, it breaks down information, sorting it into readable categories. It cannot read visuals and hence will lower overall scores.

3. Avoid special characters

For bullets, stick with standard black circles. Arrows, squares, checks and other characters could stop the ATS from correctly parsing information, possibly dismissing important data as irrelevant. Also, make sure to format your name and contact information as a paragraph and NOT a header or footer as those section divisions are also hard for ATS to parse.

4. Watch the typos

As if we can’t stress enough that a resume has to be grammatically and punctually correct. The ATS will not read words that are misspelled, including all-important keywords. It’s critical to read the resume three and four times.

5. Stick to a traditional layout

ATS can have a hard time with creative formatting. For example, swapping out the usual header information like your contact details with another section, such as your summary, can cause ATS to not scan your document correctly. Stick to a traditional format and standard headings for each section of your resume. Check out how to write a resume page for the lowdown on how to structure a standard resume.

6. Choose readable fonts

No resume should use more than two fonts in general, but for the ATS, stick with readable, familiar, web-safe fonts like Georgia, Courier, Garamond, Arial, Times New Roman and Impact. Go near any other fonts in your library and you risk the ATS not being able to recognize your resume text.

7. Don’t try to fool the system

Some candidates that are familiar with ATS have tried to circumvent the system using “hidden” or “white” fonts to insert keywords the system will find. They also claim to have skills that they don’t. But remember, even if you get past ATS, you still have to get past the hiring manager and the interview process. Plus, some sophisticated ATS systems can detect these tricks and reject those resumes anyway. Above all, be honest: outside of proofreading carefully, the best advice you will ever get about your resume is to be truthful and straightforward about your background.

8. Spell out terms where possible

Spell out those acronyms and use industry-relevant abbreviations as it’s impossible to know the exact keywords a system will recognize. For example: PR/Public Relations, CPA/Certified Public Accountant, HRM/Human Resource Management, R&D/Research & Development, SMM/Social Media Marketing, P/E= Price to earnings ratio, UI/User Interface. Use both versions of these common terms where it’s relevant in your document so you can be sure the right keyword is captured.

9. Relevant content is more important than ever

Every career counselor and hiring manager will stress the importance of keeping your resume grounded in content that matters to the prospective position. Keep the text as brief as possible and describe skills and work experiences that are relevant to the job. Every task performed at your last job doesn’t need to be listed. Irrelevant information lowers scores. If the info isn’t directly related to the job in question, you risk ATS’s wrath. Make every word, bullet point and sentence count.

10. Stick to a standard file format

ATS is more comfortable with resumes submitted in a standard file format, such as .DOCX or .PDF. If you use our Resume Builder, you can create an ATS-ready resume in those formats within minutes.

More resume tips and examples to help with ATS

ResumeHelp has additional resources to learn more about featuring different skills in your resume to get past automated tracking systems.

  • Work Experience: Highlighting the right information is the key to beating ATS so take a look at our tips for creating an ideal work experience section.
  • Skills for resume: Figure out what the top skills are for your industry and how to show them off with our tips.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Assure hiring managers that you know how to work well with others with these skills.
  • Key Multitasking Skills: Knowing how to multitask is incredibly important for any job. Highlight your multitasking abilities the right way.
  • Leadership Skills: Show recruiters you have what it takes to lead a team successfully.
  • How to Write a Resume: Learn all the best resume writing tips to portray your computer skills more accurately.
  • Resume Builder: Let us guide you through the resume creation process and submit a professional resume.
  • Resume Templates: Choose from dozens of beautiful templates to create your professional resume.
  • Resume Formats: Show off your relevant job skills by choosing a resume format that best highlights your experiences.
  • Resume Examples: Get the best look and formatting structure for your documents by using these top resume examples as your guide.
  • Resume Design: Make sure that your resume is both readable and eye-catching with these top designs.

FAQ: Passing ATS

Have questions? We’re here to help.

Every company uses a different customized or proprietary algorithm to scan and filter resumes for their specific needs. This means, to make it through that system, you need to rewrite and customize your document to match the unique standards of each company you are trying to work with. This is why to excel through the different customizations of a company’s specific ATS program, you need to pay close attention to the job description.

After scanning your resume, your document is scored on a 1–100% scale. Depending on the customizations of the ATS program, a score of 80% or higher might move you on to a human recruiter who may then move you over to the next phase of the application process. If your resume scores lower than 80% it is placed into a database for possible future consideration — but you most likely will not receive a response to your application unless you’ve made it to the recruiting stage due to the number of applications received.

The average ATS has criteria set by the company that screens out resumes that do not fit the company’s job requirements. This means that if you want to “beat” an ATS program you have to be aware of ways to format your resume for ATS and what keywords from the job description hold the most value.

Most ATS programs score your resume on a 1 – 100% scale. A score of 80% or higher moves you on to a human recruiter who may contact you for a job interview. If your resume scores lower than 80% it is placed into a database for possible future consideration.

There are a lot of misconceptions about ATS as different systems have different requirements and biases which can be adjusted by the company. It is estimated that more than 90% of companies use technology to rank and filter candidates with said technology screening out qualified applicants in 88% of companies because they don’t match the exact search terms. Unfortunately, some factors simply aren’t “read” by the technology which is why format and referring to direct levels of skills and experience from the job description are so important.

There are many different types of ATS programs so it’s best to use the format specified on the application or submit a link through Github, Google, or Dropbox as directed. However, the most common formats are usually .DOCX and .PDF, with .DOCX being the preferred format as some systems have trouble scanning unmodifiable .PDFs. It’s also best practice to avoid headers, footers, tables, thick borders, lines, symbols (bullet points are fine), shading, difficult-to-read fonts, columns and boxes. Our Resume Builder can help you create a straightforward resume in any of these file formats that can pass ATS with no issues.

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Ho Lin Profile

Ho Lin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and editor with two decades of experience in content strategy, creation, and development. He holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and his background includes experience aiding military veterans as they transition to civilian careers.

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