How to Build an ATS-Friendly Resume


With the advent of online job boards, it has never been easier to find work.

In just a few clicks, you can upload and submit your resume to any online job posting. While online application systems can help you find and apply to lots of exciting positions at once, there is a downside to this system. Since it is now so easy to apply for a job, companies are flooded with more applications than ever before. With hundreds or possibly even thousands of candidates applying for each position, it becomes a very time-consuming task for hiring managers to read through every single resume.

To respond to this trend, a lot of companies are starting to use applicant tracking systems, or ATS for short. If your resume does not pass the ATS criteria, then it is unlikely that a hiring manager will ever read it. In fact, over half of the resumes submitted online are scanned by applicant tracking systems.

What does this mean for the modern job seeker? You will need to format and design your resume so that it will make it through the ATS and into the hands of a human. To help you with that goal, here’s the definitive guide on how to build an ATS-friendly resume.

Step #1: Use Keywords from the Job Description

One of the advantages of applicant tracking systems from the perspective of an employer is that it can scan and search your resume for specific keywords to ensure that you are qualified for the position. For example, if you are applying for a graphic design position, an ATS might scan your resume for the keywords “Photoshop” or “Illustrator.” There is an incredibly easy way to figure out which keywords to include on your resume – just look at which key skills or requirements that are used in the job’s description and use those. While the ATS is a fairly recent development in application processes, tailoring your resume to the specific job is nothing new. No matter what you’re applying for, it’s always been a good idea to include the same core qualifications and skills to your resume that are on the job description.

Step #2: Use Common Header Titles

As you will notice with the next few tips, formatting is very important when it comes to creating an ATS-friendly resume. Another important step in this online application process is to use common header titles such as “skills,” “work experience,” and “education.” These are the most commonly used header titles in resumes and thus, applicant tracking systems know how to read them and extrapolate the necessary data from each section. If you use non-standard header titles such as “major abilities” instead of “skills,” the ATS may not recognize it. When it comes to your header sections, stick to the basics.

Step #3: Keep the Layout Simple

One of the most important pieces of advice with regards to creating an ATS-friendly resume is using a very basic layout. All you need are three headings (skills, work experience, and education) with bullet points for each section. This is the basic format for the modern resume and ATS are designed to read applications with this format. . Adding images, tables, or columns to your resume may hurt your chances of being selected, because many tracking systems cannot read them.

However, if you’re applying for a job in a creative industry, providing a portfolio or examples of your past work can help your application stand out. For these types of positions, there will likely be a section to upload these materials separately, but you can always add a link to your personal blog or online portfolio in the “contact” section if you’re worried an ATS may screen these materials.

Step #4: Font and Formatting

There are several things you can do to make your resume easier to read for both applicant tracking systems and hiring managers. When you’re formatting your resume for an ATS, less is always more. Remember to avoid italics, underlined words, and special characters (such as accent marks) because many systems will be unable to read them. Additionally, you’ll want to add a space in between every position on your resume. Spacing correctly can help the system determine where your experience from one job ends and another begins.

Even though it was your high school English teacher’s favourite font, don’t use Times New Roman on a resume. Instead, pick a font that is easier to read on a screen such as Georgia or Garamond, since ATS will be able to process this kind of text more easily. To further improve the readability of your resume, increase the line spacing to 120% of the font size. For example, if are using size 12 font, then you should set your line spacing to exactly 13 points. It may seem like more complicated resume editing than you’re used to, but these adjustment hacks will help you get through the ATS every time!

Step #5: Save Your File as a Word Document

You may have read that it is best to save your resume as PDF – and this is certainly true if you are sending your resume directly to a hiring manager via email. When submitting your resume to an applicant tracking system, however, you are better off saving your application materials as a Word document (.doc or .docx). The reason is simple: many applicant tracking systems cannot read PDFs and thus will not be able to extrapolate all of the information from your resume.

Step #6: Proofread

A single spelling mistake on your resume will all but end your chances at getting your dream job. Not only does this error look careless to a hiring manager, but applicant tracking systems simply cannot process misspelled words, meaning that your resume will be discarded immediately. Thus, it is imperative that you double and triple-check your resume to ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Better still, ask a friend or family member to also review your resume. It never hurts to have a second set of eyes look over your work!

While online application systems have made the competition a little stiffer, these tips can help you adjust your resume so that it will always beat the ATS. Put these tips to use right away and update your resume so that it adheres to ATS criteria. Even if you are not currently seeking a job, it is useful to bookmark this page so that you can implement these steps the next time you are on the job hunt.

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About the author

Zach Bailey is a Contributor for TalentEgg’s Career Incubator Blog. He recently graduated from Queen’s University with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in History and currently operates an online store called Noisy Hearts Art. His passion for all things business is surpassed only by his desire to make the world a funnier place – one laugh at a time. Connect with him on LinkedIn.