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How to Write an ATS-Friendly Resume that Passes AI Candidate Screening

In the modern job market you need a smart resume that appeals to both an ATS and human recruiters

Alina Neverova
Global Talent Acquisition Expert
Contributing Experts
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In today's competitive job market, standing out in a sea of applications can be challenging. One key aspect that many job seekers overlook is the necessity for an ATS-friendly resume. But what is an ATS-friendly resume, and why does it matter so much in your job hunt?

In This Article


How Recruiters Rely on an ATS

An ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, is a software tool that companies utilize to scan and rank candidate resumes based on specific keywords and criteria related to the vacancy. These systems help them sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of applications.

ATS software is used widely, and it has become a critical aspect of the job application process. According to survey reports from JobScan, an astonishing 99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS for hiring, while 66% of large companies and 35% of small organizations rely on them. These numbers highlight the ubiquity of ATS in today's job market and the crucial importance of tailoring your resume to meet their criteria. If your resume is not catering to these platforms, you’re at a huge disadvantage.

What is an ATS-Friendly Resume?

An ATS-compliant resume is written and formatted with these tools in mind. Composing a resume that an ATS can understand is essential to ensure your application doesn't get overlooked. It also gives you the upper hand— 88% of employers believe that highly qualified candidates are screened out of hiring processes by ATSs because they "don't meet the exact criteria set forth in the job description." This is according to a recent study by Harvard Business Review.

You might be wondering how to check if your resume is ATS-friendly. This process isn't as daunting as it may seem. From the right file types to the strategic use of keywords, creating an ATS-friendly resume is about understanding what the software reads and understands based on the information you provide.

There are even ATS-friendly resume templates available to guide you in crafting what could be your best resume that will pass through these systems seamlessly.

So, why should you care about all of this? Because an ATS-friendly resume is not just about impressing a machine. Crafting an ATS-compliant resume communicates your skills and qualifications in a way that resonates with both the tracking systems and the human recruiters behind them. Let’s explore how you can optimize your resume to ensure it reaches the right hands.

How an ATS Reads Your Resume

An ATS scans for specific keywords, formatting, and structures that match the job description they have on hand. Unlike a human recruiter, an ATS doesn't have the capacity to infer or assume anything from your text. An ATS identifies section headings and other types of “expected” information to parse your career details through algorithms, filtering resumes that don't meet the specific guidelines set by the hiring company.

A graphic demonstrating how an ATS matches keywords in a job listing with information on candidate resumes.

Algorithms, as smart as they are, are not written to appreciate uniqueness. An ATS can, for example, understand a section of a resume called “Skills” and look for relevant skills beneath it. It cannot apply the same logic to a section called “My Toolbox” or “Reasons I’m Rad”.

The ATS is Here to Stay

The use of Applicant tracking systems (ATS) is not merely a trend but a fundamental shift in how companies, both large and small, approach the hiring process. They aim to streamline the recruitment workflow, ensuring that only the most relevant resumes reach the human recruiters. If you don't align your resume with what these systems are programmed to seek, your application could be disregarded before it even reaches human eyes.

Think of these systems as the first gatekeeper in your job search, a gatekeeper that is used by a vast (and growing) majority of companies across different sectors. In the following sections, we'll guide you through the specifics of creating an ATS-friendly resume, so your skills and qualifications get the attention they deserve. Understanding the mechanics behind these systems is your first step toward a successful job application.

Writing an ATS-Friendly Resume?

An ATS-friendly resume is tailored to be easily readable and interpretable by an ATS or Resume parsing software. This doesn't mean it has to be devoid of creativity or individuality, but rather that it adheres to certain guidelines that ensure an ATS can understand it.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

Importance of Keywords.

When an ATS scans your resume, it’s looking for specific keywords that match the job description. These keywords represent the skills, qualifications, and experience required for the position.

It’s not just about listing hard skills but also showcasing relevant soft skills.

ATS-friendly resume hack: Let the job posting guide you. Pay attention to the terms and phrases used repeatedly. Incorporate these exact words into your resume, as these are what the ATS is programmed to look for.

Impact of Formatting on ATS Scanning.

While it might be tempting to create a visually striking resume with tables, headers, footers, and graphics, these elements can actually hinder an ATS from reading your resume correctly. Many ATS systems struggle to interpret information contained within tables or under unusual headings.

ATS-friendly resume hack: When crafting your resume, choose a chronological resume style and use fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri. Stick to standard formatting with simple fonts and bullet points. Avoid using images or graphics that could confuse the system.

The Role of Resume Parsing Software

A resume scanner, or parsing software, is the part of an ATS that automatically “reads” your information. It breaks down the information into categories like education, work experience and years of experience, skills, and more so that it can neatly compare candidates to convey a top tier to the recruiting team.

If your resume is not aligned with what the software is looking for, important details may be missed or misunderstood.

Printed copies of ATS-friendly resume templates lying on top of a laptop keyboard.

8 Tips for Writing an ATS-Friendly Resume

With so many companies relying on automated systems to screen applications, it's essential to understand how to tailor a professional resume to meet both human and machine expectations.

Here's a guide to help you write a resume that will not only pass through ATS but also impress recruiters and hiring managers:

1. Customize Your Resume for Each Job Application

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to resumes. If you want to stand out, you'll need to customize your resume for each job application. In this customization, your experience section must reflect the specific needs of each role.

Start by analyzing the job description to identify the specific keywords and skills required. Tools like Resumeworded can assist you in finding the necessary keywords within the job description, allowing you to make your resume more relevant to the role.

2. Use Standard Formatting

Keep your resume formatting clean and straightforward. Use simple fonts, standard headings, and avoid graphics or fancy design elements that could confuse the ATS. Bullet points are your friend, and they allow for a clear presentation of your qualifications and achievements.

3. Optimize for Keywords but Avoid Keyword Stuffing

While it's crucial to include relevant keywords, don't overdo it. An ATS can detect keyword stuffing, and it may lead to your resume being flagged. Sprinkle the relevant keywords naturally within your experience, education, and skills sections, reflecting your true qualifications.

4. Include Relevant Sections

Make sure your resume includes standard sections like Summary, Experience, Education, Skills, and Certifications. These help the ATS categorize your information accurately and ensure that nothing important gets overlooked.

5. Use a Professional Filename

Naming your resume file professionally (e.g., "AlinaNeverovaResume.doc") helps ensure that it's easily identifiable by both the ATS and human recruiters.

6. Use an ATS-friendly Resume Template

Many online platforms offer templates specifically designed to be ATS-friendly. These can be a great starting point, especially if you're unsure about the formatting guidelines.

7. Proofread and Test Your Resume

Carefully proofread your resume to eliminate any errors. Some platforms also allow you to test how ATS-friendly your resume is, giving you an opportunity to make necessary adjustments.

8. Prepare for the Next Step

Passing the ATS is just the beginning. You'll also want to be ready for the next stages of the hiring process. Utilize career advice, resume writing techniques, and insights from professionals to prepare for interviews and more. For more insights, check out these valuable job interview tips to help you shine in person.

Remember, the goal of tailoring your resume for ATS is not to trick the system but to present your qualifications in a way that aligns with what companies are looking for. They want to find the best candidate for the job, and by taking these steps, you'll be helping them see that you are that candidate.

A recruiter handing a resume that passed ATS screening over to a hiring manager to review in person.

Do’s and Don’t of Writing Your Resume to Be ATS-Friendly

Navigating the world of modern job applications can feel like traversing a maze, especially when it comes to crafting an ATS-compliant resume. To assist you in this journey, here's a concise guide to the essential do's and don'ts, peppered with insights that will help you steer clear of common pitfalls:

  • Do focus on readability: Ensure that your resume is easy to read, both for ATS and human eyes. Use clean lines, simple fonts, and a layout that flows logically.
  • Do verify contact information: Your contact information must be up to date and formatted consistently. Any discrepancy might create confusion for the recruiter.
  • Do optimize your LinkedIn profile: Your online presence, especially on professional networks like LinkedIn, can also be essential in the recruitment process as the company may use an AI recruiting or AI candidate screening tool to verify your career info. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile to mirror the professional portrayal in your resume can create a cohesive and attractive image for prospective employers.
  • Do use action verbs: Incorporate action verbs to describe your experiences. These convey a sense of purpose and align with the language that recruiters often look for. Good examples of action verbs are acted, adapted, composed, conceptualized, created, customized, designed, and developed.
  • Don't rely solely on spell check: While spellcheck tools catch many errors, they might overlook abbreviations or context-specific mistakes. Have someone review your resume or read it aloud to catch any unnoticed errors.
  • Don't use headers or footers: An ATS may have difficulty reading information placed in headers or footers. Keep all crucial information within the main body of the document.
  • Don't include personal or sensitive information: Your Social Security number or personal identification should never be part of your resume. Keep the information professional and relevant to the job application.
  • Don't use acronyms without explanation: If using industry-specific acronyms, make sure to spell them out at least once to ensure that both ATS and recruiters understand them.

Common ATS Myths Debunked

  • Myth: ATSs only care about keywords.
    Fact: While keywords are essential, an ATS also considers other factors like your experience, education, and formatting. It's about a well-rounded portrayal, not just keyword-matching.
  • Myth: An ATS can read any file type.
    Fact: Despite technological advancements, not all ATS tools can handle every file type (like pdf files or docx). Always follow the employer's instructions regarding the preferred file format.
  • Myth: Cover letters are unnecessary.
    Fact: Some believe that ATS overlooks cover letters, but that's not true. Many companies still value a well-crafted cover letter as part of the application process, and these also get scanned for relevant experiences and keywords.
  • Myth: More pages make your resume more impressive.
  • Fact: While it's important to showcase your achievements, a concise, focused resume is often more effective than a lengthy one. Both applicant tracking systems and hiring managers appreciate clarity and brevity.

Your Template for an ATS-Friendly Resume

Creating an ATS-friendly resume doesn't need to be an overwhelming task. By following a few simple guidelines and understanding the structure that works best with applicant tracking systems, you can create a compelling professional resume.

ATS-Friendly Resume Template:

Contact Information:

  • Your full name
  • Phone number
  • Professional email address
  • LinkedIn profile URL

Objective or Summary

A brief statement highlighting your career goals and what you aim to achieve in your next job. For example:
“Seasoned project manager with 7+ years of experience in the Recruitment and PeopleOps industry. Proven track record of decreasing time and cost to hire while increasing quality of hires. Seeking to leverage skills and experience to contribute to XYZ Corp's growth and success.”

Work Experience

List your work experience in reverse chronological order using this format:

  • Job Title: Senior Project Manager
  • Company Name: ABC Tech
  • Employment Dates: January 2016 - Present
  • Job Description:
  • Managed a diverse team of 15, delivering multiple concurrent projects with budgets of up to $1M.
  • Increased project completion rate by 20%, while reducing budget overruns by 30%.
  • Implemented new project management software, leading to a 15% increase in team productivity.

Education

List your degrees, institutions, graduation dates, and relevant coursework or honors.

Skills

A list of relevant skills, focusing on those mentioned in the job description.

For example:

  • Proficient in MS Office Suite, with an emphasis on Excel
  • Strong communication and team leadership skills
  • Expert in project management software: Trello, Asana, JIRA
  • Excellent time management and organizational skills

Certifications and Awards

Any additional certifications, licenses, or awards that support your qualifications.

Professional Memberships

Memberships in professional organizations related to your field.

Tools for Creating ATS-Friendly Resume

If you need a helping hand, there are also reliable tools and resume builders specifically designed to assist you. You can find tailored templates in the selections at JobScan, and Novoresume. These platforms offer a variety of free resume examples catering to different industries and experience levels, providing both inspiration and professional design to help you create a standout resume.

How to Check If Your Resume Is ATS Friendly

Review the Job Description Carefully.

Identify the key skills, qualifications, and attributes they are seeking. These should be mirrored in your resume to ensure alignment with the role.

Utilize Online Tools

Several online tools can help you gauge how well your resume matches a specific job description:

  • Skillsyncer offers tailored resume feedback based on the job description you're targeting. It provides suggestions on how to align your resume more closely with the position you're applying for.
  • JobScan allows you to compare your resume against the job description to see how well they match. It provides detailed insights into keywords, skills, and other elements that ATS may look for.

Ask A Professional

If you're unsure about your resume's ATS compatibility, consider seeking professional help. Many resume writers and career coaches specialize in creating ATS-friendly resumes. They understand how these systems work and what recruiters are looking for.

Conduct a Peer Review

Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes can catch mistakes you might have missed. Ask a friend or colleague who understands your industry to review your resume. Their insights might uncover valuable improvements.

Test with Actual Applications

While this might sound unconventional, applying to jobs and monitoring your response rate can give you real-world feedback on your resume's effectiveness. If you notice a pattern of non-responses, it might be time to revisit your resume.

Conclusion

Navigating the landscape of modern job applications may seem complex, but understanding how to create an ATS-friendly resume can greatly enhance your success in the competitive job market. As you've seen, companies large and small rely on Applicant Tracking Systems to sift through the multitude of applications they receive. Crafting a resume that resonates with these systems, without losing its human appeal, is essential for standing out.

Your resume serves as your introduction to potential employers, and having an ATS-friendly resume ensures that it gets into the right hands. The guidelines, templates, and tools discussed in this article offer a pathway to a resume that appeals to both machine and human recruiters. By focusing on relevant keywords, maintaining simple yet effective formatting, and utilizing special tools, you are taking charge of your career path.

Alina Neverova
Global Talent Acquisition Expert
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Alina Neverova is a Global Talent Acquisition Expert with over six years of experience in recruiting. Alina has worked with top international companies from the Fortune 500 list, starting her career in a recruiting agency before moving into IT 4 years ago.

Alina has successfully built recruiting processes from scratch, hired over 120 specialists in two years for an IT startup, and built a strong recruiting team. Her areas of expertise include building hiring strategies, training recruiting teams, hiring planning, automating sourcing processes, utilizing AI in HR and recruiting analytics.

She holds a Bachelor's degree in Administrative management from the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine

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