How to Write an ATS-Friendly Resume?

Here is all you need to know about applicant tracking systems and how to get them better. 

We have all suffered from applicant tracking systems, particularly the notorious six-second resume review test. So you prepare and polish your resume, find your dream job, send your application and hope that it will pass the six-second review test. 

However, unfortunately, the actual events are far from your expectations, and your resume ends up somewhere in the system. With your resume lost in the space of time, you might start to wonder why the employer hasn’t got back to you. 

Unfortunately, most of us are unaware that over 70% of job applications never reach humans for review because A.I. software rejects them based on the algorithmic probabilities. 

You need to remember that before human eyes can see your resume, it must successfully pass through the ATS or the applicant tracking system. 

Details of precisely the applicant tracking system and how it works are provided below so you could beat the algorithms of this software and improve your resume per the bot requirements. 

What is an applicant tracking system?

Employers are recruiters across the globe use the applicant tracking system, also known as ATS, as part of their recruitment process. The ATS enables recruiters to gather, sort, screen, and prioritize the job applications received against any given job opening. 

Applicant tracking systems were initially developed for large multinational firms that received thousands of job applications daily. Still, over time, small and medium-sized enterprises have also found a way to use ATS to find recruitment solutions. 

It is not surprising that today, most Fortune 500 companies heavily rely on application tracking systems to optimize their hiring processes. 

How do applicant tracking systems (ATS) work?

In many ways, ATS for organizations acts as an online doorkeeper. ATS is a genius and artificially intelligent software that scans resumes for specific keywords to determine whether or not a job application should be passed on to the employer. 

Essentially, the purpose of an applicant tracking system is to identify and remove applications that do not match the recruitment criteria. 

This allows recruiters to spend their time evaluating qualified applicants that match the requirements of the available position. Likewise, the software weeds out unqualified candidates who appear to be unfit for the job. 

So what does this mean for candidates who wish to apply for a specific job position? First, if your resume is not good enough to beat the ATS, it is unlikely to be seen by human eyes. So to ensure your resume gets passed on to the employer, you must keep the ATS in mind when writing and formatting your resume. 

How to write an ATS-friendly resume?

At ResumeCroc.Com, we reviewed resumes of 1000s of US-based professionals with at least ten years of experience to determine the most common errors that triggered the application tracking system to disqualify an application. 

Here are the test results that we performed in the form of an infographic that shows the most common mistakes made by applicants, so you can improve your resume to make it fully compatible with the ATS – the first hurdle that you must overcome get over first. 

Here are some tips for you to follow if you wish to optimize your resume to fully compatible with the applicant tracking systems. 

Choosing the right file type for your resume

Selecting the correct file type for a resume can help you dodge application tracking systems. Our research showed that most US-based professionals considered a PDF to be the most appropriate and ATS-friendly file type. 

However, a PDF file is the most inappropriate and least ATS-friendly file type out there. Adobe PDF files are the best at keeping the original format and design, but they are incompatible with most types of application tracking tools. 

If the ATS you are uploading your resume onto gives you the option to upload a PDF resume file, by all means, upload the PDF version of your resume. 

On the contrary, if the application tracking system does not specify; a) which file type you must upload and b) what types are incompatible with the system, then it would be best to stick to the Microsoft Word version of your resume. 

While plain text file types are the most ATS friendly, they can present various design and formatting challenges. 

Ideally, you would want to create your resume with two audiences considering – a) humans – who will review your resume and mark it against the requirements of the position you have applied for and b) the robots that scan your application and banish it according to the algorithmic probabilities. At Resume Croc, we recommend our clients build their resume in Microsoft word, which is ATS friendly and lets you impress the recruitment officer with your creativity and designing skills.

Keywords in a resume are critical. 

What most people don’t realize is the fact that applicant tracking systems love “keywords.” This means that you can improve the visibility of your resume by optimizing it with keywords. 

Including relevant keywords in your resume will certainly make it more compatible with applicant tracking systems. However, it is equally important to recognize the difference between “buzzwords” and “keywords.” 

If you stuff your resume with typical buzzwords like “energetic” and “self-motivated,” which usually represent the soft skills you may not be able to get through the ATS. 

On the other hand, including “keywords” in your resume, which embody your skills directly relevant to the job you are applying for, can undoubtedly improve your prospects. 

Finding the right keywords is perhaps the key to beating an ATS. You can find suitable keywords by carefully studying the job description of the vacancy you are pursuing. At Resume Croc, we suggest applicants use word cloud generator tools such as Wordle to scan the job description and identify the words most frequently used by the recruiter. Make sure to fit in keywords directly related to your skills and qualifications that are also desirable to the employer. 

Simply incorporating keywords into your resume is not enough because you will also need to think about the frequency and placement of these keywords. 

It is a well-known fact that an ATS identifies the strength of your skills depending on the number of times a specific term appears on your resume. Therefore, if you possess expertise desired by the employer, you should consider adding that at least two to three times in your resume. 

However, some applicant tracking systems evaluate your suitability based on the number of years of experience you indicate for a particular skill. So this is another aspect you should be mindful of when making your resume. 

Don’t forget to list your key hard skills and soft skills under an independent section which can be named “Areas of Expertise” or “Core Competencies.” 

In some cases, there could be more than one term through which a particular skill can be recognized. For example, a common abbreviation for social media optimization is “SMO.” Make sure to include both versions in your resume. 

How about sprinkling these terms onto the “Education” and “Professional Experience” sections of your resume to exhibit where you acquired the skill. 

“Some applicant tracking systems will associate the length of experience for a skill, based on how long you held the job where that skill was leveraged.” 

For example, if you held your previous job for three years and indicated social media optimization as your core skill under the “Professional Experience” section of your resume, then the applicant tracking system will assume that you have 3 years of experience in SMO. 

On the other hand, if you mentioned the skill in the “Areas of Expertise” section in a bullet point format or the “Professional Summary” section, some ATS will automatically assign a one-year experience to that particular skill. 

So, in short, it is crucial to include relevant “keywords” in your resume and repeat them throughout the document to ensure they get recognized by an ATS. 

Less is more when designing a resume.

Keep your resume design clean and simple. Most applicant tracking systems cannot understand complex designs and intricate formats, so a sensible approach would be to keep your resume in an ATS-friendly format. 

Over designing can divert the focus from your skills and may even annoy the employers who are used to skimming through a resume to find skills they expect the applicant to have mentioned under a specific area of the resume. 

Simple bullet points still work.

Bull points are the most ATS-friendly style of presenting the information. They enable you to highlight your achievements and qualification and keep things focused and simple. 

However, avoid using complicated and cool symbols for your bullets because the ATS may not be able to read them, and the vital information you wanted to highlight for the recruiter could get lost. Our studies have shown that it is always better to stick to the simplest bullet options available in Microsoft Word, such as a square, open circle, solid circle, and tick mark. 

Avoid using graphs, charts, and images.

While your resume should be appealing to the human eyes, you should avoid stuffing it with graphs, charts, and images because a) they will turn your resume into a distorted mess and b) they can’t be read by the applicant tracking systems. This leads to your application not passing the screening checks. 

Avoid including essential details in the header or footer

Many applicants mistake including essential information in the header and footer areas of their resume without realizing that not all applicant tracking systems can read the information provided in these two parts of a Microsoft Word or PDF document. 

Studies have revealed that applicant tracking systems cannot read data located in the header and footer as much as twenty-five percent of the time. So it is vitally important to ensure that you place contact details such as the email address, phone number, name, date of birth, and more in the main body of the resume.

How to create an ATS-friendly resume format

So what is an ATS-friendly resume format? Experts believe that applicants should stick to the standard resume format if they want their resume to be compatible with the applicant tracking systems. 

A hybrid resume format is considered the most effective in this regard. This resume format allows the applicant to provide a professional summary at the top of the resume document before demonstrating academic qualification, professional experience, and core competencies (in chronological order). 

Because application tracking systems use chronological information to evaluate your resume, they are generally good at understanding and interpreting a hybrid resume format. 

As a result, it’s in your best interest to avoid a functional resume format at all costs — where the focus is placed on your abilities rather than chronological work history.

Testing your resume for ATS-Compliance

Here is how you can determine whether or not your resume complies with an ATS. 

Convert your resume to a plain-text file

The simplest and easiest way to find out whether or not your resume is fully compatible with applicant tracking systems is to copy its content and paste it into a plain-text document. 

If the layout of the resume is scrambled (for example, if text from the “Professional Summary” section appears somewhere under the “Core Competencies” section), important information is missing, and special characters (such as the bullets) are saved incorrectly, then consider revising your resume before submitting your application. 

Resume Croc offers a free ATS resume scan.

Here at Resume Croc, we provide a free ATS resume scan as part of our free resume review. When you request a free resume review from TopResume, our experts will thoroughly review your resume and provide detailed feedback on ATS compliance and content relevance. 

The resume review offered by Resume Croc is split into two halves. The first half provides an insight from a design and information perspective. The second half will showcase how ATS-compatible your resume is, which means that it will show what sections are likely to be correctly identified by an ATS and what information it may not be able to comprehend and interpret. 

If the ATS is unable to identify this important information (such as your name, contact information, most recent job title, and most recent employer) or thinks you’re a fit for a job when you’re not, then your resume will need to be further optimized before it passes the ATS-compatibility test.

Secure your dream job by getting an ATS-compatible resume from Resume Croc experts. 

Don’t let the bots stop you from landing your dream job. Instead, get an ATS-proof resume today.