Guide for Creating Effective Resumes That Don’t Confuse Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
What is an ATS? It is a software program that enables the electronic handling of a recruitment firm’s or hiring organization’s recruitment needs. An ATS allows an organization to collect and store candidate and job related data and track and monitor the progress of candidates through all stages of the hiring process.
An ATS is used in multiple ways by recruiting firms and hiring organizations including: gathering resume and application information, matching candidates with available positions and warehousing applicant information so that candidate’s information can be accessed and matched to future positions.
ATS technology has many similarities to search engine technology – increasingly sophisticated and always changing. Tactics search engine optimization marketers used six years ago to increase their rankings no longer work. Likewise, resume approaches that used to work well even 4-5 years ago, often don’t any longer.
Most recruiting firms and hiring organizations use their ATS prior to looking at other sources. Therefore, it is critical for your resume to be ATS-friendly, so that your resume is ultimately routed to a human reviewer.
Since many of us were taught that the finest resume paper and eye-catching graphics are the key to success, some of the guidelines for ATS compatibility will seem unnatural and perhaps even uncomfortable. But, the resume creation approaches outlined below will go a long way toward helping you and your resume be correctly “seen” by recruiters and hiring organizations.
Formatting Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
- Simple is better.
- When presenting historical information – like work or education history, present the information consistently for each occurrence. For example, list information such as company names, locations, and dates in the same order and in the same format for each occurrence.
- Unless otherwise instructed, save your resume as a Microsoft Word document. Also, avoid templates that contain tables, as tables often cause resumes to import incorrectly.
- Use traditional fonts like Arial, Georgia, and Times New Roman. Definitely avoid special fonts.
- Don’t use images, columns, special characters, tables, text boxes, lines, shading, borders or other graphics – these elements confuse an ATS and lead to garbled resume imports.
- Include your name and a functional/common title with your resume’s document file name.
- Stick to common resume section headings like Education, Professional Experience, Skills, etc.
- Use 11-point text or larger.
- Consider using ALL CAPS for section headers, as this can make it easier for an ATS to identify sections within the resume.
- While an ATS will not penalize you for having a long resume, a human reader will be involved. Therefore, keep your resume as concise as possible. If your resume is more than one page, include page numbers in the footer of the resume, so that the ATS can’t see them, but human readers will.
- Because your resume will be read by a human reader, don’t strip the resume completely. Submitting a .txt file is no longer necessary or appropriate for most of today’s systems. Avoid all of the graphics and formatting complexity mentioned in this post, but do use bold words, capital letters, and simple bullet points to aid readability for a human reader.
- Don’t include your credentials (like MBA or MEng) next to your name. Instead, include them on the next line, to make sure that the system correctly identifies your credentials.
- Using a different font color for a section header is fine, and if done well can make the resume more attractive to a human reader.
Structuring Your Resume Content for ATSs
Just like many other search and data analysis technologies, ATS technology is becoming more and more sophisticated. Older ATS technology relied on semantic search technology; this meant the systems, essentially, counted keywords; generally speaking, the more occurrences of an important keyword, the better match the candidate’s resume was deemed to be.
Google and other search engine technologies once worked in very similar ways, leading marketers to execute keyword-stuffing strategies and other tricks of this nature to try to game the system. Job seekers worked to game ATS technology in similar ways.
Now, as search engine technology has become increasingly contextual, the same is true of ATS technology. Systems can now scan resumes for keywords and words to weigh within the context of the resume. ATS contextualization looks not only for keywords relating to desirable skills, it also looks at how long ago desirable skills were acquired and how frequently those skills were likely used in recent years.
How should your resume content be structured?
- Include contact information within the body of the resume, not in the header or footer.
- Tweak your resume to align with a given job description. Use keywords and phrases likely to relate highly to that job description.
- If possible, use the target job title in your resume’s job description.
- Mirror the keywords used in the job description. For example, if “product integrity testing” appears to be important within a job description, use the phrase in the professional experience or skills section of your resume.
- Be specific when describing your skills. For example, rather than stating “Skilled at using CAD software,” instead say “Completed Solidworks 3D CAD Modeling Certification.”
- Use the professional summary and/or skills section of your resume to include keywords and phrases that align with the job description. If possible, use those keywords and phrases in other appropriate places in your resume.
- Don’t overuse keywords.
- Avoid buzzwords that companies often program their ATS to ignore. For example, “can work independently,” “detail-oriented,” “dynamic,” “problem-solver,” and a number of variations on “success”—including “succeeded,” “successful,” and “successfully.”
- It goes without saying that proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation matter. Not only are they the sign of a qualified candidate who takes pride in his or her work, the misspelling and misuse of words can confuse an ATS.
- Although it is important to craft your resume knowing that an ATS is likely being used, a resume should read well for a human reader, too.
Other Important Factors for ATS Resume Submission
- When given the option to upload your resume or to cut and paste it into the system, it is much better to upload a resume that is well formatted for an ATS. Cutting and pasting can result in text formatting code being included, which can garble your resume in the system.
- Do not submit your resume multiple times to the same recruiter or hiring organization for the same job. You are in the system the first time, and the ATS will track and identify this multiple submission activity. If you are applying for multiple jobs within the same company, you will need to submit multiple resumes. You may tweak your resume for the different positions, but be very certain that your resumes all tell the same story. The different versions of your resume will be identified, and inconsistencies will be easily uncovered.
- If possible, have an employee of the company you are targeting submit your resume to the system. Most systems assign different values to the submission source, and it is likely that an internally submitted resume (an internal referral) will weigh more heavily than a resume submitted via a jobs board, for example.
Effective resume creation for today’s world is quite a bit different than many of us were taught. 180 recruiting + consulting hopes these tips are valuable; 180 recruiting + consulting is always here to help.