If you want to make sure your resume is compliant for an ATS, follow the tips below to write an ATS-optimized resume.
Select the right file type for your resume
Contrary to popular belief, a PDF is not the most ATS-friendly file type. While PDF files are the best at preserving the design and format of your resume, it is not compatible with all ATS software. If you’re asked to upload your resume to an applicant tracking system and “PDF” is listed among the file types you can, by all means, use a PDF version of your resume. However, if the system does not specify which file types are compatible, play it safe and stick to a Word document in .doc or .docx. Plain-text files are also incredibly ATS-friendly for resumes, but they limit your formatting options.
Since the best resumes are written with two audiences in mind — the robots pre-screening your application and the live human in HR who will review your resume, should it make it past the ATS
Don’t put important details in the header or footer
Not all applicant tracking systems are able to properly read and parse information stored in the header and footer sections of a Word document. Avoid this same fate by placing important contact details (such as your name, phone number, or email address) outside the header or footer of your resume.
Optimize your resume with keywords
One of the best ways to ensure your resume is compatible with an ATS is to optimize your resume with keywords. Unlike a “buzzword,” which is typically considered to be a fluffy marketing term such as “proactive” or “self-starter,” keywords represent the soft skills and hard skills you possess and the expertise you’ve acquired over the years that qualify you for your target job.
When it comes to creating an ATS-optimized resume, you need to think about the frequency, as well as the placement of these keywords throughout your resume. Some applicant tracking systems will determine the strength of your skills based on the number of times a term shows up in your resume (aim to add the term two to three times throughout your resume), whereas others assign an estimated amount of experience for a particular skill based on its placement within the resume. To make a resume that is truly compatible with any ATS, you’ll want to optimize your resume with both systems in mind.
First, create a “Core Competencies” or “Areas of Expertise” section within your resume professional summary. that lists your strongest hard skills and soft skills. If there is a common abbreviation for one of your proficiency such as “SEO” (for search engine optimization), include both versions in your resume.
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 instance, if you worked at your past job for five years and you mention that you handled SEO for the company, the ATS will assume you have five years’ worth of SEO experience from that job. If a skill is listed on its own — such as within the professional summary or a core-competencies section — then the ATS will assign six months’ experience for that skill. This is why it’s incredibly important to reiterate your skills throughout your entire resume, rather than just in a skill section at the top of the resume.
Avoid images, charts, and other graphics
While these may look nice to the human eye, resumes with embedded images become a garbled mess, or get completely omitted from your application, after it passes through the applicant tracking system. For instance, if you insert an image or chart to showcase your key skills, the ATS will be unable to read it. If you use a cool graphic to brand your name on your resume, this piece of information will be lost on the applicant tracking system.
Stick to simple bullet points
When used appropriately, bullet points are a great method for highlighting accomplishments and qualifications on a resume. However, if you choose an elaborate symbol for your bullets, your important selling points could get scrambled. Avoid using intricate characters when creating a bulleted list on your resume. Stick to the simplest options, such as a solid circle, open circle, or square, to ensure your bullet points enhance your resume, rather than make it incompatible with an ATS.
Use a clean resume design with a clear hierarchy
When it comes to your resume’s design, less is more. Not only do complex resume designs or unusual formats confuse most applicant tracking systems, but they also annoy recruiters who are accustomed to quickly scanning a resume for specific information they expect to find in particular areas within the document.
How to create an ATS-friendly resume format
If you want your resume to successfully pass the ATS, stick to a standard resume format, This resume format uses a professional summary section at the top of the document to outline your key skills and qualifications, and combines it with a chronological “Work History” section that explains how you’ve leveraged these qualities to produce results for your employers.
Most applicant tracking systems do a better job at reading and interpreting a hybrid format because they rely on chronological data to parse your resume.
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 a chronological work history.
How to run an ATS-resume test for compliance
There are two easy ways to determine if your resume is compatible with an applicant tracking system (ATS).
Convert your resume to a plain-text file
Copy the content from your resume, paste it into a plain-text document, and review the results. If the plain-text version is missing details from your original resume, has characters saved incorrectly, or looks disorganized (i.e. the heading for your “Education” section appears in the middle of your work experience), then assume your resume will require editing before it will be ATS compliant.