In a highly competitive job search, it’s critical your resume is easily scannable to pass the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) test. It increases your chances of moving past the ATS screen to a human recruiter.
What is ATS or Applicant Tracking System?
An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a software application that automates and streamlines the recruitment process for employers. It allows companies to manage job postings, track and organize resumes and applications, and communicate with candidates. ATS systems have become increasingly popular over the years as more companies move their recruitment processes online and generative AI becomes more prominent.
What is an ATS-friendly resume?
An ATS-friendly resume means the resume is formatted, or optimized to be easily read by applicant tracking system software. These systems are used during the hiring process to scan and filter through a large number of resumes quickly. Sometimes recruiters receive thousands of resumes for job postings and an ATS helps them identify candidates who match qualifications efficiently.
It includes a clear format, standard fonts and headings, and relevant keywords and phrases from the job description. Imagine if an engineering role required candidates to be fluent in Brazilian Portuguese, but 3,000 people who aren’t fluent in the language applied anyway. It’s impossible for recruiters to manually review at such large volumes, especially if many of them don’t meet basic requirements.
Why is an ATS friendly resume important for jobseekers?
When it comes to resumes, ATS software typically uses a process called parsing to extract relevant information from resumes and applications. Parsing involves breaking down the document into individual data points such as contact information, work experience, and education.
The software analyzes this information against predefined criteria. This may include skills, like React, Go, or Ruby on Rails, or keywords to identify candidates matching the requirements of the job posting.
If the ATS doesn’t parse your experience and skills, your resume might be rejected even if you’re highly qualified for the job.
How to get past the ATS?
To make sure your resume isn’t overlooked follow these six steps to create and optimize your resume.
1. Format your resume in the right way
ATS software is designed to read and process resumes following specific formats, so it is crucial to use the appropriate one. Opt for a simple and standard resume format with bullet points, and use bold, italics, and underlining as necessary.
Most fonts are parsed effectively by the majority of ATS software, so you have more flexibility when it comes to this. However, it’s essential to ensure the font you choose is legible and easy to read. While formatting dates, use the format MM/YYYY or “Month Year.”
A myth or just outdated assumptions?
Conventional wisdom advises jobseekers to avoid graphics, images, tables, or columns as they may confuse the ATS.
However, Volen Vulkov, the co-founder of our partner Enhancv, suggests otherwise. Based on the thousands of resumes Enhancv processes daily, evidence suggests resumes with visual graphics and tables are parsed just as well as those without. Further testing with other parsers and other resume templates (e.g. MS Office) confirms these elements would not result in different outcomes.
More importantly, however, jobseekers should carefully consider whether including graphics and tables will enhance the overall appearance and effectiveness of their resume. They should also assess if these elements drive more attention to their qualifications and experience.
Ultimately, the decision to include those items should be based on the individual jobseeker’s circumstances and the requirements of the job.
Enhancv’s platform found less than 10% of resumes imported to their site, including their own resume templates, embed the information within the PDF. This means the ATS doesn’t need to parse the resume to extract information. It only needs to read the embedded information in the PDF. This revolutionary approach to solving parsing issues is something Vulkov expects other resume builders to follow soon.
2. Include relevant keywords
To increase your chances of getting noticed by an ATS, it’s crucial to incorporate relevant keywords and phrases from the job description in your resume. Take the time to carefully read the job description and use the same keywords consistently throughout your resume, particularly in the skills and experience sections.
Caution: avoid overloading your resume with too many keywords. This can make it appear spammy and ultimately harm your chances of being selected.
Despite the large number of resumes an ATS processes, not all of the information in your resume may be parsed. In fact, according to Enhancv’s resume checker, the average number of words in a parsed resume is between 200-350.
This is significantly less than the average number of words in an uploaded resume (over 500). Therefore, it’s crucial to include the relevant keywords and phrases in your resume, especially in the skills and experience sections.
Keep in mind how logical variations help you cover essential terms without overtly repeating them. For instance, if you have experience developing ATS software, use both “ATS” and “Applicant Tracking System” software in your resume.
Some job applicants try to manipulate the ATS by adding extra keywords at the bottom of their resume or using white text as an attempt to camouflage them to human readers. We don’t recommend this, of course. An ATS might actually penalize you for it too.
3. Use clear and concise language
To increase your chances of passing the ATS scan, it’s important to use clear and concise language in your resume. Avoid using industry-specific jargon, acronyms, or abbreviations the ATS may not recognize. Even if you do use them, spell them out at least once to ensure the ATS can identify them.
However, in some industries like IT and tech, it’s difficult to avoid jargon and abbreviations altogether. Follow the lead of the job description and use the same terms from the posting. You might also use different variations of the same term – spell it out the first time but abbreviate it later in the resume.
Make it easy for the ATS to scan your resume by using standard headings like “Work Experience,” “Education,” and “Skills.” Avoid using unconventional headings or getting too creative with your formatting. Remember, the goal is to help the ATS system easily identify your qualifications, not to stand out with a fancy design.
4. Connect the job title to your resume headline
Your resume is more likely to surface if you include the job role in your attention-getter of a headline. When a recruiter searches for a specific title, your resume will be sure to show up. So, if you are applying for a job listed as “Sales Manager,” your ATS-compliant resume headline might look something like this: “Sales Manager with 6 Years of Fintech Experience.”
Another important factor related to the job title is the name of the file you send to the employer. Some ATS systems actually rate the name of the file so it’s a good idea to make sure it corresponds to the job position and your name.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as a “Software Engineer” at “XYZ Company,” your resume file name might be “JohnDoe_SoftwareEngineer_XYZCompany.pdf.” Although a small detail, this can help your resume stand out in the ATS and increase the chances of a human recruiter seeing it.
Imagine looking at a list of files and 90% of them are titled “Resume.” If you’re customizing your resume for different companies or roles, this helps you stay organized too.
5. Use the right file format
When it comes to submitting your resume to an Applicant Tracking System, many jobseekers are unsure about which file format to use. The good news is both Word and PDF formats can work well with an ATS. According to Enhancv data, the parse rate of a PDF is 47%, and for a Word document, it’s 48%. So, there isn’t a significant difference in the rate between the two formats.
That being said, it’s important to note PDFs tend to be larger in size, which may cause them to be parsed at a lower rate. Enhancv recommends you keep your resume under 2MB in size to ensure it can be uploaded and parsed properly by an ATS.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to use PDF or Word for your resume comes down to personal preference and the specific requirements of the job application. One of the main benefits of using PDF is it maintains its formatting across various operating systems and software.
This ensures the document’s layout remains the same regardless of how it’s opened. On the other hand, Word documents might look different depending on the different operating systems or software used to open them.
6. Proofread your resume
Finally, double-check your resume to ensure there are no spelling or grammar errors to confuse the ATS. Use a free grammar checker tool such as Grammarly to eliminate errors and ensure the language is clear and professional.
Typically, less is more when it comes to ATS-friendly resumes. By keeping it simple and using these tips, you increase your resume’s chances of advancing through ATS software and straight to a recruiter.
Think of your resume as a tool to help illustrate and communicate your skills.
Keep in mind, an ATS-friendly resume format may feel a little dull, but for the initial phase of the hiring process, it’s simply playing by the rules of the game. There are other contexts where a different design or format may be more appropriate. For example, many people have an ATS version, and one they might include as part of a portfolio page or site. If you attend an on-site interview, you may choose to have a more creative version. Different needs or goals may call for different tools!