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Karen Lombardo

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putanotherwayllc / Resumes / Writing about yourself.

What is an ATS Resume?

Jun 19, 2023

If you’re submitting your resume for an online job posting, there’s a good chance your application will go through the employer’s ATS before it reaches a recruiter or hiring manager. While it’s true that not every company uses an ATS, a whopping 90 percent of large employers and 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS as part of the recruitment process. With this being the case, it’s helpful to understand what an ATS does and how you can set up your resume to make the most of those odds.

What Does Applicant Tracking System Mean?

First, what does ATS stand for? ATS is an acronym for “applicant tracking system.” This type of resume software is used by employers to store and organize applicants’ information and to streamline the application review process. An ATS automatically scans resumes to determine which applicants are a match for the open position based on specific criteria set by the employer. Some of the most popular ATS programs include Bullhorn and Freshteam.

Thanks to application tracking systems, HR teams and managers no longer need to spend valuable time sorting through mountains of resumes to find suitable matches, which means they can focus more of their efforts on assessing the most promising candidates for the job. But the automation of these systems also means it’s important that your resume is ATS-compliant so that your application has a greater chance of being seen when an ATS program is used.

Resumes and the Application Tracking System

When you submit your resume to an online job listing, it will likely be processed through the applicant tracking software. The ATS will scan for details such as:

  • Location
  • Skills and qualifications
  • Previous titles and work experience
  • Education
  • Certifications

The ATS resume scanner will also look for keywords that reflect the core requirements for the position.

Based on parameters identified by the employer, the ATS will assign a score to your resume. All submitted applications are ultimately ranked based on their scores. If your resume meets the qualifications, the ATS will send it on to be reviewed by the recruiters or managers. Any submissions that don’t meet the criteria are rejected by the ATS or are flagged for review.

What’s an ATS-Friendly Resume?

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There are several essential elements to consider when creating an ATS-optimized resume. Below we’ll look at each in detail and offer practical tips to help your application rise to the top of the pile.

Follow ATS Resume Formatting. The applicant tracking system will automatically scan and extract specific details from your resume. Most ATS programs are only designed to read simple text, so your resume must follow general formatting rules to ensure your information can be correctly identified.

First, stick to a basic layout. Avoid using any tables, images, text boxes, headers and footers, and other complex formatting elements in your resume. This includes any stylized bullet points (simple bullets are acceptable), special characters, and symbols.

Be sure to use a standard font such as Arial, Garamond, Times New Roman, or Georgia. A type size between 10 and 12 points is preferred. Also, only use black type, and avoid any underlined formatting to ensure that the ATS software can read your text.

When listing your work history, present your experience in reverse chronological order (with your most recent employment first). And write out any months and years (for example, use “September 2022” rather than “9/22”) so that the information will be readable by the ATS program.

If you’re unsure how to format an ATS-friendly resume, try using a template designed explicitly for ATS programs.

Use Clear, Standard Headings. To make sure the ATS can identify important criteria from your resume, use accurate labels for each section, such as:

  • Summary/Headline
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Leadership
  • Skills
  • Honors and Awards

Add Keywords. Each time you apply for a job online, you can optimize your resume for ATS software by taking some time to include keywords found in the job listing. These are the keywords the employer is likely to have set the ATS to search for, and if your resume doesn’t include these terms, it won’t make it past the ATS scan.

A good spot to look for these key terms is in the job description. Make note of the first 3−5 qualifications and responsibilities. Also, look for any terms that are used multiple times. And always make sure to include the company name and the exact job title in your list of keywords.

When adding keywords to your resume, include them in important sections such as the summary/objective, experience, education, and skills. While incorporating several keywords is a good idea, avoid stuffing your resume; instead, prioritize the most relevant terms and phrases that apply to your background and experience. And keep in mind that a real person will eventually read your resume if it passes the ATS scan, so keep the text easy to read.

Also, when using acronyms, be sure to include the full term (for example, use “CPA” and “certified public account,” or “MBA” and “master of business administration”) to ensure your resume will meet the criteria for either search term.

Run Spell-Check. The ATS won’t be able to identify your intended meaning if you misspell a word, so be sure to run a quick spell-check before submitting your resume. This will also help ensure that your application is error-free when a recruiter or HR manager reviews it in the next stage of the process or if it turns out that the company doesn’t use an ATS.

Upload the Correct File Type. Although some ATS programs will accept PDF files, experts suggest always submitting your resume as a Word document (.doc or .docx) to ensure the system can easily scan and identify the necessary information.

Need help with your resume?

These days, many employers receive hundreds—if not thousands—of applications for each open position. With that kind of volume, applicant tracking systems help make the hiring process possible. We can help guide you through the process, create a resume that will soar through any ATS scan, and land you that interview.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation, and let’s talk about how to get you that interview. Good luck!

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Resources Indeed, LinkedIn, Jobscan.co, Forbes, Columbia.edu, Forbes , Forbes,


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