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The Applicant Tracking System

Is Your Resume Optimized for the ATS?

ICC June 30, 2022 0 Comments

There is no getting around it.  Applicant Tracking Systems are here to stay.  Here are tips on writing and using an ATS-optimized resume if you want to make sure your resume is ATS-compliant. 


Your resume should be in the proper format. 


File formats such as PDF do not make the most sense for ATS. PDF files preserve your resume template’s design and format well but are incompatible with all applicant tracking systems. You may upload your resume in PDF format if “PDF" is listed as a supported format for applicant tracking systems. If the system does not specify compatible file types, stay safe and use a Word document in .doc or .docx. Plain-text resumes are also ATS-friendly, but they limit your formatting options.  


Avoid headers and footers with important details.  


Some applicant tracking systems cannot read and parse the headers and footers in Word documents. One study found that 25% of the time, the ATS was unable to identify a job seeker’s contact information. Do not place important contact details in the header or footer of your resume (such as your name, phone number, or email address). 


Make your resume keyword-rich.   


Optimizing your resume with the right keywords (also known as keyword optimization) is one way to ensure compatibility with an ATS. In contrast to “buzzwords," which are usually considered to be fluffy marketing terms like “proactive" or “self-starter," keywords are actual soft skills and hard skills you possess that qualify you for your target job. 

To determine which resume keywords to use:


  1. Collect three to five job descriptions corresponding to the type of position you are seeking. 
  2. Identify the words used regularly throughout your desired positions by copying and pasting the text into a free word and phrase frequency tool like Online-Utility.org‘s Text Analyzer. 
  3. Employ these terms in your resume if you possess these skills or qualifications.

To create an ATS-optimized resume, you need to consider the frequency and placement of these relevant keywords. The strength of your skills may be determined based on the number of times the term appears in your resume (include it two to three times throughout your resume), while others will estimate your experience based on placement on your resume.   


Include your strongest hard and soft skills in the “Core Competencies" or “Areas of Expertise" section of your professional summary. Then, as appropriate, include them in your “Work Experience" or “Education" sections to show how you’ve used those skills.  


In some applicant tracking systems, a skill’s length of experience is based on the length of time the job required that skill was utilized. If, for instance, you handled payroll for your previous employer for five years, the ATS will assume you have five years of payroll experience from that employer. If a skill is listed on its own – such as in a professional summary or a core-competencies section – then the ATS scan assigns six months’ experience. That’s why you should highlight your skills throughout your resume, not just your skill section. 


No images, charts, or other graphics. 


Embedded images may look pleasant to the human eye, but after passing through an applicant tracking system, they become a garbled mess or are excluded from your application.  


Make bullet points simple. 


Bullet points are an excellent way to highlight accomplishments and qualifications in a resume. Your important selling points might get muddled if you choose elaborate symbols for your bullets. Bulleted lists should not contain complex characters. To ensure your bullet points are compatible with an ATS, use the simplest options, such as a solid circle, open circle, or square. 


Design a clean resume with a clear hierarchy. 


Less is more with your ATS-friendly resume template design. A complex resume design or unusual format is not only confusing to applicant tracking systems; it annoys recruiters who are used to quickly scanning a resume for the particular information they expect to find. 


How to make your resume ATS-friendly. 


Keep your resume in a standard format, such as a hybrid resume, to pass the ATS. A professional summary is included at the top of this resume format to summarize your key skills and qualifications. It is combined with a chronological “Work History" section that shows how you’ve translated them into results for your employers. 


An applicant tracking system does better reading and interpreting a hybrid format since they parse chronological data. As a result, you should avoid functional resume formats at all costs – where your abilities are highlighted instead of your work history. 


Test your ATS resume for compliance.


If you are searching for a job, you can determine if your resume is compatible with an applicant tracking system (ATS).

Review the results by pasting the ATS-friendly content into a plain-text document. Plain-text versions that have missing details, incorrectly saved characters, or look disorganized (e.g., the Education section appears in the middle of your work experience) will need editing before they are ATS-compliant. 

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