The most disappointing part of any job hunt is not hearing back from the company you applied to. You might think this happened because the recruiter didn’t like you. But it is far more likely that they didn’t even get to read your resume. This is because your resume may not be ATS-compatible.
Before resumes get looked at by a human eye, they are filtered through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). According to a Jobscan study, almost 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS.
But what are ATSs? And how can you make sure your resume is ATS-compatible?
In this article, I break down:
- What Applicant Tracking Systems are.
- Four ways to make an ATS-compatible resume.
- Examples of ATS-compatible resumes.
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are digital solutions used by recruiters and employers to collect and scan job applications automatically.
An Applicant Tracking System scans a resume for keywords specified by the employer for an open position. If the application meets the specified criteria, it is passed to the recruiter for further review. This speeds up the review process for recruiters because they have fewer resumes to check manually.
An ATS-compatible resume is a resume that has the relevant keywords that the ATS is programmed to look for. Passing the ATS screening step is critical if you want to stay ahead of competing applicants and to increase your chances of getting an intervew.
But how do you make an ATS-compatible resume?
Do you just stuff your resume with keywords and call it a day? Do you follow the “hack” of putting keywords at the end of your resume and color them white? (P.S. Please don’t do that. That trick doesn’t work.)
Below are four ways you can ensure the creation of an ATS-compatible resume:
1 – Use Relevant Keywords
ATS algorithms are designed to catch certain keywords. This means that using relevant keywords is the basis of an ATS-compatible resume. Furthermore, it indicates to the employers that the candidate has the necessary hard and soft skills for the job.
But how do you identify these keywords? How do you know what keywords a company is looking for?
Keywords are nouns or noun phrases that ATS algorithms “catch.” They help indicate to ATS that you have skills that match the job requirements.
Common keywords include job titles, industry terminology, tools and technologies used by professionals in your field, degrees, licenses, certifications, and training.
You can typically find this information in the job listing. When going through a job listing, note the terms used. Identify the skills needed for that position. Sprinkle these throughout your professional experience section as well as your key skills section.
If you’re having a hard time with this, I’ve put together several guides here on writing resumes for specific industries. You can probably find keywords specific to your field by navigating this page. If this page doesn’t cover your industry, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll whip something up for you.
Try to add the most important skills in the top third (i.e. the visual center) of your resume. This will allow the recruiter to see all your relevant skills even if they are just skimming through the document.
TIP: Include your city in the resume. Recruiters sometimes have filters in the ATS for a specific location, especially for non-remote jobs.
- If you misspell keywords and skills, your resume won’t get found under that search phrase. Make sure that your resume does not have any typos or grammatical errors before submission.
- Use keywords that match the language of the job listing. If a company uses “people management” instead of “team management,” change the language in your resume to match.
- Some people try to trick the system by adding keywords or the full job description in white text at the end of their resume. This does not work! Most ATSs will scan the text and change it to black; your deception will come to light.
2 – Use a Related Job Title
An ATS is more likely to pick your resume if your recent job title matches the one you’re applying for.
This can be an issue if you work(ed) in an organization that has unique job titles.
But there is an easy fix for this problem. Simply add the industry-equivalent or generic job title or your primary responsibilities or duties in the parentheses next to the job title, making your resume ATS-friendly.
Let’s pretend you are a plant manager who is responsible for planning, coordinating, and directing operations. You want to apply for a job at another company seeking an Operations Director. You check the responsibilities and realize, “I do all this right now. I can do these things at this company too.”
But because you put “Plant Manager” on your resume, the other company’s Applicant Tracking System might not pass your resume.
What do you do? You can write your current experience like so…
- Plant Manager (Operations Director Equivalent) 2015 – Present.
- Plant Manager (Operations Director Duties) 2015 – Present.
… depending on which is one more accurate, and by doing so, hit the ATS keyword requirement.
Remember to back up this strategy with accomplishments that demonstrate the necessary skills for the job. In other words, if we carry the example above, focus the job description section on director-level operations duties.
3 – Use ATS-compatible Resume Templates
Many resumes get rejected by the ATS because their template is not ATS-friendly.
In their rush to be noticed, candidates wind up using fancy templates that get scrambled while being read by an ATS. For instance, ATS cannot read fonts that need to be downloaded. Candidates might include graphics and tables to showcase their skills and competencies, unaware that most ATS cannot parse this information.
Your resume can be 100% ATS-compliant in terms of keywords, but still get rejected if the ATS can’t read the information on there.
An ATS-compatible resume template allows your resume to breeze through the ATS without the information getting warped.
If you need help with resume formatting, download my free resume template.
- Note what format the company wants the resume in. Your default choice should be .docx. Some ATS system scan .pdf files as an image and may miss important keywords as a result.
- Don’t use the functional resume format. Instead, use the traditional reverse-chronological format. Functional resumes group accomplishments together by skill. A typical Applicant Tracking System is not programmed to “read stories” like that and will spit out an unclear work history. This is why recruiters prefer a traditional reverse-chronological format; it presents a clear history.
- Don’t use fonts you need to download. Some ATS-compatible resume fonts include Calibri, Helvetica, Cambria, Lato, Georgia, and Verdana.
- Most ATS cannot read the information present in the header or footer of a document. Make sure that your name and contact information is in the body of the resume.
4 – Label Sections Correctly
Lastly and most simply, label all sections in your resume using “traditional” labels like “Professional Experience” and “Education” to help ATS read your history easily.
Make sure that information is placed under the appropriate headings. All work experiences should fall under the “Work Experience” or “Professional Experiences.” The “Skills” sections should have only keywords.