Applicant Tracking Systems, also known as ATS, have grown in use by many employers. Those in HR rely on it to help run through the loads of resumes that come in and rank the top resumes worthy of review. Why does this matter to the typical job seeker? Well, if you’re applying for a job with an employer that is relying on such software, you need your resume to get a good ranking or your chances of getting noticed are slim.
It’s been several years now since talk of employers using ATS to filter through resumes. There are more than 190 ATS on the market to choose from and while each system may work differently, many share the same rules when it comes to interpreting resume content.
Keeping up with all the changes and updates that go on with ATS software can be a challenge. And, even though the latest versions of software have made things like resume formatting rules less stringent there are still factors that can significantly hurt a candidate’s chances. To produce an ATS-friendly resume, the help of a professional resume writer is highly advised.
While you may not be able to tell whether an employer is using ATS software, or whether they are using an older version or purchased the latest ATS software, there are some general guidelines that should be followed when it comes to resume writing.
- Use a Headline Over “Summary” or “Qualifications Summary”
The resume has defined sections. One of the first sections is the “Summary” where a candidate’s value proposition is presented along with career highlights. To rank well with the ATS, clearly label that section to match the title of the job like ‘Information Technology Analyst’ or ‘Surgical Technician.’ You don’t want to it to simply read “Summary” or “Qualifications Summary.” This will help your resume’s ranking in terms of keyword matches.
- Stick to the Traditional Headings for the Other Sections
Aside from the Summary section that gets re-labeled to reflect the job title, the other section of the resume like Professional Experience, Education, and so forth should be kept clearly defined in that manner. When the ATS runs through your resume, these traditional Headings help it to define each section to find pertinent information. Avoid getting creative with these Headings and labeling them with something unrecognizable. There’s a methodology to how the resume is reviewed by the ATS so functional or skills-based resume formats are not suitable. The ATS will have difficulty following the flow of content.
- Connect Job Titles with Dates
The ATS reads and interprets content on the resume different than the human reviewer. To interpret your level of professional experience, the ATS uses dates next to your job title and calculates the years. Dates on the resume should be limited to indicate your period of employment.
- Avoid These Basic Formatting Options
Don’t use a header, especially on the first page of your resume to place your name and contact information. If that’s the sole location where this information is available on the resume it can get lost when the ATS routes information over to other departments for review. If you must have a header, keep it to the second page and after, and limit it to basic information like a page number. Other things to avoid doing on the resume is hyperlinking and adding in tables. When you hyperlink your email address or phone number, there’s a chance they do not go through. Using tables can also become complicated because they don’t work with older ATS and newer ATS converts tables to one column and reads information from left to right.
Basic formatting styles that are safe to have on the resume without impact to the ATS reading and ranking include text color, shading, italics, bold, underline, and symbols found on the keyboard like * +=. San-serif font is also preferred because older ATS systems may not know how to read serif fonts.
- Save to the Correct File Format
The resume should be saved as a .doc for the ATS. When you save the document as a PDF or as a .docx, it can render your resume unreadable or impact the scoring process.
- Don’t Be So Concerned Over Resume Length
Unlike a resume going through the review of a human, the ATS doesn’t care how long your resume runs. It can be 10+ pages long and not matter. There needs to be a fine balance of information and in many cases, job seekers will benefit from having different resume versions to suit different scenarios. Read more from: “When Does the Resume Warrant More Than One Page?”
While not every employer is using the ATS to rank resumes, many of the larger employers are. In most cases, the resume submitted online through the job boards or the company website has a good chance of being run through the ATS. It’s a real hurdle for many job seekers to produce a resume that’ll rank well with ATS systems. Getting the help of a professional resume writer is necessary to beat the system!