Heath Alva
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What is an ATS resume? And how to create one any recruiter will notice
Last updated: August 14, 2022
Heath Alva
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What is an ATS resume? And how to create one any recruiter will notice
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These days we rely heavily on technology, and hiring managers will often use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to filter job applications.

So, if you’re getting ready to apply for a position, you should know that your cover letter and resume may face scrutiny from one of these automated computer systems.

With the wrong formatting or keywords, your application may never make it to a set of human eyes. This means you need to make sure you have an ATS-friendly resume.

But what is the applicant tracking system looking for?

Get ready because we're about to explain how ATS software systems work, why hiring managers use them, and how you can create a resume that will make it past the computer.

What is an applicant tracking system?

An ATS is an electronic program that checks your resume and puts it into a virtual “yes” or “no” pile. The software does this sorting by searching for specific keywords in your application that match the job description.

For example, it might look for flags that the employer has chosen. The hiring manager can optimize it to find clues in your work history, education, or skills list.

Applicant tracking systems are common for online applications. Not only does it reduce the candidate pool, but it can store all of the resumes in one place.

If you’ve previously applied at a company, the database might also store your contact details for future use.

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How does an ATS work?

When you apply for a job, your cover letter and resume are uploaded to the ATS.

If they pass the initial robot test, your details may be reviewed by human eyes. If the hiring manager thinks you could be a good fit for the role, they may also use the ATS to schedule a job interview.

Often, there will be multiple steps in the hiring process. For example, hiring managers can create online tests or questionnaires and send you automatic email updates using the system.

If you are unsuccessful, the ATS may send you an automated rejection letter. In other cases, you might not hear back from the company at all and be ghosted about your application.

Information about any jobs you’ve applied for at a company may stay in their database, so it’s important to only apply for relevant positions that match your skillset. Otherwise, you may end up being tagged as someone not to hire and miss out on your dream job.

Why do recruiters use applicant tracking systems?

Busy managers don’t always have time to manually read every application. Companies may be desperate to hire a suitable candidate, and this can make the process quicker.

There may also be irrelevant resumes that are incomplete or wishful thinking. For example, a person who loves cooking but has no formal training might apply for a role as a head chef.

Large Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, who receive a steady stream of job applications, regularly use ATS software.

When Amazon announced that they were looking for more workers in 2019, they received 18 job applications per minute. That would be impossible to handle without an ATS in place.

While some qualified resumes may fall through the cracks, this is a risk many companies are willing to take to save time and money.

How to create an ATS resume

You can create an ATS-compliant resume by following a few simple rules. To help you get on the right track, we’ve compiled a list of six essential tips:

1. Pay attention to your formatting

An ATS is a computer system. It doesn’t appreciate pretty fonts, headshots, or logos.

When formatting for an ATS, keep it simple. We don’t recommend headers, footers, images, tables, and borders, as they may not process properly.

If you need to, you can use bold and italic fonts to accentuate your headings. You can also use bullet points for summarizing your skills.

2. Use common headings

The ATS is looking for a structure that it recognizes. While it can be tempting to be creative with your headings, try to follow a traditional format.

You can use any of these common headings to break up your resume into sections:

  • Work history
  • Work experience
  • Professional experience
  • Skills
  • Education

3. Stick to the page limit

The ATS won’t be as fussy about page length as a real person would. But the aim is to get your resume in front of the hiring manager, and you don’t want to do all of this hard work to get a rejection letter at the final stage.

Most hiring recruiters prefer resumes that fit neatly onto one page.

The exception to this rule is if you are applying to a professional management position or an academic position where more detail is required.

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4. List your experience in order

Chronological resumes are common, and they are the best fit for both applicant tracking systems and human eyes.

This resume format highlights your work experience in order, starting from the most recent and working its way back. They’re easy to read and interpret, increasing your chances of reaching the next step.

If you have room, you can include a short skills section. Add your contact information at the top and an education section at the bottom of the page.

5. Upload the right file type

You may have the perfect resume and the right qualifications, but choosing the wrong file formats can let you down.

Most systems can read .docx files, and this is usually the preferred format. However, you should always read the instructions carefully before uploading your resume in case the hiring manager has other ideas. For example, they may have a preference for PDF files.

6. Change your resume to suit the job

When the ATS scans your resume, it will be looking to match your competencies to a specific job.

While you may be qualified and capable, a generic resume might not have the right keywords, skills, or work experience for the position.

Read the job posting carefully because, with a few edits, you can focus on the exact skills the employer is looking for.

The language used in the job description also matters, and you should try to replicate this in your resume. For example, their numbers may be numerals instead of words. Or they may use UK English instead of US English.

What fonts should you use for an ATS-friendly resume?

Stay away from intricate fonts and choose something that is both computer-friendly and people-friendly.

A few fonts you can choose from include:

  • Arial
  • Helvetica
  • Garamond
  • Georgia
  • Tahoma
  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana

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Why resume keywords are important to an ATS

An applicant tracking system will scan hundreds of resumes in record time. In order to find the most suitable candidates, it’s optimized to choose applications containing specific keywords.

The keywords will usually appear in the job description. For example, they may relate to the industry, the role, or key responsibilities.

Make sure you use the exact match, and don’t use acronyms or abbreviations unless they do. For example, they may want someone with “Microsoft Office skills,” and the system may not be able to interpret that “MS Office skills” are the same thing.

Focus on hard skills that you’ve learned through education or practice, such as computer skills or design skills. These are usually more relevant to the scanner than soft skills such as teamwork or good communication.

Why you shouldn’t try to trick the scanner

Trying to trick the ATS scanner by copying and pasting the job ad may get you past the first round. But eventually, a real person will read your resume, and they'll view this as cheating.

Because your attempt may be stored in a database, this could also affect your chances of getting a job with the company in the future.

Even though you are choosing words that will satisfy the ATS test, your resume should still be accurate and honest.

What happens if your resume passes the ATS?

If your resume passes the ATS scanner, then you’ve avoided the black hole. Depending on the company, you may receive an invitation to complete an online test, or your application might reach the hiring manager.

The next stage is usually a job interview, and if you pass this, then your job seeker days are over.

This process takes time, so it is important to be patient.

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Create a resume that is human and ATS-friendly

Before you continue your job search, think about whether you have an ATS-friendly resume.

With more companies choosing to filter resumes electronically, it makes sense to write an application that ticks both the human and ATS boxes.

We told you what an ATS is, how it works, and why recruiters use them. Plus, we gave you tips on how to format your resume.

With this career advice, you could pass the robot test and get your resume in front of a real person.

Are you ready to find a new job? Start by searching our job database.

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Heath Alva
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Comments

Leonard Bishop

Thanks for posting this important information.

4w
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Leonard Bishop

Thanks for posting this important information.

4w
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1
Syed Sharafat Hussain Naqvi

Great Information. Thanks A Million for educating a considerable number of job seekers

9w
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1
Thomas Frys

Why can’t a human look at it and provide productive feedback. To me that’s what Hr should do. They just never know who they may miss. Sad…..

12w
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Allen Fort

This article could be half the length if it weren’t so repetitive. Additionally, there really aren’t any helpful tips/hints listed that isn’t common knowledge of anyone having a resume, let alone individuals skilled at creating strong resumes. 1 strong cover letter and resume is all it takes. Work history and skills are just that, making alterations would be deceiving. What a crock of [email protected]!t!

28w
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Xavier Hudgins

Thanks about this.

38w
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3
Bernadette Sage

Thank you so much for posting all this information. Sounds like I need to restart my job search by rewriting my resume. The hardest job is indeed finding a job. Always a daunting task as you never really know your audience but you addressed that obstacle as well.

39w
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7
Mary Elizabeth Blaney

GREAT ADVICE, CHART AND OVERVIEW OF ATS AND WHY USED THANK YOU FOR ALL THE INFORMATION DOWN TO HOW TO SET UP A RESUME AND COVER PAGE. IS IT IF YOU DON'T PASS THE INTERVIEW, YOUR DAYS ARE OVER?

40w
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