How to Create an ATS-Optimized Resume

How to ensure you are submitting an ATS-friendly resume

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software used by recruiters to collect and organize the resumes received for an open position of employment. When applicants submit their resumes for review by the employer, they are also submitting their resumes for review by the ATS. Many ATS parse the content of each resume, identify specific keywords from the job description, and give resumes a score based on their inclusion of specific keywords. However, all ATS are programmed differently and perform different functions. Some of the most popularly used Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are Taleo, Workday, JobVite, and SAP.

What does an ATS-friendly resume look like?

It is important to create an ATS-friendly resume to enhance your chances of success. An ATS-friendly resume includes high-quality content, effective formatting, and a best-practice structure. In this section, we will discuss best practices to consider when creating an ATS-optimized resume. 

1. File Type

The best file type to use when submitting an application is Word, although many professionals believe it to be PDF. Not all Applicant Tracking Systems are able to parse a PDF format, but most ATS support Word documents We recommend using the latest version of Microsoft Word and saving your document as .docx. 

While we strongly suggest submitting a Word document, we also want to emphasize reading the resume requirements thoroughly before making a submission. Some employers request a specific file type when submitting applications, and others do not. Make your final decision based on what your target employer has requested. If they want you to submit a PDF file, then do that! If they prefer Word, use Word. And if they want a plain text file? You know the drill. 

2. Formatting 

A resume with designs may stand out at first glance, but it may impact your chances of success. After a resume is submitted, many ATS convert it into a text file. These are programmed to read top-to-bottom and left-to-right. Thus, these are unable to read columns, tables, or any other special formatting. This can result in the merging of columns and tables, or the mixing-up of words. We suggest following these practical guidelines to optimize your resume: 

  • Don’t use tables or charts 
  • Don’t insert images or symbols 
  • Use a simple paragraph structure; don’t organize your resume into columns 
  • Use standard titles for your sub-sections, such as ‘Professional Summary’, ‘Professional Experience’, and ‘Education’ instead of ‘Internships’ and ‘Professional History,’ etc. 
  • Use ATS-optimised fonts such as:
    • Arial
    • Times New Roman
    • Calibri
    • Cambria
    • Verdana

3. Keywords

Keywords are the most important aspect to be included when creating an ATS-friendly resume. Many ATS assess your resume based on the keywords it contains. Thus, we suggest adding all the important keywords mentioned in the job description, plus a few more keywords from your relevant experience and/or background in your chosen industry.  These keywords can be added to the different resume sections such as ‘Professional Experience’, ‘Professional Summary’ or ‘Key Skills,’ based on their suitability.

Keywords are specific phrases that generally describe job requirements, such as your skills, education, experience, and certifications. For example, if SQL or Python language is listed as a requirement, the ATS will search for all resumes that include the keywords “SQL” or “Python.” In this case, candidates with SQL or Python listed on their resumes will rank higher and receive a higher score from the ATS than those who don’t include those keywords on their resumes. 

How to make sure you are submitting an ATS-friendly resume?

After the creation of your resume, it is essential to check if your resume is good enough to both pass the ATS pre-screening and impress a recruiter. We recommend checking your resume using both of the following methods.

1. Automatic Check

One of the best ways to check if a resume will pass through an ATS is to use an ATS or an ATS-like software that uses a similar algorithm to calculate your match rate based on the job experience, title, skills, and education. One of the popular software used for resume optimization is JobScan. JobScan allows you to scan your resume against the job description of your target job and generates a score based on the identified keywords. It also gives you a list of hard and soft skills that should be added to your resume, in order to increase your score. Take a look at the example below.


A skills comparison generated by JobScan

A skills comparison generated by JobScan

The next two images demonstrate how the match rates can vary depending on your resume and target job description. While a score above 80% is great, we recommend a score of at least 60% before submitting an application. You can customize your resume for every application by changing the keywords based on the suggestions given by JobScan. An easy way to do this would be to update the ‘Key Skills’ section with each application.

Customize key skills for a better ATS score

Customize key skills for a better ATS score

A high match rate implies the resume is optimized for submission. 

Higher resume match rate is better

A higher resume match rate is better

A low match rate lets you know that the resume requires more work before submission.

Some of the similar resume-optimization software that you can try are SkillSyncer, TargetedResume, and RezRunner.

2. Manual Check

While you can use different software to check the match rate, it is always helpful to go through your document manually at least twice before making the final submission. While reviewing the document, make sure there are no grammatical errors, formatting is correct and consistent, keywords are used rationally, and the document looks presentable. You can also consult with your friends, colleagues, or a professional career consultant to assist you in finalizing your resume. 

This collaborative, human process is also important because even though automation has become important in the recruitment process today, the final decision lies at the hands of a human being at the other end. So, while we can include all the relevant keywords to pass the ATS pre-screening, we still need a high-quality resume to impress the recruiters.

A few simple, efficient, and informed steps can help you create a high-quality resume. A resume that will give you an edge over your competitors at every stage of the application process. If you need some help to create an ATS-optimized resume, feel free to contact us.



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