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Your ATS Resume

Enda Goodwin

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Field Agent

Field Agent

Your resume is ready to go. Well, almost. These days, a resume is more than a pretty document that emphasizes your credentials and accomplishments with dynamic fonts and color. While it’s important to have a professional looking printed or printable resume, you need to have an ATS-friendly resume as well.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System. Corporations, businesses, and recruiting agencies are using these ATS software systems to scan and screen candidates because of the huge number of resumes coming to them. The plain fact is, if you’re resume isn’t ATS-ready, it’s likely to be ignored right at the screening phase. Here’s how it plays out:

  • You apply for a job online and are prompted to create a profile.
  • You upload your resume.
  • The ATS software takes over scanning keywords in your experience, your qualifications, and education areas of the resume to determine if it matches the company’s job description.
  • If your resume is optimized for ATS and for this specific job description, you will likely get a call.
  • If the ATS software doesn’t find a viable match, you will likely get a “sorry” email in the next day or so. Even if you are qualified for the role.

A robot only wants the facts

The ATS is a machine that reads and analyzes words that match the job description. It doesn’t understand nuanced, emotional concepts. Make sure you use exact keywords from the job description in your ATS resume. And yes, that means you will be tweaking your basic resume for every job you apply for online. You need to get the robot’s approval to move forward! This is not a waste of time! The format of your document is critical to being ATS-ready too. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a machine-readable resume:

  • Make sure you have a resume in the file format they ask for. Even though a .pdf file is common, not all systems will accept that format. Give them what they want!
  • Some common document formatting tools like tables, columns, and text boxes are not ATS-friendly. Any information you’ve put into these conventional document design tools will not be read and will not show up in your profile.
  • Images may “pretty-up” your resume, you might use them to stand out. Don’t bother. Like tables, images and graphics can create problems for ATS software. Remember a software is reading this and it doesn’t want “pretty”.
  • If you really are attached to an image, you can place it in the header or footer. But don’t put anything important there, as the ATS will not read headers and footers.
  • Be careful with special characters. The ATS is a machine and reads text like code. That goes for accents too. Even the word résumé might translate into r& eacute; sum& eacute.

You might be asking yourself, “Is there any formatting I CAN use?”

Yes. The robot has limitations, but it’s still your friend. If you use bold text or CAPITALIZATION to emphasize your name or to draw attention to something, the tracking system is fine with that. Phew! 

  • Bulleted lists are fine too
  • Use the basic round dot, not the arrows or special characters.

A standard font like Arial is your best bet. Try to keep the point size to 10-12. And if you like colored words, you’re good to go!

There are some tools that can help you evaluate the ATS-readiness of your resume:

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