Here's a quick story that you might strongly relate to:
You're qualified for a job in your industry but don't have many connections to get you in. So you decided to take matters into your own hands and find a job on your own.
You created a great resume that introduces who you are, focuses on your best skills, and highlights your outstanding career accomplishments.
You started applying for different positions in your field by sending your resume online to different companies.
You wait for weeks only to get the automated rejection you always hated.
You don't lose hope and decide to look for more opportunities to apply for.
But to no avail…
None of the jobs you applied for are panning out.
If that feels like the story of your life, you must realize two things:
- You're not failing at finding a job because you're underqualified for the position.
- There are quick ways to optimize your resume for maximum success.
The secret to getting a job through online applications is this:
Businesses today use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to screen resumes for specific information. They want to save time in the hiring process by narrowing their options to only choose from the best.
If the system fails to find that information, it will assume that you're not equipped for the job and ignore you.
To be fair…
Companies have to use an ATS to sort through hundreds of resumes and help recruiters find the perfect applicant. And although that might not be the ideal strategy, it's still an efficient hiring solution for most businesses.
So the simple truth is:
Not being selected by an algorithm has very little to do with your fitness for the job. It's all about optimizing your resume to be ATS-compliant.
That's how you make sure a human being will read your impressive resume and call you for an interview.
That's what we're going to teach you today!
You’ll learn in this guide:
- How to format and structure your resume to be ATS compliant
- Why following a specific resume layout is key to making it past screening systems
- The best ways to find job-specific keywords and phrases to use in your resume
- Why tailoring your resume to the job application is crucial once you get through the initial screening process
- Expert-driven tips on how to write each section to appeal to both ATS and recruiters
How to write an ATS friendly resume that gets you noticed
Because of the internet, today is the best time to be alive…
Never in human history were job seekers able to find unlimited employment opportunities in such a short time.
You have the chance to apply to countless positions and land jobs you’d have never dreamed of decades ago.
Nothing interesting is ever completely one-sided.
As you get more opportunities to find the job you love, more people apply to the same job postings as you. And with that comes enormous competition forcing companies to use ATS.
So your best bet in this situation is obvious:
Appeal to computers by giving them what they want.
You must ensure a higher pass rate and play the numbers game until you’re hired. You’ll optimize your resume for ATS and keep applying until you get the job you deserve.
But here’s the thing:
You must think steps ahead when it comes to making an ATS-friendly resume.
Getting past screening systems is just the beginning. You should also think about what comes after that, which is convincing the recruiter.
You can’t sacrifice one part one at the expense of the other. Instead, you’ll optimize your resume to suit both algorithms and humans.
That brings us to the real question…
How do you create an ATS-friendly resume that also impresses recruiters?
Proper formatting is the common point across all applicant tracking systems. If your resume is hard to scan for ATS, you'll get ignored — a lot.
Therefore, you'll create the simplest format possible to help ATS understand your resume.
To do that, you must use:
- Clear information hierarchy and section design
- A 10-12 font size and a standard font (Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Calibri)
- Standard section labeling and titles (work experience, skills, education, certificates, etc.)
- Proper headings and bolded title sections
- Standard bullet points instead of customized bullets for each job duty
At the same time, avoid using:
- Tables, columns, or text boxes
- Borders or lines
- Special characters and symbols
- Images, visuals, icons
Why is this so?
Although ATS are smart enough to screen and understand your resume, they cannot scan information in tables, images, borders, etc.
For your resume format, you can use either Docx or PDF, depending on what the job posting requires. Recruiters and ATS prefer these two formats as they can maintain your original layout and structure as it is.
Since your file will be saved in a hard drive with dozens of other resumes, be sure to give it a proper name instead of "resume.pdf."
You can, for example, name it "Thomas-Lampkin-Project-Manager.pdf". That allows recruiters to find it easily during the hiring process.
Recommended Resume Sections
Pro tips to make a stellar ATS-friendly resume
- Proofread your resume before submitting it to avoid any misspellings or typos
- Don’t lie in your application or cheat on applicant tracking systems because that won’t get you anywhere with recruiters
- Highlight your greatest career accomplishments and best skills to impress recruiters once your resume gets into their hands
- Feature any required additional sections such as “Education” and “Certificates” to keep ATS from rejecting your application
What makes a resume header ATS-compliant
As the name suggests, the resume header comes at the top of the page. It provides key contact information that the recruiter needs to know about you before reading your resume.
But there's one problem:
ATS often fails to read essential details included in the header/footer sections of the page.
The simple truth is…
When we refer to the resume header, we're not necessarily talking about the page's header. Instead, it's the first section the reader will see from top to bottom, which shouldn't be placed too close to the page's top margin.
Now, here's what you must include in the header:
- Full name
- Job title
- Email address
- Phone number
- LinkedIn profile
Let's look at some examples from a project manager resume:
There isn't’ much room for optimization when it comes to resume headers.
You must avoid a few critical mistakes if you want to make past both screening robots and humans.
The first thing you need to know is:
Some ATS filter resumes based on job titles looking for an exact match.
So, for example:
If you’re applying for a project manager position where the title used in the job offer is “Project Manager,” it’s better to stick to that instead of a different title.
That also helps you boost your total keyword match and increase relevance.
Algorithms also pay attention to geographic locations if the hiring company is looking for local candidates. So make sure to match your location to the job posting using the standard address format.
Adding a link to your LinkedIn page serves as proof that you are indulged in community of your profession and try to keep well connected wityh like-minded individuals.
Speaking of connections, make sure the contact information you list in your header for typos, and keep an eye on it. You don't want to miss that important call or email.
Now check out this example:
How to beat ATS bots with a well-optimized experience section
Since you're qualified for the job, the experience section should be the largest part of the page. That also makes it the most crucial section in your resume.
So you might wonder:
What's the best way to write an ATS-friendly, human-friendly experience section?
Well, it's simple!
You must follow a reverse-chronological format in listing your work history. That means starting from your most recent position and proceeding backwards.
For each job you held in the past, you need to include the following details:
- Job title
- Company name
- Dates/Durations of employment
- Job duties and accomplishments (specific to the job posting)
Here's the thing:
Even if you're playing the numbers game by applying to many positions at once, picking the right job responsibilities is crucial to your success.
It's your best way to ensure a high pass rate for your resume. So you can't copy-paste duties from Google and hope that it works.
You must mirror the job posting into your experience section by reading the job offer carefully. That step will help you identify the keywords and phrases you can use here to increase relevance.
You'll refine your sentences until you strike a natural tone that also puts your keywords into context. That's a great way to maintain high keywords density throughout your resume and keep recruiters interested.
Now, here are some examples of experience sections:
- Responsible for the day to day management of cross-functional projects
- Managed multiple client projects and their expectations
- Assisted with project schedule development and management
One thing to know for sure is that the previous example won't get you hired.
In fact, it can't even get you past the screening process.
1- Generic terms:
Stay away from generic terms when describing your duties. Those include words and phrases such as:
- Responsible for
- Helped with
Keep a descriptive, direct language with active verbs to impress recruiters with your work history. That allows you to keep your keywords and skills within context.
Also, you must avoid buzzwords because they're not preferred by ATS or recruiters. Preferably, you can replace them with keywords or simpler terms that recruiters can understand.
2- Lack of keywords:
You can't know for sure which keywords the hiring company is focusing on in the screening process. But you can tell to some degree which keywords are most crucial.
For project management jobs, you may include the following action verbs:
Or words describing your skillset, such as:
- Data analysis
- Risk management
3- Unquantifiable achievements:
It's impossible for recruiters to compare your results to those of others without a clear anchor to build their estimations on.
That's the problem with the duties in the previous example.
Giving recruiters a clear picture of what you achieved allows them to put your achievements into perspective. You'll allow them the chance to compare you to others and clearly see your worth.
Always quantify your achievements with precise metrics, dollar amounts, percentages, etc.
Let's check out an ATS resume template that will get you hired:
- Achieved $45K in savings through process improvements and re-engineering during the planning and execution phases
- Conducted monthly meetings with team members and stakeholders to discuss project development and implementation strategy
- Mentored 30+ employees in Lean Sigma methodologies to execute projects which achieved over $1 million of accrual financial benefits
How to pick the best skills to ensure a ATS 100% pass rates
Your skills section is where you'll emphasize your hard and soft skills using job-related keywords.
These keywords will increase your resume's relevance to the job position and allow you to rank higher for the position. That's how you'll ensure the highest pass rates and end your job hunt successfully.
But to do that:
You must first scrutinize the job offer to find the role-specific skills that the company is looking for. Those are often mentioned within job duties or in a separate required skills part of the offer.
Once you identify them, make a shortlist of the most sought-after skills and match it to your skillset.
Now, remember this:
It's essential to translate your skillset into ATS-friendly keywords that match the job offer. The idea here isn't to get creative with describing your talents but matching them to what the algorithm is looking for.
Most ATS look for specific matches when scanning resumes. So they won't recognize any synonyms or variations of skills unless they match the job application.
If the job offer asks for "public speaking," listing "presentation skills" won't be counted by screening systems.
Here's a list of the most sought-after soft and hard skills in the job market today:
10 Hard Skills to Include in Your ATS-Friendly Resume
- Project management
- Microsoft Office
- Data management
- G Suite
- Budgeting & forecasting
- Risk management
- Data analytics
- Billing & invoicing
10 Sought-After Soft Skills for Your ATS Resume
- Verbal and written communication
- Public speaking
- Team work
- Creative thinking
- Keep your resume properly structured with a modern layout to allow screening bots to scan it easily.
- Don’t get too creative with your resume formatting and design to keep it easy to read and understand by ATS.
- Be sure to pick the right keywords for your resume and learn how to use them as that may make or break your job hunt.
- Send your resume in the right format (PDF or DOCX) to ensure that the ATS will properly read your content.
- While ATS-friendliness is essential, inspiring hiring managers is what will get you hired in the end. So be sure to keep your resume recruiter friendly.