Taking the time to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems (ATS) can reduce the risk of your resume being immediately rejected before a hiring manager ever gets to see it. In addition, it can increase your chances of landing an interview for positions for which you are a good fit. Understanding the nuances of resume writing in a world where ATS are often the first step in screening applicants can work to your advantage.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

ATS are software systems that help companies quickly screen applications to find qualified candidates. A hiring manager enters specific keywords and requirements, and these programs will pull those resumes that are a match and skip those that are not. Failing to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems can mean you get passed over even if you can do the job.

Two primary factors that ATS consider are format and keywords. You are setting yourself up for a longer and more difficult job search if either of these two elements is incorrect.

Resume Formatting Tips

Let’s start by looking at some of the basics when it comes to formatting your resume for ATS.

  • Keep the style simple.

Don’t waste your time using fancy fonts, colors, or graphics. These features are typically stripped by ATS anyway, and that can mean important information on your resume is not being read. Use a clear font that is easy to read such as Aptos, Calibri, Cambria, Helvetica, or Times New Roman. Keep your font size between 10.5 and 12 and stick with black for the color.

Avoid using symbols or graphics outside of the standard circle or square bullet points. You don’t need to put the logo for the company, a chart that shows your level of proficiency in different skills, or your picture.

  • Use standard headers.

When dividing up your resume into sections, use commonly accepted headings such as Core Competencies, Professional Experience, Education, Licenses and Certifications, Volunteer Experience, and Professional Affiliations. Getting too creative can confuse the ATS and it won’t know how to properly sort or organize your information.

  • Break up text.

You want your resume to be easy to read and scan. Instead of using large blocks of text, break down your information into shorter bullet points with each one demonstrating a specific accomplishment or skill.

  • Save using a compatible format.

ATS technology is improving but saving your resume as a .doc or .docx file is one of the safest ways to ensure that it can be read. Read the instructions carefully to see if certain file types are specified. You may be able to use .pdf as well, but steer clear of image files like .jpg or .png. When in doubt, stick with a Word document.

Keyword Tips to Improve Your Resume

In addition to formatting your resume correctly, you want to ensure you’re using the right keywords. But how do you know what employers are looking for?

  • Review the job opening.

The description that the company put together is likely what the hiring manager will be basing their search on. Take the time to read through it carefully and highlight words that appear most frequently or target specific skills. These are keywords that you will want to incorporate into your resume.

  • Use exact keyword matches.

This is not the time to get creative. If the job posting says “Executive Assistant,” include executive assistant in your headline, not administrative assistant. Or, if it asks for skills such as data analysis, project management, expense reporting, or conflict resolution, that is exactly how those keywords should appear in your resume.

If you are including words that have common acronyms, use both the long-tail version and the shortened version. For example, one sentence might say “key performance indicators” and another might simply say “KPIs.” That way, regardless of which term a recruiter searches for, your resume will match.

  • Create a core competencies section.

This is a small section at the top of your resume specifically for keywords and phrases. Choose 12-15 words that align with both your strengths and the skills that the job opening highlights. One way to maximize impact is to incorporate both soft and hard skills. Your resume may demonstrate your leadership abilities or effectiveness in solving problems, but you can use “Team Leadership” or “Problem Solving” in your competencies, along with job-specific capabilities like data analysis, accounting, Six Sigma, or Java. As you apply for different roles, you should tailor this section accordingly.

Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems and Enhance Your Job Search

Take the time to update your resume and ensure that is properly optimized for ATS, focusing on both keywords and formatting. Not sure where to start or not getting the results you were hoping for? Turn to the team at Grammar Chic for all of your resume writing needs. Contact us at (803) 831-7444 or resumewriting@grammarchic.net to get started and learn more about how to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems as you apply for different roles.