Resumes are important. This isn’t a controversial statement. However, determining how to craft one successfully is slightly murkier territory — especially considering that the conventions and challenges associated with this task change over time. The latest and greatest of these challenges is applicant tracking systems (ATSs).
According to one study, about 75% of recruiters utilize ATS software, allowing them to significantly speed up the resume appraisal process.
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What Is ATS?
ATS software scans resumes for information. Based on keywords and other factors, the ATS will either discard the resume or automatically pass it on to the recruiter. This is obviously a serious hurdle for the modern-day job seeker.
The primary issues that one should consider when trying to get a resume past an ATS are the keywords and the formatting. Which keywords will work best depends on the specific job, but there are still some relatively static rules to follow when it comes to creating an ATS-friendly format. In fact, some websites offer resume checkers designed to determine whether a resume is likely to be approved by such software.
ATS Resume Template Format
The prospect of a machine discarding resumes before they can even reach the employer might seem frightening, but refrain from spending money on a template. There are many free templates out there that work very well. However, it is best to choose one that is compatible with Microsoft Word, because most ATS software is designed to read Word-formatted documents. There are a few other great general practices to stick to as well.
Contact Information Section
ATS software often has difficulty reading information found in headers and footers, so it’s important not to put any contact information in this area. This may result in a resume being immediately rejected. Contact information should be left-justified in the main body of the document, and each individual piece of information should be presented on a new line.
Each heading should be bolded and capitalized. There should also be very clear separation between headings and further details. This makes the document easier to parse.
Stick to standard headings that the system will more likely be familiar with. Some good examples are: “profile,” “summary,” “skills,” “work experience,” “internships,” and “education.” Choosing satisfactory headings is not an exact science, but information found in the job posting can provide good guidelines. For example, if a certain level of education is recommended for the position, “Education” should be a section of the resume.
Clean and Simple Copy
To beat an ATS, a resume should be as simple and direct as possible without sacrificing important information and keywords. Do not use graphics, charts, tables, logos, unusual symbols, borders, images, or shading. These may not be readable by ATS software. Any pictures important enough to include should be placed in the header, since the ATS likely won’t understand it anyway. Using that strategy, the image would be visible to the human recruiter without tripping up the ATS.
Job Titles, Company Names, and Education
In some cases, ATS software could be looking for either an acronym or the full form of a phrase. Therefore, both should be used (e.g. “emergency medical services” and “EMS”). This is often pertinent to job titles and educational achievements. It is also helpful to use full job titles and company names, including corporate designations like LLC.
Bullet points are great in a resume. However, to pass the ATS, they should be simple, round, bolded bullets.
Sans serif fonts should be used for digital documents. Common sans serif fonts include Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, and Calibri. Additionally, it is not a problem for an ATS to scan colored font, but a human recruiter may consider it unprofessional.
Not a Curriculum Vitae (CV)
Although some use the terms interchangeably, resumes and CVs are different documents. A CV is essentially a long-form resume. If the employer is asking for a resume, don’t give them a CV.
ATS Resume Template Resources
There are three common types of resumes: chronological, functional, and combination. Chronological resumes utilize the most traditional format. This style is focused on providing an employment history in reverse-chronological order. However, a chronological resume is unhelpful to someone who is, for example, looking to enter a new career path. A recitation of one’s experience in the food service industry is not very helpful when interviewing for a job in marine biology.
In such a situation, a functional resume would be a better option. Functional resumes focus on the knowledge and skills of the job seeker, rather than work experience. Based on the previous example, the job seeker might spotlight their degree in marine biology, their internships, and their applicable skills.
Many employers prefer chronological resumes over functional resumes because they are easier to skim through, and they show more concrete experience. Choosing a combination resume format can reconcile those issues. A combination resume details relevant skills and knowledge, while also providing some concrete work history. This allows the candidate to highlight expertise relevant to the job while also reassuring the prospective employer about their reliability in a work environment.
ATS-friendly templates of all three versions are readily available for free online, as well as on popular word-processing software.
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