How To Write an ATS-Compliant Resume (With Tips and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 14, 2022

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Companies that receive many applications from prospective candidates typically invest in an applicant tracking system (ATS) to streamline the hiring process. This software enables recruiters and hiring managers to sort job applications and create a shortlist of the candidates who best match the role. Understanding how to create an ATS-compliant resume can increase your chances of receiving an invitation to interview. In this article, we describe what an ATS-compliant resume is, explain how an ATS works, explore how to write a resume that is ATS-compliant and offer tips, and review answers to frequently asked questions about the topic.

What is an ATS-compliant resume?

An ATS-compliant resume is one that meets ATS criteria input by the employer to pass to the next stage of the hiring process. These requirements typically include the use of certain keywords, skills, and the use of appropriate fonts. Companies use an applicant tracking system to help human resource staff complete the initial screening of applicants. When your resume is ATS-compliant, it increases your chances of receiving an invitation to interview.

How do applicant tracking systems work?

Applicant tracking systems typically help organizations in the hiring process by collecting incoming resumes, grouping them, and ranking them according to the employer's specifications. Typically, employers use job titles, certifications, action verbs, and relevant skills for their applicant tracking system programming. Only resumes that meet the set criteria progress to the next stage of the hiring process.

While the applicant tracking systems can save time for those working in HR, they may disqualify suitable candidates if their resume does not meet ATS criteria. As a job seeker, creating a resume that is ATS-compliant can significantly help your chances of getting hired.

Related: How To Write the Best Resume Header

How to write a resume that is ATS-compliant

Here are eight steps to follow if you are interested in writing an applicant-tracking-system-compliant resume:

1. Understand the job posting

The first step in creating a resume is to understand the job posting. Employers looking to fill an open position typically state what kind of candidate they're looking to hire. Review how the recruiter describes particular duties and required skills to assess how you are suitable for the role.

2. Highlight the keywords

Most applicant tracking systems work by rating how a candidate matches the required skills and attributes of the job posting. You can review the job posting for the keywords or predict which keywords the employer is likely to use for their shortlist. To increase the chances of your resume getting selected by the ATS, highlight and rank keywords in the job description in order of importance. For instance, if the job posting emphasizes communication skills or marketing experience, be sure to include these keywords strategically in your resume.

3. Use standard headings

An applicant tracking system typically works by importing information from the resume to create profiles for candidates. This works best if you use standard resume headings, such as:

  • Work experience

  • Skills

  • Educational background

  • Professional history

  • Contact information

  • Certifications

Including unusual headings in your resume may challenge the applicant tracking system and cause it to overlook or disqualify your application. Include the job title you want in the resume headline to increase your chances of getting passing the initial screening.

Related: 170 Job Titles for Your Resume

4. Customize your resume

Once you have understood the requirements of the job posting and identified keywords, you can begin customizing your resume. Match your skills and experience with the job posting requirements and keywords. If your resume lacks a substantial match rate, the ATS may disqualify your application.

Read more: 7 Steps for Creating a Resume as a Student

5. Use simple formatting

Use simple formatting in your resume to increase the chances of ATS qualification. Avoid tables and columns that may distort the information on your resume during importation. A simple format ensures all the relevant information in your resume remains formatted and readable.

6. Create multiple resumes

When you're applying for the same position with different employers, you need to create different resumes because employers have different criteria for selecting candidates. For instance, an employer looking to fill a position for a project manager might rank conflict resolution skills higher than technical skills. Customizing different versions of your resume allows you to target your application for every employer.

Related: Why Creating Multiple Versions of Your Resume Works

7. Test your resume for ATS compliance

When your resume is ready, test it for ATS compliance before sending it to the prospective employer. Various online tools can help test your resume. Analyze your document and make the necessary adjustments until you achieve a high keyword match rate. Alternatively, you can use a simpler method by following these steps:

  • Copy the resume content

  • Paste the content into a plain-text document

  • Review the results for organization

If some details are missing in the plain text copy or if the document looks disorganized, the resume is likely not ATS-compliant. If so, revise and repeat the process until the plain-text version appears as it does in the original resume.

8. Proofread and send

After crafting an ATS-friendly resume, you can proofread it for grammatical errors. Alternatively, you can ask a friend or family member to proofread it for you. This prepares it for an in-depth review after passing the applicant tracking system screening and can help show that you have attention to detail to the employer.

Related: A Guide To Writing a Resume Summary With Samples

Tips for creating a resume that is ATS-compliant

Here are tips you can use to ensure your resume is ATS-compliant:

Use the right file format

While PDF files are good at preserving the format of your resume, they may be incompatible with some applicant tracking systems. If the job description lists PDF among the acceptable file types, you can consider using it. If the job description doesn't request a specific file type, use a simple word processing file document, as these are typically more compatible with tracking systems.

Avoid details in the header or footer

Some applicant tracking systems are unable to identify information written in the header and footer sections of the resume. This affects your chances of qualifying for the shortlist. Place important information in the core portion of your document where the ATS system can identify it. Including key details in your resume summary is also essential, so that hiring managers or prospective employers can read it quickly if the organization uses a manual review system.

Use simple bullet points

Using bullet points is an excellent way of highlighting your strengths in a resume as they are easily scannable by both people and an ATS. When using bullets in your resume, opt for simple bullet options such as solid circle or square. This enhances your resumes' compatibility with an ATS, and makes it easier for people to review if the system shortlists your resume.

Avoid acronyms

Acronyms can pose problems to some applicant tracking systems. It is advisable to spell a word and add the acronym in parentheses. For instance, a B. Com degree can be re-written as Bachelor of Commerce (B. Com).

Apply to jobs you are qualified to fill

When a company has several openings, apply for the role you're best qualified to fill. The applicant tracking system allows the recruiter to see all the positions you have applied for in their organization. Recruiters will see that you know that you have chosen the position you are qualified for when you only apply to one posting.

Use professional fonts

Use professional fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, and Cambria to help make your resume ATS-compliant. Unusual fonts cause the ATS to experience problems sorting and importing the information on your resume. Bolding, italicizing, or underlining text rarely affect your resume's ATS compliance.

Read more: Guidelines for Writing a Resume for a Part-Time Job

Frequently asked questions about ATS

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about applicant tracking systems:

Is the applicant tracking system always accurate?

As with any technology, applicant tracking systems may be prone to errors. For instance, if the recruiter sets strict keyword criteria, the system may miss qualified resumes. Paying attention to detail and optimizing your resume for keywords reduces this risk.

Is there harm in over-optimizing the resume?

While it is advisable to reference the employers' keywords, overusing them may lead to stuffing, making the resume look unprofessional. The recruiter may also interpret the stuffing as an attempt to trick the system. Including keywords naturally throughout your resume typically achieves a good match rate.

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