How To Write a Applicant Tracking System Resume

It happens to all of us: You find the perfect job opportunity, customize your resume and cover letter, apply online, and pray it passes the infamous six-second resume review test. The majority of the time, your job application disappears into the resume “black hole,” and you wonder why you didn’t get the interview.

Many job seekers don’t realize that 75 percent of their applications are rejected before human eyes even see them. An applicant tracking system often needs to review your resume before reaching an actual person.

You’ll find everything you need to know about applicant tracking system resume below, including best practices for optimizing your resume and beating the bots.

What is an applicant tracking system?

Employers utilize application tracking systems to collect, sort, scan, and rank job applications during the hiring process.

Originally, applicant tracking systems were developed for large companies, with several thousand applications arriving weekly. Over 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies use ATS software to streamline their recruitment process. As a result, what began as a recruitment solution for large companies has become a standard tool for companies of all sizes.

Application tracking systems (ATS): What and how do they work?

For employers and hiring managers, applicant tracking systems act as electronic gatekeepers. A job application is parsed into categories and then scanned for keywords based on the resume’s content to determine if it should be forwarded to a recruiter. In essence, the purpose of the screening process is to eliminate unqualified candidates so that recruiters can focus on hiring those who will be best suited to the job. It is, therefore, more likely for the ATS to toss out the least-qualified candidates rather than identify the applicants who are most likely to succeed.

This can lead to a qualified candidate being overlooked if they do not have a resume template written and formatted for the applicant tracking system.

What you need to know when writing an ATS-friendly resume

An ATS-friendly resume adheres to a few key elements, which we  determined by analyzing 1,000 resumes from professionals with at least eight years of experience across the country. The results revealed the most common resume mistakes that will result in application rejection. 

Follow these tips to write and use an ATS-optimized resume if you want to make sure your resume fits into an applicant tracking system.

Headers and footers should not contain important details.

Several applicant tracking systems have difficulty reading and parsing information in Word documents’ header and footer sections. We found that 25% of the time, the ATS could not identify a portion of the job seeker’s contact information. Ensure that important contact details (such as your name, phone number, or email address) are not included in your resume’s header or footer. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

Make sure your resume is the right file type.

PDFs are not the most ATS-friendly file type, despite popular belief. The PDF format is the best for preserving the design and format of resumes. However, not all ATS programs are compatible with PDF files case a system asks you to upload your resume, and “PDF” is listed among the file types, do not hesitate to send a PDF version.

In any case, if the system does not specify which file types are compatible, you are better off sticking with a Word file in the .docx or .doc format, which are more suited for resumes but limit the formatting options.

It’s a good idea to use a Word document instead of a plain-text file for your resume file type since the best resume templates are designed with two audiences in mind – the robots pre-screening your application and the HR personnel that will read your resume content. Thus, a recruiter or hiring manager will have more creative freedom to write a resume to appeal to them.

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Make sure your resume is keyword-optimized

Optimizing your resume with the right keywords (a.k.a. keyword optimization) is one of the best ways to ensure your resume is compatible with an ATS. The difference between a buzzword and a keyword is that keywords refer to the soft and hard skills you possess and the expertise you have acquired over the years that qualify you for your target job.

If you’re unsure which resume keywords to use, collect three to five job descriptions that indicate the type of position you’re seeking.

Once you have copied and pasted the job description into the tool, identify the terms most often used throughout the description using Text Analyzer. Incorporate these terms into your resume if they pertain to your skills or qualifications.

When it comes to creating an ATS-optimized resume, you should pay attention to the frequency and the placement of keywords throughout it. The strength of your skills can be determined by the number of times a term appears in your resume (add the phrase two to three times throughout your resume), while other applicant tracking systems (ATS) assign an estimated level of experience to certain skills based on their placement within the resume.

You’ll want to optimize your resume with both ATS systems in mind if you want to make your resume truly compatible with them.

Optimally, it would help if you began by listing your hard skills and soft skills in a section titled “Core Competencies” or “Areas of Expertise” on your resume professional summary.

Consider including both abbreviations for your proficiencies. For example, “SEO” is a common abbreviation for “search engine optimization.” Depending on the context, you may want to insert those same terms in the “Education” or “Work Experience” sections to demonstrate where you leveraged that ability.

According to some applicant tracking systems, the length of experience associated with a skill is calculated based on the time held in the post where that skill was utilized. For example, suppose you served as an SEO manager at your previous company for five years and mentioned that you handled SEO for the company. In that case, the ATS will assume that you have five years worth of SEO experience.

In cases where a specific skill is listed separately – such as in a summary of qualifications or a section of core competencies – the ATS will assign six months’ experience to that skill. In addition to a skill section at the top of the resume template, it is important to reiterate your skills throughout your whole resume. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

Graphics, images, and charts should be avoided.

The applicant tracking system (ATS) will lose the information you provide in a cool graphic on your resume. Embedded images may look nice to the human eye, but after they pass through the applicant tracking system, they are a garbled mess or omitted.

In such an instance, the ATS will not read an image or chart that shows your key skills. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

Organize your resume in a clear hierarchy and use a clean design

Less is more when it comes to your resume template design. In addition to being confusing for applicant tracking systems, complex resume designs annoy recruiters who are used to scanning a resume for the specific information they expect to find in specific sections.This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

Keep it simple by using bullet points.

Bullet points are an excellent way to highlight accomplishments and qualifications on a resume. However, your important selling points could be lost if you choose elaborate symbols for your bullets.

If you want your bullet points to enhance your resume, rather than making it unreadable by an ATS, use a solid circle, an open circle, or a square. Do not use complex characters if you’re creating a bulleted list on your resume.

The best way to create an friendly applicant tracking system resume

How To Write a Applicant Tracking System resumeHow To Write a Applicant Tracking System resume

If you want your resume to pass the ATS, stick to a standard resume format, such as a hybrid resume.

At the top of the document, this resume format includes a professional summary highlighting your skills and qualifications and a chronological work history explaining how you’ve applied these to achieve results for your employers.

Since applicant tracking systems rely on chronological data to parse your resume, they can better read and interpret a hybrid format.

As a result, you should avoid a functional resume format at all costs – which places a greater emphasis on your abilities rather than chronological work history. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

A guide to running ATS-resume tests for compliance

A resume can be determined whether it is compatible with an applicant tracking system (ATS) in two simple ways.

Get a free ATS scan for your resume.

This portion of the free resume review shows you exactly what information an ATS will pull from your resume what information it will not be able to identify and retrieve (such as your name, contact information, most recent job title, and most recent employer), and for which top skills and keywords your resume is currently ranked.

Your resume will need to be further optimized before it passes the ATS compatibility test if the ATS cannot identify this information or assumes you are qualified for a job when you aren’t. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume. 

Your resume should be converted to plain text.

Please make a copy of your resume, paste it into a plain-text document, and review your results. The plain-text version of your resume may be missing details, contain incorrectly saved characters, or appear disorganized (e.g., the title of the education section appears halfway down the resume).

Your resume will need to be edited for compliance with an ATS when this occurs. This is key in writing an applicant tracking system resume.

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