Written by Sophia RaySophia Ray

Building an ATS-friendly resume

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a software application that helps employers manage the recruitment process by sorting, scanning, and ranking job applications based on specific criteria. They are mainly used by HR departments to streamline the hiring process and identify qualified candidates efficiently. These systems can also automate communication with applicants and track the progress of each application through the various stages of recruitment.

To build an effective ATS-friendly resume, you need to use a clean, minimalist design. Avoid fancy graphics, headers, footers, and multiple columns, as these elements can confuse the scanning software. Stick to standard fonts like Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial, or Georgia to ensure your resume is machine-readable.

You'll also want to include relevant keywords from the job description. This helps the ATS match your resume to the job listing, increasing the likelihood of your resume being moved forward to a human recruiter. By optimizing your resume with these key elements, you make it easier for the ATS to recognize your qualifications and experience, getting you one step closer to your career goals.

Expert Tip

When optimizing your resume for ATS, ensure keywords are strategically placed throughout the document to align with the job posting. Tailoring your content to match the specific requirements can enhance your chances of passing the initial screening process efficiently.

Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems

When applying for jobs, your resume is often first seen by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before reaching human recruiters. Knowing how these systems function and their role in the hiring process can improve your chances of getting noticed.

How ATS Works

Applicant Tracking Systems are software applications used by recruiters and hiring companies to streamline the recruitment process.

They automatically scan and sort resumes based on specific criteria such as keywords, job titles, and relevant experience.

Key Components:

  • Keyword Matching: The ATS searches for keywords that match the job description.

  • Resume Parsing: Extracts information from your resume into a structured format.

  • Ranking Algorithms: Scores resumes for relevance to the job posting.

By understanding these key components, you can tailor your resume to be ATS-friendly and increase your chances of passing the initial screening.

Importance of ATS in Hiring

ATS systems have become a fundamental tool in modern recruitment because they save time and improve efficiency.

  • Volume Handling: ATS can process a large volume of resumes quickly, allowing recruiters to focus on the most relevant candidates.

  • Consistency: Ensures that every resume is evaluated based on the same criteria, reducing biases.

  • Data Management: Helps in organizing and storing applicant information for future reference.

Using ATS benefits both employers and job seekers by making the recruitment process quicker and more streamlined. Knowing how ATS operates can help you craft a resume that aligns with what these systems are designed to find, improving your chances of being considered for the job.

Key Components of an ATS-Friendly Resume

Understanding how to build an ATS-friendly resume can significantly increase your chances of getting noticed by hiring managers. This involves careful formatting, keyword optimization, and the inclusion of essential resume sections with clear titles.

ATS-Friendly Formatting

A clean and simple format is essential to ensure your resume can be easily scanned by ATS software. Use a reverse chronological layout with your most recent experience listed first. Avoid using headers, footers, multiple columns, charts, images, or other graphics that an ATS cannot read.

Stick to standard fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri. Use consistent font sizes and bulleted lists to improve readability. Save your resume as a .docx or .pdf file to maintain your formatting across different ATS platforms.

Optimizing the Resume for Keywords

Incorporate specific keywords from the job description to align your resume with the employer's requirements. Keywords might include job titles, essential skills, or industry-specific terms. Use these terms naturally throughout your resume, especially in your skills section, job descriptions, and summary.

Avoid keyword stuffing, as this can make your resume hard to read and be seen as a red flag by hiring managers. Instead, focus on demonstrating your experience and skills that match the job listing.

Relevant Sections and Titles

Organize your resume to mirror the typical sections an ATS looks for. These include a header with your name and contact information, a professional summary, work experience, education, and skills. Clearly label each section with standard titles like "Work Experience" or "Education."

Use bullet points to detail your responsibilities and achievements in the work experience section. This helps ATS parse your information accurately. Tailor each section to the job you’re applying for to highlight your most relevant qualifications and experiences.

Designing Your Resume for ATS

Designing your resume to be ATS-friendly requires careful attention to template choice and formatting. Focus on selecting a template that aligns with ATS requirements and use proper fonts and margins to ensure readability.

Choosing the Right Template

An effective ATS-friendly resume template utilizes minimalistic design principles. Avoid intricate graphics and elaborate layouts, as they can confuse the software. Instead, opt for templates with simple, clean structures.

Professional resume templates often come pre-formatted for ATS compatibility. These ensure that key sections like work experience, education, and skills are clearly defined.

Using PDF or Word document (.docx) formats is essential. ATS software can sometimes misread fancy styling or unusual formats. Free ATS resume templates are readily available and can save you time while ensuring compliance.

Font and Margin Guidelines

Choosing the right resume fonts significantly impacts ATS processing. Stick to common, easy-to-read fonts such as Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial, or Georgia. These fonts are universally recognized and avoid potential compatibility issues.

Margins play a role in making your resume look orderly. Maintain margins between 0.5 and 1 inch to ensure a clean, readable layout. Narrow margins might cram information, while too wide a margin wastes valuable space.

Use font sizes between 10 and 12 points for the main text. Headers can be slightly larger, around 14 to 16 points, to distinguish sections clearly. Keep your formatting consistent to guide the ATS in parsing your resume correctly.

Including Correct Information

When building an ATS-friendly resume, ensuring that your information is both accurate and clearly presented is crucial. Focus on providing essential details in each section to maximize your chances of passing through the applicant tracking system.

Contact Information

Your contact information should be placed at the top of your resume and should include your full name, phone number, email address, and location (city and state). Make sure this section stands out while keeping it simple.

  • Full Name: Use the name you prefer for professional purposes.

  • Phone Number: Ensure it's a mobile number that you frequently check.

  • Email Address: Use a professional email address, preferably one that includes your name.

  • Location: City and state are usually sufficient unless applying for a job that specifies otherwise.

Incorporate a link to your LinkedIn profile if it's complete and up-to-date. Avoid including unnecessary information like multiple phone numbers or addresses.

Work Experience and Achievements

This section should include your job titles, companies, locations, and dates of employment. Detail your work experience by listing your roles in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent job.

For each job, include:

  • Job Title

  • Company Name

  • Location (City, State)

  • Dates Employed (Month, Year - Month, Year)

Focus on achievements and responsibilities. Use bullet points to list contributions and accomplishments, quantifying them when possible. For instance, "Increased sales by 20% over six months" is more impactful than "Responsible for increasing sales."

Education and Certifications

Clearly outline your educational background and any relevant certifications. Start with your highest level of education and list them in reverse chronological order.


  • Degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science in Marketing)

  • Institution Name

  • Location (City, State)

  • Graduation Year

For certifications, list:

  • Certification Title

  • Issuing Organization

  • Issue Date (and expiration date if applicable)

Only include certifications relevant to the job you're applying for. Avoid adding outdated or irrelevant educational information that doesn't contribute to your application.

By clearly presenting your contact information, work experience, and education details, you can increase your chances of making a strong impression on both applicant tracking systems and potential employers.

Highlighting Skills and Abilities

To make your resume stand out to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), it's crucial to effectively highlight your skills and abilities. This involves identifying job-relevant skills and balancing between soft and hard skills to ensure you meet the job's requirements.

Identifying Job Relevant Skills

Begin by reviewing the job posting carefully. Job descriptions usually contain vital keywords that ATS systems scan for, so it's essential to match your skills to these requirements. Look for specific keywords related to the job role, such as "project management," "data analysis," or "customer service."

Make a list of these keywords and compare them to your current skills. Ensure that your skills section prominently features these terms. Avoid using uncommon jargon or overly complex terminology. Clear, standard language is more likely to be recognized by the ATS.

Balancing Soft and Hard Skills

While hard skills like technical abilities and certifications are important, don't neglect soft skills. Skills such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving are valued by employers and should be included in the skills section of your resume.

Create a balanced list of both hard and soft skills. For example:

  • Hard Skills: Programming languages (Python, Java), CRM software proficiency, financial analysis

  • Soft Skills: Team collaboration, critical thinking, adaptability

By showing a mix of both, you demonstrate a well-rounded capability to employers and improve your chances of passing through ATS filters. Remember to show, not just tell; include examples of how you've applied these skills in your professional experience.

Tailoring Your Resume for the Job

When you're applying for a job, tailoring your resume to match the job requirements is crucial. This involves analyzing job descriptions and matching your skills and experiences to the specific role.

Analyzing Job Descriptions

Start by carefully reading the job description. Look for key requirements, such as specific skills, experiences, and qualifications that the employer is seeking.

Make a list of these requirements and highlight the most critical ones. Pay close attention to the job posting's language and use similar terms in your resume.

Incorporate keywords from the job description to increase the chances of your resume getting noticed by applicant tracking systems (ATS). These systems scan for relevant terms, and using the right keywords can help your resume pass through this initial screening process.

Matching Skills and Requirements

Identify the skills and experiences that align with the job requirements. Tailor each section of your resume, including the Professional Experience, Education, and Skills sections, to emphasize these relevant points.

Use bullet points to list your responsibilities and achievements in previous roles. Ensure that these bullet points highlight your skills and experiences that match the job posting.

For example, if the job description emphasizes project management, include specific instances where you managed projects successfully. This concrete evidence can show recruiters that you are a strong fit for the role.

By carefully aligning your resume with the job description, you increase your chances of landing job interviews and moving forward in your job search.

Supplementary Elements

Including additional documents and digital profiles can significantly strengthen your application, enhancing your chances of passing ATS and catching the hiring manager's eye.

Cover Letters

A cover letter is an essential part of your job application, offering a chance to highlight your suitability for the role. Ensure it is tailored to the specific job, addressing key skills mentioned in the job description.

Use a clean and simple layout to avoid confusion for ATS software. Avoid images or tables, which can disrupt the parsing process. Incorporate relevant keywords naturally, making sure they align with those in your resume. Hyperlinked text directing to your online profiles or portfolio can be useful, but ensure the hyperlinks are not broken.

Online Profiles and Portfolios

Your online profiles and portfolios extend your resume, showcasing a broader range of your work and accomplishments. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, reflecting the same information you have on your resume. Include links to your LinkedIn profile, personal website, or online portfolio in your resume header.

Avoid large files or complicated graphic elements that might not be ATS-friendly. Present your work samples in an accessible format—simple PDFs or links to online portfolios work well. Make sure the links are clickable and the content is easily navigable.

By integrating these elements seamlessly, you boost your odds of making a substantial impression on potential employers.

Review and Optimize

A meticulous review of your resume ensures it is both error-free and fully optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Utilizing tools for proofreading and ATS scanning can significantly enhance your resume's performance.

Proofreading and Error Checking

Errors in your resume can undermine your credibility. Use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to catch grammatical mistakes and improve readability.

Enlist a trusted friend or professional to review your resume. It’s easy to overlook your own errors, so another pair of eyes can be invaluable.

Look for common errors such as inconsistent dates, punctuation mistakes, and typos. Make sure all sections are clearly labeled.

Bulleted lists can aid readability. Double-check that your contact information is up-to-date and accurate.