Creating an ATS-friendly resume is a highly effective way to increase your interview chances and shift the job search odds more in your favor. In this article, we’re talking about how to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems (ATS) by including job-specific keywords and using a parsable format.

What is an applicant tracking system?

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a human resources software that allows employers to organize large numbers of applicant resumes. Recruiters and hiring managers can search their ATS by keyword to discover well-matched applicants. You can improve your chances of grabbing a recruiter’s attention by optimizing your resume keywords and ensuring your resume sections are easily identified by the ATS.

The most important element of an ATS resume: keyword optimization

Optimizing the keywords on your resume is essential to creating a resume that doesn’t slip through the cracks.

ATS analyze the content of your resume to allow recruiters to search for keywords. Some ATS even automatically rate your resume based on how well your content matches the job description. These are two ways that recruiters can cherry pick candidates without looking through every single resume.

Accurately predicting which words the recruiter will type into the search bar is one of the best ways to get noticed in an ATS. Recruiters are likely to search for:

  • Job titles, like software engineer, administrative assistant, or distribution coordinator
  • Hard skills, like marketing, customer service, editing, or Microsoft Excel

The best indicator of which words they’ll search is the job description. Include the job title in your resume headline if possible. Then notice which hard skills—learned skills based on experience and training—appear early or multiple times in the job description, as seen below with the term “marketing.”

hard skills in job listing
Prioritize skills that are used multiple times in the job description.

◊ Jobscan Tip: Career coaches used to print out the job description then use a highlighter to isolate the most important skills, kind of like the example above. Jobscan automates this process by instantly returning a curated list of skills after analyzing your resume and job description.

Tailor your resume to the job description

Including the right search terms is only half the keyword battle. Some ATS automatically compare the entirety of your resume content to the job description. Recruiters can then sort applicants based on how well they “match” the job description. If your resume doesn’t have a high match rate, the recruiter might not consider you for the role.

ATS resume: Taleo's applicant rankings, or Req Rank.
The ATS Taleo can compare your resume to the job description and assign a match rate, known as “Req Rank.”

To increase your ranking in these ATS, match any and all applicable titles, skills, and other keywords found in the job description. They key word is “applicable.” Don’t lie!

◊ Jobscan Tip: When you test your ATS resume with Jobscan, you can see how well your resume “matches” the job description along with a complete listing of missing keywords. The higher the match rate, the better your chances.

ATS resume formatting for easy parsing

The way you design your resume can also have an effect on how ATS interact with it. Many top ATS strip out as much formatting as possible in order to analyze and parse the plain text. This helps with the searches and rankings mentioned above, but also allows some ATS to import your resume content into a uniform candidate profile.

How accurately your ATS resume is analyzed and parsed will depend on some of your formatting choices. In short, keep formatting simple.

◊ Jobscan Tip: Your resume can still look sharp and professional while remaining ATS compliant. Check out these free ATS-friendly resume templates customized for each stage of your career.

Use standard headings

When an ATS like iCIMS tries to import your information into a digital applicant profile, it looks for specific headings and formatting structures. Use straight-forward headings to clearly label your work experience. For example:

  • Work History
  • Work Experience
  • Experience
  • Professional History
  • Professional Experience

Getting creative and veering away from these norms could cause a parsing problem for your ATS resume. The same goes for your education section and other common resume sections.

Avoid tables, columns, headers, and footers

Using tables and columns are a great way to help organize your resume and get the most use out of your space, especially if you’re trying to fit everyone on a single page. Headers and footers also help save space, and provide a seemingly logical place to keep your name and contact information.

Unfortunately, when an ATS strips out the formatting of your resume, these features might cause errors that can result in critical information getting garbled. An ATS text parser might end up reading table content out of order and losing header information in certain file formats.

◊ Jobscan Tip:  It’s more than just resume keywords. Jobscan now helps you create the perfect ATS resume with premium checks for the formatting issues above in addition to checks for work experience formatting, fonts, margins, and more.

Tailoring your resume with the right keywords and creating a simple, parseable format are the most important steps to beating beating ATS. An optimized ATS resume keeps your application in play longer and increases your interview chances.

Find out if your resume is ATS-ready

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