These 5 Resume Formatting Tips Help You Beat the ATS

Applicant trackingMany job seekers understand they need to use targeted keywords in their resume to be chosen for consideration by an applicant tracking system (ATS). Fewer, though, are aware of the importance of their formatting choices.

Specifically, which formats work best so your resume sails past the ATS, and into the recruiter’s hands?

To help your resume do just that, follow these five resume formatting tips:

Skip Tables and Columns

Entering skills into a table to make a Skills section look uniform is a fairly common resume practice, but it’s one that backfires in this case. An ATS parses the information in a resume and enters the relevant information into the corresponding fields in its database. Because an ATS doesn’t necessarily scan a resume in the same order that a human would, the presence of columns can throw everything into disarray.

Don’t Use Graphics

In many cases, even one graphic is enough to trip up an ATS so that it can’t read a resume. While it’s widely known that resumes should not contain photographs, other types of graphics are more easily overlooked. In resume templates, it is increasingly common to see icons in the contact information section indicating phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses.

If using a resume template, choose one without these. And don’t forget to actually spell out “phone,” “email,” and “address” in front of the corresponding information so the ATS can easily recognize it.

Stick to Standard Typefaces and Characters

Straightforward and simple resume format choices are the best bet when considering applicant tracking systems. This includes typefaces such as Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, and Verdana. Standard bullet points may look, well, standard—but they present no problem for applicant tracking systems, while many special characters and symbols do. This even includes accented letters.

Bonus tip: Non-standard spacing (adding extra spaces after letters, for example) can also throw off applicant tracking systems.

Consider the File Type

PDFs have the benefit of preserving a document’s original formatting, making them a common choice for resumes, but they can’t be read by most applicant tracking systems. The best options are .doc or .docx file types (that is, Word documents). Some, but not all, applicant tracking systems can read .rtf and .txt files.

Don’t Try to Game the System

The importance of keywords to applicant tracking systems means that there are some commonalities with search engine optimization—including the fact that some people inevitably try to get quick results using shortcuts. Enough people have tried to trick applicant tracking systems by including long strings of keywords in white text (visible to the ATS, but almost certain to go unseen by a human reader) that some have started penalizing candidates for doing this.

Bonus Tips:

  • When applying for a job online, fill out every field—even those marked “optional.” The more information given to the ATS, the more chances it has to deem an application a good match.
  • Submitting a cover letter may not be required, but hiring managers might choose to only review the applications of those who did submit cover letters. Applicant tracking systems can scan cover letters just like resumes, making the cover letter another opportunity to be seen as a match for the role.

With hundreds of applications per position, hiring managers have to find some way to trim the pool of candidates to a reasonable number. The ATS systems in place may not be perfect, but it is the tool of choice — and how the game is played. So you need to play to win!

Use these tips when formatting the next version of your resume, and sail past the ATS.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at JobScan Blog!




Trista WhiteAbout the Author: Trista Winnie has been writing and editing professionally for nearly a decade, primarily covering investing, engineering, and health. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University and her master’s degree from Gonzaga University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and sports.



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