There are a number of considerations to weigh before deciding on a resume format and template, like your field or industry, depth of work experience, and skill set. Today, job seekers also need their resumes to be compatible with applicant tracking systems (ATS). An ATS resume template can be the difference between getting noticed and slipping through the cracks.
Why you need an ATS-friendly resume
An expertly written resume complete with a sleek design and optimized resume keywords could still fall short if the formatting isn’t ATS compliant.
When you upload your resume into an ATS as part of your job application, the ATS then parses out the text of your resume to make it searchable for a recruiter or import the information into a digital candidate profile. If an ATS can’t accurately parse your resume, your chances of getting picked for an interview are low– even if you’re perfectly qualified.
That’s because your resume content is garbled or your candidate profile is incomplete based on poor formatting. And if your profile doesn’t reflect that you’re a strong match for the job, you won’t rank as a viable candidate.
How to write an ATS-friendly resume
There are a number of factors that go into the optimal ATS resume template or format. For example, many ATS don’t know how to handle tables or images. Correctly sequencing your work experience information increases parsing accuracy; docx and pdf file types work better than others.
Our team at Jobscan has conducted first-hand research and reverse-engineered dozens of applicant tracking systems, from the biggest companies in the business (like Taleo) to the up-and-comers (like Greenhouse) to learn exactly what works and what doesn’t.
7 ATS resume formatting tips
1. Use long-form and acronym versions of keywords.
Recruiters and hiring managers may search by keywords when looking for candidates. Some ATS will only return exact keyword match results, which means that if you included the term “Search Engine Optimization” without its acronym counterpart, your profile may not appear in a recruiter’s search for the term “SEO.”
2. Use a chronological or hybrid resume format.
Formats that deemphasize work history, like the functional resume format, don’t work well for applicant tracking systems that count on more traditional reverse-chronological formatting to understand an applicant’s experience. Recruiters are also most familiar with chronological and hybrid resume formats.
3. Don’t use tables or columns.
Even though tables and columns can improve readability for human readers, they may cause parsing errors in the ATS.
4. Use a screen-friendly, traditional Font.
For readability, it’s best to use a traditional serif or sans serif font. Some ATS will automatically change unfamiliar fonts which can alter the design of your resume.
5. Don’t use headers or footers.
The information in headers and footers may get lost or cause parsing errors inside and ATS.
6. Use standard resume section headings.
Section headers like “Where I’ve Been” in place of “Work Experience” may confuse applicant tracking systems, causing them to organize information incorrectly.
7. Save your file as a .docx or PDF if possible
A docx file or .pdf file is most compatible with ATS. Some people prefer PDFs because their formatting cannot be broken in this format.
Free ATS resume templates
Through this testing and research, we’ve discovered which resume formatting breeze through ATS and which can cause candidates to hit a snag. Based on that knowledge, we have created 20 resume templates that are ATS compatible. Each ATS resume template is already formatted. All you have to do is customize them with your own information.
Access the 20 ATS-friendly resume templates here
In order to maximize your chances of landing a job interview, you have to be sure that an ATS can read your resume. Using one of these ATS-friendly resume templates means you can apply without worrying about slipping into the resume black hole.
Once you’ve found a template you like, use Jobscan’s resume optimization tool to double-check that you’re not forgetting any key skills. Jobscan compares your resume to the job description to show which skills and keywords you’re missing along with a bevy of other helpful ATS and recruiter checks.
When to write a curriculum vitae (CV)
However, sometimes what you need isn’t an ATS-friendly resume. Instead, if you work in the academic, medical, or scientific worlds, you’ll most likely want to create a curriculum vitae (CV).
Resumes focus on what you have accomplished and what you can accomplish within a position. Alternatively, CVs highlight your education in more detail as well as your credentials, research experience, and certifications. Because of that, CVs tend to run much longer than resumes do.
To learn more about CVs, check out our article on how to write one here:
Versions of this article were published in 2015 and 2016 by Trista Winnie. It was rewritten and updated for 2021.