Technology is changing the way we do everything, and that includes applying for jobs. This is why you need to have an ATS-friendly resume if you want to stay competitive in today’s job market.

ATS stands for application tracking system. This is a computer software program that saves employers time and money. It does this by automating the tracking, assessment, and selection of job applicants. 

Most people don’t think about it, but where do you suppose your resume goes when you submit it? Most of the time, it goes directly into an ATS database. 

The ATS then scans your resume for specific keywords and assesses your qualifications for the role.

Why do you need an ATS-friendly resume?

You need an ATS-friendly resume because this will increase the chances that hiring managers will find your resume when they search through the ATS database. If your resume is not formatted correctly and does not include the right keywords, it will probably never be seen by a human being.

This article is going to show you how to create an ATS resume so you can make sure it shows up when hiring managers conduct their searches for suitable job candidates.

How to know if your resume is ATS-friendly

If you already have a resume, the best way to find out if it’s ATS-friendly is to run it through Jobscan’s resume scanner.

The scanner uses AI-powered technology to analyze your resume against a job description. It then provides you with a score that shows how well your resume matches the job requirements.

You’ll also be told exactly how to increase your score. You can do this by adding skills and fixing formatting problems. The higher your score the better your chances of getting an interview.

Below is an example of a resume score for a medical administrator job. You’ll also see keywords marked in red that you should add to your resume to increase your score.

NOTE: Only add skills if you actually have them. Don’t misrepresent yourself!

A section of Jobscan's match report showing the resume score and missing hard skills.

Jobscan’s resume scanner even provides you with phase suggestions for each keyword. Just click on the keyword and you’ll be shown various ways you can incorporate that skill into your resume.

For example, if you click on “Maintain Confidentiality” from the above example, you’ll be shown the following phrase suggestions.

The phrase suggestion feature of Jobscan's Power Edit.

How to create an ATS-compliant resume in 6 steps

Creating an ATS-compliant resume is not that difficult. We’ve broken down the process into six simple steps. The first three steps deal with keywords, while the last three steps talk about ATS resume formatting. 

All six steps are equally important, so don’t skip any! 

1. Find the job title and put it in your resume headline

Your resume headline appears at the top of your resume, just under your name and contact information. The purpose of the headline is to call attention to your value as a job candidate.

Your headline should be brief, attention-grabbing, and relevant to the job you are applying to.  

Examples include: 

  • “Results-Oriented Business Analyst with 7 Years of Experience”
  • “Finance Manager with 10 Years of Experience in the Banking Industry” 
  • “Human Resources Professional with 5 Years of Experience in Recruitment and Employee Relations”

When creating your resume headline, be sure to put the relevant job title in it. You can find this at the very top of the job description. Here’s an example:

An example of a job title listed at the top of a job description.

The job title is “Marketing Automation Specialist.” If you’re applying to this job, you should put this exact title in your resume headline. Something like:

“Marketing Automation Specialist with 8 Years of Experience.”

This way, when a recruiter searches through the ATS for that job title, your resume will be one of those that shows up. 

As simple as this step is, it does mean that you need to tailor every resume headline to the job you’re applying to.

Read more: How to Write a Resume Headline that Stands Out

2. Find relevant skills and add them to your resume

Hiring managers don’t just type in job titles when they search for candidates. They also type in specific keywords relating to skills. Again, you can find these keywords by reading through the job description. 

As you read, note the skills that appear most often (keywords can be single words or phrases). Then add these keyword skills to your resume, if appropriate. 

For example, the keyword “marketing” appears many times in the job description below. Clearly, this keyword should be used in your resume since hiring managers are likely to search for it. 

A job description with keywords highlighted in yellow.

Given how often this keyword appears in the job description, it’s safe to say that if your resume does not include the word “marketing”, it probably won’t be found by a hiring manager.

The key thing to remember is that you want to use the same language in your resume that the hiring manager used when writing the job description. 

“Use the same language in your resume that the hiring manager used when writing the job description.” 

Don’t overstuff your resume with keywords. Make sure to use them as naturally as possible.  

If a hiring manager sees too many keywords, it can look like you’re trying to game the system. In addition, keyword stuffing can make your resume hard to read and understand. 

3. Use keywords properly so the ATS can read them

Many ATS can’t differentiate between similar skills. So you need to use keywords exactly as they appear in the job description.

For example, a job description might ask for “leadership experience.” Try to include the exact keyword phrase “leadership experience” on your resume. Don’t simply list your leadership roles. 

Also be sure to include both long-form versions of keywords and acronym versions.

For example, if you have experience with customer relationship management software, you should include both “customer relationship management” and “CRM.” By including both versions of important keywords, you’ll give yourself the best chance of getting your resume noticed.

Finally, make sure you tailor each resume to the position you’re applying for. This takes a little time and effort, but it can increase your chances of getting called back for an interview.

Using a tool like Jobscan’s resume scanner can greatly speed up the process of tailoring your resume.

4. Choose an ATS-friendly resume format

It’s important to include relevant keywords in your resume. But it’s also important to format your resume so an ATS can read it.

Many outstanding job candidates submit resumes that the ATS can’t read. This leads to rejection.

Fortunately, the most ATS-friendly resume format is also the most commonly used. This is the chronological format. This format lists your work experience in reverse-chronological order. In other words, your last job should appear first

Include the following information for each job:

  • Company name and location
  • Job title
  • Start and end dates 
  • Achievements and responsibilities 

Our research has found that this sequence is the most ATS friendly. 

Read more: Why Recruiters HATE the Functional Resume Format

5. Make your resume easy to scan

Follow these ATS resume formatting tips to make it easier for both humans and machines to read your resume:

Resume formatting tips:

  • Use simple, clear language when writing your resume; this makes it easy for both ATS and humans to easily comprehend your data. 
  • Use a commonly-used font like Garamond, Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica to appear professional. 
  • For font size, use a 11-12 pt. for regular text, and 14-16 pt. for section titles.
  • Margins should be about 1 inch on all sides of your resume to avoid overcrowding. 
  • Dates should be formatted in one of two ways: MM/YYYY or “March 2022”. Do not use the year only.
  • Feel free to use bold, italics, underlining, and of course, bullets (but stick to the standard bullet circle or square)
  • Use a Word document or PDF so the ATS can easily scan it.
  • Always proofread your resume carefully – a single error can result in rejection.

Read more: The Best Fonts for Your Resume

Read more: Resume Sections: What You Need and Where You Need Them

6. Things to AVOID when formatting your resume

When your resume is entered into an ATS database, most of its formatting is stripped out. This makes it easier for the ATS to analyze and parse the plain text. 

Avoid these common formatting mistakes:

  • Do NOT use headers and footers. These can make it difficult for the ATS to parse your information correctly.
  • Do NOT use special graphics, images, or symbols. Again, the ATS might get confused; keep it simple. 
  • When it comes to section headings, don’t get too creative or fancy. Use traditional headings like “Work Experience” or “Education”, which won’t confuse the ATS.

Read more: Don’t Make These ATS Formatting Mistakes

That’s it! Follow these six steps and you’ll have an ATS–friendly resume that has a good chance of making it out of the ATS database and into the hands of a hiring manager. 

If you’re a Jobscan Premium user, then you have access to Power Edit, our AI-powered resume tool that has six built-in ATS-friendly templates. These templates have been tested by our team to make sure ATS can parse them correctly..

screenshot of resume power edit by jobscan showing the resume templates

Try one of our ATS-friendly resume templates

If you don’t want to spend time formatting your resume to make sure it is ATS-friendly, you can use one of our free ATS resume templates

Through testing and research, we’ve discovered which ATS resume formats work the best. Based on that knowledge, we have created 20 resume templates that are ATS compatible. All you have to do is customize them with your own information.

Our resume builder will also help you create an ATS-friendly resume and it’s 100% free.

Use Jobscan’s free ATS-friendly resume templates and start building your resume that gets noticed by recruiters!

What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?

The internet has made it much easier to apply for jobs. All you need to do is sign up to one of the numerous job boards (like Indeed). Then upload your resume, and click submit, again and again and again. 

This is super convenient for job applicants. But employers are now flooded with hundreds and even thousands of resumes for every job opening. That’s why they’ve turned to application tracking systems (ATS) to help them collect, store, and organize applicant data.

Hiring managers use their ATS to find job candidates like this:

First they search through the ATS database by typing in keywords that are related to the job position. These keywords are usually job titles or skills. 

For example, let’s say a hiring manager is looking for a candidate with customer service experience. They might type in “customer service” or “customer service representative.” The ATS will then pull up all of the candidates who have those keywords in their profile. 

From there, the hiring manager can narrow down their search and choose the best candidate for the job.

The vast majority of companies use ATS software these days. This means you must format your resume correctly and include the right keywords,

Our team at Jobscan has reverse-engineered dozens of applicant tracking systems, such as iCIMS, Lever, Taleo, and Greenhouse. And we’ve put all our expertise into our resume scanner. That’s why job seekers who use our scanner get up to three times as many job interviews.

When to write a curriculum vitae (CV)

Sometimes you don’t need an ATS-friendly resume. If you work in the academic, medical, or scientific fields, you’ll probably need to create a curriculum vitae (CV).

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 How to Write a CV for a Successful Job Search.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an ATS-friendly resume?

An ATS-friendly resume is formatted in a way that makes it easy for an ATS to read and understand it. It also includes keywords and phrases that are relevant to the specific job opening. If you write your resume with ATS software in mind, it will have a much better chance of making it into the hands of a hiring manager.

How can you make your resume ATS-friendly?

To make your resume ATS-friendly, use a clean, straightforward format. Avoid images and graphics. Tailor your resume to each job application by incorporating keywords and phrases from the job description, ensuring they match your skills and experience.

Which resume format is most ATS-friendly?

The most ATS-friendly format is the reverse chronological resume. This type of resume lists your work experience in reverse chronological order, with your most recent position listed first. This format is favored because it clearly showcases your career progression and is easily parsed by most ATS systems.

Are PDF resumes ATS friendly?

Yes, in the vast majority of cases a PDF resume will work fine. Some older ATS might not accept PDFs, but this is rare these days. Always check the job listing. If it says to submit a Word resume, then do that. Otherwise, a PDF resume works just as well. 

Access the 20 ATS-friendly resume templates here

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Robert Henderson, CPRW, Resume Expert

Robert Henderson, CPRW, is a career advice writer and a resume expert at Jobscan.

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