ATS formatting mistakes for your resume

To understand why resume formatting matters to applicant tracking systems, you first need to understand how resumes move through ATS.

Here’s how it works: After you submit your resume through an online application, it automatically lands in the ATS. Many systems then scan your resume, “parse” or pull out information, and rearrange your resume into a digital candidate profile. From there, recruiters or hiring managers can search the ATS by keyword and get a list of resumes that best match their search.

Learn more:Top 500 Resume Keywords to Boost Your Job Search

But, ATS aren’t perfect (we already knew that)! They are known for missing important information if the formatting isn’t to their liking. At Jobscan, we’ve done scrupulous testing on top ATS to make our tools as effective as possible. Here’s some of what we’ve learned.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Most ATS (iCIMS, Bullhorn and Greenhouse included) aren’t programmed to recognize abbreviations like MBA, CPA and PMP if a recruiter searches for the long form of the keyword (e.g. Master of Business Administration, Certified Public Accountant, Project Management Professional).

Don’t fear! This is an easy one to fix. Spell out the keyword then use the common acronym in parentheses to make sure your credentials don’t get missed. Now you’ll come up as a search result no matter which version they search for.

ats formatting for abbreviations

Tables

Some ATS, including Jobvite, have a difficult time parsing information within tables. Sections in tables can get jumbled together or information can be lost entirely.

While removing the lines can help (we found this to be true with iCIMS), it’s a good idea to skip tables if you’re applying through an ATS. That way, you know they won’t affect your chances of getting noticed by the hiring manager. I suggest opting for standard bullet points to best organize information.

ATS formatting for tables

Non-Standard Bullet Points

I often have job seekers ask if bullet points are okay for a resume being submitted through ATS. Yes! In fact, standard bullet points are a great way to organize information on your ATS resume.

However, the non-traditional bullet points like stars, diamonds, and check-boxes do not always get parsed correctly. The quick fix? Use the good ‘ol black dot bullet points (like in the example below) to avoid issues.

ats formatting for bullet points
Standard bullet points like these are great for an ATS-optimized resume. (Source: Application Careers)

Unique Font

Of course, you want your resume to stand out from the crowd, but using a unique font will just work against you.

Through our testing, we’ve found Times New Roman and Arial to be the most reliable for getting past ATS. Cambria, Georgia, Calibri and Verdana are also appropriate. Font size doesn’t matter quite as much, but we suggest sticking to 10 or 12 point font to make your resume look professional when it lands in the hands of the hiring manager. Check out the list of ATS-approved resume fonts below.

ats formatting for fonts

Learn More: The Best Fonts to Make Your Resume ATS and Recruiter-Friendly

Let your killer experience set you apart instead of an attention-grabbing font, and use the interview to show off your personality.

Incorrect Date Formatting

Some of the major ATS, like Jobvite and Taleo, most accurately parse dates in the format of MM/YYYY. For example, “03/2011.” Most ATS will also accept the format of “March 2011.”

Always use both the month and year. Only using a year can cause confusion. For example, the ATS iCIMS automatically assigns a start date of January 1st to any work experience that only has a year.

ats formatting for dates

Extra Spacing Between Words

ATS are picky about keywords–really picky. A few of the top ATS, including Bullhorn and Greenhouse, will not even recognize multi-word keywords if the words are separated by extra spaces.

For example, “product marketing” will be recognized as a complete skill but “product  marketing” will not because there is an extra space hiding between the words.

The solution is simple: double and triple check your spacing, especially between multi-word keywords, before submitting.

Unprofessional File Name

JoeSmithGoogle.docx is a great file name, unless he accidentally sent it to Amazon. A few applicant tracking systems, like USAJobs and Greenhouse, include the file name in their portal, which means the hiring manager at Amazon will not be too pleased with Joe Smith…

While many ATS have stopped making file name visible to hiring managers, some still do. For professionalism sake, it’s good practice to save each file with your first and last name (e.g. joejobscan.docx).

Test your resume’s ATS formatting

Want to find out how your resume stacks up to ATS? Upload your resume to Jobscan or paste it below to get customized formatting tips and more.

Every ATS is different

At Jobscan, we built our resume optimization tool based on the most common behaviors found across popular ATS. But every system works a little bit differently. That’s why we offer customized ATS tips based on the company you’re applying to. Learn more with this video:

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