Tables and columns can enhance the visual appeal of your resume, but they can also confuse applicant tracking systems, or ATS. This could cost you a job opportunity – even if you’re highly qualified!

In this article, we’ll show you what happens when you submit a resume with table and columns to an ATS. We’ll also explain how to create an ATS-friendly resume that will get you more job interviews.

Table of Contents

What is an ATS and how does it work?

Most companies today use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to help them manage the hiring process. When you submit your resume, it goes directly to an ATS.

When an ATS receives your resume, the first thing it does is parse it. This means that it strips out most of the formatting and extracts your information. It then organizes your information in a way that makes it easy for hiring managers to find it.

If your resume is formatted in such a way that the ATS has trouble reading it, your information could get mixed up and garbled. This is why you should think twice before using tables and columns on your resume.

How does an ATS handle tables and columns on your resume?

Here is an example of a resume that was submitted to a brand of ATS called Lever. This resume uses a table to divide its information into two columns.

On the left are cores skills and work experience. On the right are the about section, contact information, and links to work samples.

Resume using tables and columns in Lever.

Using a table like this allows the job seeker to pack a lot of information into the top half of the resume. Sounds good, doesn’t it? And if this resume was reviewed only by a human being, there would be no problem.

But an ATS will read this resume first, before a human being. The ATS parses the resume into a digital applicant profile so that it can be searched and read more easily (at least in theory).

Here’s what the ATS did to this table when it tried to parse it out:

Resume tables and columns as they appear when they are parsed by the Lever ATS.

The ATS recognized the work experience section but ignored everything else. There’s no skills section, about section, contact information, or links to work samples.

Not only that, but the ATS didn’t include all the work experience on the resume. Nothing before January 2017 appears!

Does this mean you should never, ever use tables or columns in your resume?

It’s probably better not to. But if you do decide to use them, always run your resume through an online tool like Jobscan’s resume scanner to see if it’s ATS compatible.

After you scan your resume with this tool, you’ll receive a report highlighting potential problems, like this:

A sample of Jobscan's Match Report.

ATS compatibility issues with tables and columns

Here are some of the main compatibility issues ATS has with resumes using tables and columns:

  • The ATS may not fully recognize or properly categorize information presented within tables or columns, resulting in missed or misinterpreted data.
  • Some ATS may entirely ignore tables and columns, leading to important qualifications or experiences being overlooked or omitted.
  • Tables and columns can disrupt the logical flow of resume content, making it challenging for the ATS to extract and understand the candidate’s qualifications in a cohesive manner.
  • Keywords contained within tables or columns may not be properly indexed, reducing the resume’s visibility and relevance for specific job searches.

Can you still use tables and columns in your resume if you’re applying through an ATS?

If you choose to use tables or columns, it’s important to be aware of the potential limitations and take precautions to ensure better compatibility with the ATS.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Simple table structures – If you must create a resume with tables, keep them as simple as possible. Avoid nested tables or complex formatting within cells. Stick to basic table structures with clear rows and columns.
  • Use table headers – Include table headers to label each column clearly. This can help the ATS understand the content and improve the chances of accurate parsing.
  • Avoid merged cells – Merged cells can cause parsing issues for the ATS. Keep the cells in your table separate and avoid merging them.

Remember, not all ATS are created equal, and their capabilities vary. While some systems handle tables and columns well, others may struggle with them.

To maximize the chances of your resume being parsed correctly by an ATS, it’s still advisable to run your resume through an online resume checker.

If you’re a Jobscan Premium user, then you have access to Power Edit, which has six built-in ATS-friendly templates. These use columns, but they’ve been tested by our team to make sure those features are implemented properly.

a screenshot of power edit in jobscan

Are there any specific ATS-friendly alternatives to using tables and columns?

Everyone wants their resume to look visually appealing, but as we’ve seen, tables and columns can cause more trouble than their worth.

The key is to strike a balance between visual appeal and ATS compatibility. The best way to do this is to keep it simple. 

Instead of tables, columns, and other fancy graphics, use simple headings and bullet points to create clear sections that can easily be read. This will ensure that the ATS accurately extracts and categorizes your information.

Below is an example of a resume that uses a colored font for visual pop while keeping the formatting simple and straightforward.

This is actually a good strategy for adding some visual appeal while keeping your resume ATS compliant.

The work experience section of a resume.

Always use black dot bullet points, like in the example above. Non-traditional bullet points such as stars, diamonds, and checkboxes do not always get parsed correctly by the ATS.

If you prefer using resume templates, ensure that they are designed with ATS compatibility in mind. All of Jobscan’s free resume templates are optimized for ATS scanning and avoid complex tables or columns. 

If you’re building a resume from scratch, try Jobscan’s resume builder. It’s 100% free and ATS-compatible.

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

How to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems

Follow these tips to properly optimize your resume for the ATS:

  • Use simple, clear language. Using jargon or overly complicated language will just confuse the system.
  • Stick to traditional resume section headers like “Education” and “Work Experience”. Avoid more creative headers like “Where I’ve Been”.
  • Use a common, easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica for optimal readability.
  • Make sure your margins are 1 inch on all sides so your resume doesn’t look crowded. 
  • Avoid using unnecessary graphics or embellishments. They can make your resume appear unprofessional and could confuse the ATS.
  • Avoid using special characters or symbols that the system might misinterpret.
  • Use a Word document when you are creating your resume. This will ensure that it looks good and is easy for the ATS to read.

Check every resume you send out to make sure it’s formatted for the ATS correctly. It’s no exaggeration to say that only one small mistake can ruin your chances of getting a job interview.

Again, Jobscan’s tool speeds up this process by highlighting any formatting issues you need to address.

Formatting section of Jobscan's Match Report.

To make your resume truly stand out and attract the attention of hiring managers, carefully read through the job description and highlight the skills, or keywords, that appear most often.

These are usually hard skills. Hard skills are specific abilities and knowledge based on experience and training. Examples of hard skills include technical writing, data analysis, graphic design, project management, Python, Java, Salesforce, etc…

The point is to use the same language on your resume that the hiring manager used in the job description. Tailoring your resume like this will increase your chances of getting an interview.

Jobscan’s resume scanner simplifies this process. After you upload your resume and the job description to the scanner, it produces a Match Report. This report highlights the skills and keywords you should try to add to your resume.

Here’s an example of a Match Report:

Required skills for the job as shown by Jobscan's Match Report.

In the above example, the term “required” means that those skills are crucial qualifications for the job.

Adding these skills (if you have them) to your resume will make it easier for a hiring manager to find your resume while searching through the ATS database for suitable job candidates.

To learn more about how to optimize your resume for an ATS, watch this brief video:


Do resume tables and columns affect how an ATS parses your resume?

Yes, tables and columns can affect how an ATS parses your resume. Complex formats can confuse the system.

How does an ATS handle tables and columns in your resume?

An ATS reads text from left to right, top to bottom. Tables and columns can disrupt this flow, causing parsing issues.

Are there any specific formatting guidelines for tables and columns in an ATS?

Yes, tables and columns can negatively impact ATS parsing. Important information may be missed or misread.

How do different ATS platforms handle tables and columns differently?

Different ATS platforms may handle tables and columns differently. Some may manage well, while others may struggle.

Are there any best practices for optimizing tables and columns in an ATS?

When using tables and columns on your resume, it’s best to keep them as simple and uncomplicated as possible.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when using tables and columns in an ATS?

When using tables and columns in an ATS, it’s important to avoid complex formatting, such as nested tables or merged cells, as they can cause parsing issues.

Can I run my resume through ATS for free?

The best way to run your resume through an ATS for free is to use a tool like Jobscan’s resume scanner.
Simply input your resume and a specific job description and Jobscan will provide you with a score, or match rate. This resume score shows you how well your resume matches the job listing.
Try the tool for free below.

Make your resume stand out and get noticed

Upload your resume to see what’s missing and get a free match rate.

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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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