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ATS Explanation & 15-Point Checklist To Help You Get More From Your Resume

What is an ATS-friendly resume?

An ATS-friendly resume is formatted in such a way that it can be easily imported and read by the ATS. However, because there is no industry standard, the general guidelines are: no charts, graphs, images, text boxes, tables or special formatting. Use only keyboard characters (*, >, /, etc.) to separate information. Save the file in .DOCX or .TXT format (do not upload a PDF, RTF, or JPG).

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have changed the application and résumé screening process, particularly in mid-size and large companies. The promise of ATS software is an alluring one: Apply the principles of technology to the complicated hiring process, allowing recruiters and hiring managers to profile the candidate they want to hire, post their openings online, query the system, and voilà! The perfect candidate appears. That’s the idea anyway. Applicant tracking systems allow companies to determine which candidates may be a match for a particular position, based on their résumé.

Approximately 35% of all companies use some kind of an Applicant Tracking System. They’re more likely to be used in large companies (90% of companies with more than 100 employees use an ATS) and mid-sized companies (60% of companies with 50-99 employees use an ATS). Almost all Fortune 500 companies use ATS software.

Jobseekers may not even know that their résumé is going into an applicant tracking system. There are two main clues that the résumé may be going into an ATS: If you’re asked to upload your résumé to apply, or if you’re asked to copy-and-paste your résumé into an online application form.

Applicant tracking systems fulfill several purposes. The first is to manage applications for positions (especially where there is a high volume of applicants). Research shows companies receive an average of 250 applications per job posting. Large companies, like Google, receive up to 75,000 applications per week.

The second purpose is to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job. With online applications, it’s easy for jobseekers to apply for dozens or even hundreds of jobs, even if their qualifications don’t match up with the position requirements at all. The ATS allows the hiring manager to screen out irrelevant applicants.

Think of an ATS like a “hiring Google” — it reads the résumé content, sorts it into standardized fields, rates it, and helps it be found when a search query is made. Think about when you’re conducting a search on Google. You type in words that will help you find what you’re looking for (your search criteria), and a list of results appears. You begin clicking on results and can tell within a matter of seconds if the item fits what you were looking for. If it does, you’ll read further. If it doesn’t, you’ll click onto the next result. The same is true with the ATS.

The goal of the applicant tracking system is to help hiring managers and recruiters more easily identify candidates with the skills, education, and experience that are most desired of candidates. Just like you want the most relevant search results returned when you type a query into Google, the hiring manager doesn’t want to sift through hundreds or thousands of résumés to find the handful of people he or she really wants to talk to. So if you focus on ensuring you are the best fit for the types of positions you are seeking, the things that will make you findable in applicant tracking systems will already be in your résumé and cover letter — because they are important qualifications for the type of position you are seeking.

15-point ATS résumé checklist:

  • Is saved in an approved format — résumé is submitted as a DOC, DOCX, or TXT (PDF, RTF, and JPG formats are not ATS-friendly).
  • Does not use templates, borders, or shading.
  • Is in a single column format (no tables, multiple columns, or text boxes).
  • Uses simply formatted text of a reasonable size (10 point size or above).
  • Includes standard fonts (Calibri, Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, and Verdana are all “safe” choices).
  • Does not contain complex formatting (condensed or expanded text) — that is, don’t use extra spaces between letters, because the ATS can’t “read” it.
  • Includes a few, clearly defined sections: Summary, Work Experience, Education, Training, Certifications, Skills, etc.
  • Does not contain images or graphics — or, if they do appear, they do not affect the single-column formatting (Be warned, however, that the simple inclusion of any graphics may be enough to “choke” some applicant tracking system software.)
  • Does not include any information in the headers or footers of the document (if saved in Microsoft Word format).
  • Has been thoroughly edited and spellchecked and there are no errors. (The ATS will not recognize misspelled words).
  • Does not include any special characters or accented words.
  • Contains proper capitalization and punctuation. Both of these can affect how information is parsed and assigned within the ATS database.
  • Uses the full, spelled-out version of a term in addition to abbreviations and acronyms [i.e., Certified Public Accountant (CPA)].
  • Incorporates relevant, specific, targeted keywords and phrases for the type of position being sought (i.e., “Photoshop” instead of “image-editing software”).
  • Has been customized for the position being sought. “One-size-fits-all” does not work with applicant tracking systems.

Need help? At Total Resumes, we create brand-driven, achievement-focused documents for clients worldwide. With a 98% client interview-winning success rate, we are well-placed to help with your career advancement. Check some of our work here: https://www.totalresumes.com.au/samples-of-our-work/

Author Carolyn Whitfield

TORI-Nominated, Multi-Certified Resume Master & Coach ★ 12+ Yrs Expertise ★ 98% Client Interview-Winning Success Rate. As an executive resume expert who has carved a strong reputation in the resume industry, I’ve helped thousands of rising stars and executives worldwide ascend to the next step on the career ladder.

More posts by Carolyn Whitfield

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