Is Your Resume ATS-Unfriendly?

Are you frustrated with applying online? As a coach, I teach clients to build a network to find a new job. But, inevitably, there will be the need to upload a resume to a company’s website, even with the best “in.” This can be challenging if your resume isn’t optimized for the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS). If your resume is a .PDF, has graphic design work, color, funky fonts, tables, or bullets, or is a functional resume, it’s probably ATS-unfriendly. This means that the software may not be able to read your well-written content, and that would defeat the purpose of submitting it! Or, parts may be readable, but tables, text boxes, or bullets might be translated into jumbled data that you might spend a lot of time fixing each time you submit. What a pain! But, if you don’t, it won’t look professional, which doesn’t reflect well on you. How do you get the ATS to warm up to your resume? Here are some tips to make your resume friendlier:

  • Avoid abbreviations or acronyms. The terms searched for by people using this software are more likely to be typed out in their entirety.
  • Length doesn’t matter to the ATS scanner. Thus, there is no need to be brief, consolidate, or reduce spacing. You aren’t limited to 1, 2, or 3 pages. Put in as much content as is necessary to have all keywords present. An addendum may be used for additional skills or training.
  • The summary section may or may not be recognized by the ATS. All bullets and keywords from the summary should also be included in the experience section content. This is redundant, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
  • Only use categories that fall into accepted standards for resumes. “Summary,” “Experience,” “Education,” “Professional Development,” “Community Involvement,” etc. are all good. “Sales Management Techniques” or “Quality Improvement Methods” might be breaking it down too much. Most ATS won’t know where to put this information.
  • If the resume cuts the mustard, and is selected for an interview, it will eventually be read by a human. So, it should be readable and as visually appealing as you can make it when printed. It should sell you well and should not just be a laundry list of keywords.
Here are some basic instructions for converting your resume into a plain text format that the ATS will read:
  • “Save As” your document in the .txt format.
  • In the Home tab, use the “Ctrl” and “a” keys to select all. In the upper right corner of the font section, click the button to remove formatting. (It looks like a little eraser with a big A and a little a.)This will remove any fancy formatting, tables, and text boxes.
  • Copy text and paste into a notepad file; save as .txt.
  • ATS doesn’t read more than 60 characters on one line. So, add returns throughout text to create lines that are no longer than that.
  • Remove bullets that converted into strange symbols, replacing them with *, +, or -.
  • Add spacing between bullets, and categories to improve readability.
  • Format the contact information using equals signs to create lines:
Kristin S. Johnson ========================================== 6666 Odana Road #125 | Madison, Wisconsin 53711 | 608.516.1637 ========================================== Note: always use a complete mailing address when submitting online.
  • Highlight resume categories by using all capital letters and putting ---- lines above and below the text. Like this:
--------------------------- SKILLS SUMMARY --------------------------- Put all information under a specific heading. Otherwise, the ATS may get confused and put information in as a job with no employer, or do other goofy things with it. The resume may be deemed “incomplete,” causing you to rank lower among your competition.
  • Be consistent with information for each job held. This will help data to be recognized appropriately by the system. Follow the "one-item-to-a-line" format:
Company Name Location Dates Job Title
  • If you’ve held more than one position for the same company, repeat the above lines for each and every position. Accomplishments should be listed separately for each title.
  • Repeat duties for each position so that the system recognizes how many years of experience you have doing that task. Having tasks accurately quantified is vital if the company is looking for a minimum number of years of experience.
  • List each employer with an appropriate ending: Company, Co., Inc., or LLC. (Those abbreviations are OK.) Or, Non-Profit Organization. This will help the software to recognize each job.
  • In the experience section, put the degree on one line, school on the next, location, date, followed by other information such as classes, GPA, or other accomplishments all on separate lines.
  • Don’t combine categories. Separate out “Training” and “Professional Development,” to make the ATS happy.
  • If using an addendum, clearly label this category.
After using these tips and techniques, your resume and the ATS will be the best of friends. Happy interviewing! Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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