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5 Resume Formatting Rules For The ATS

5 Resume Formatting Rules For The ATS

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Besides working through the content for your resume, another area you need to carefully consider is formatting and whether your resume will make it through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Related: Resume Checklist: Must-Haves & Must-Dos

Many employers have come to rely on the ATS to help filter out a select few candidates for consideration with each job opening. In fact, it’s not uncommon for employers to receive as many as 400 resumes for a job opening, but to only pick out the top 20 ranked by ATS software for review by a person.

5 Resume Formatting Rules For The ATS

If you don’t want your resume falling into a black hole, follow these resume formatting rules.

1. File format.

Save your resume as a .doc or .txt file. This ensures your resume can be read by ATS software. The newer version of Microsoft Word will have you saving your files as .docx, but keep in mind not everyone is on board with the updated software. Saving your resume file as .doc ensures it can be read whether the employer is using a newer or older version of Microsoft Word. Note that many Applicant Tracking System cannot read PDF files.

2. Search terms.

The ATS software works by searching for required terms the employer puts in, and the resumes with the most matches to the search terms get a higher ranking. As a job seeker, you may never know exactly what all the terms are, but you can pretty much figure what is a close match. Review the job posting for keywords. Also look at job postings from other employers for the same position for relevant keywords.

3. Punctuation.

Mind how you use certain words on your resume that may be spelled multiple ways. Also, beware of the slash in between two words. For instance, “healthcare” may also be spelled “health care.” Carefully review the employer’s job posting and website to determine the most appropriate match. For words you may use between a slash, like “Auditing/Accounting” or “Software/Hardware,” add a space between the word and the slash. The software may not have the combination of the words with a slash as a term.

4. No tables, text boxes, headers, footers, graphics, images, or special characters.

Simply put, the ATS can’t read it.

5. Don’t add a list of keywords.

If you think you can cover all keyword bases by simply adding a list of keywords at the very end of your resume, you’re going to be disappointed. The ATS looks at specific sections of the resume to find keyword matches, like in Professional Summary, Work Experience, and so on.

For a better shot of your resume making it past the ATS, don’t forget these resume formatting rules!

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Don Goodman

About the author

Don Goodman’s firm was rated as the #1 Resume Writing Service in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Don is a triple-certified, nationally recognized Expert Resume Writer, Career Management Coach and Job Search Strategist who has helped thousands of people secure their next job. Check out his Resume Writing Service. Get a Free Resume Evaluation or call him at 800.909.0109  for more information.


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Don Goodman Don Goodman, President of Best Resume Writing Service - About Jobs, is a nationally recognized career expert.