How to Write an ATS-Friendly Resume

In today’s competitive hiring climate, many companies use resume screening to weed out applicants that may not be a great match for a job. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software programs that scan resume content and use an algorithm to search for keywords. The keywords look for certain skills, education, prior work experience and even former employers. The ATS filter which resumes will go on to the next round of the hiring process. They track applicant information, giving companies an easy way to manage data and create more order throughout the hiring process.

One study found that 75 percent of resumes will never get into the hands of a real person. Another revealed that more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using resume screening software during their hiring processes. Because these automated resume screening systems are so prevalent, it’s critical to write ATS-friendly resumes so your application materials will get seen by human eyes.

Read on to discover how to use keywords in a resume, as well as how to write and optimize ATS resume templates to ensure your application will get past the bots and into the right hands, every time you apply to a job.

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Never lie about your experience to get past the bots.

Hone in on a job description and write out some of the keywords you notice

Write an ATS-Friendly Resume in 4 Steps

For job applicants, the goal is to create an ATS-friendly resume that will also impress a human hiring manager. That means that while your resume should contain keywords (detailed below) and straightforward design. Never lie about your experience to get past the bots.

When your resume gets into the hands of the human hiring manager, you want them to be impressed by your skills and experience, not put off by your overzealous application of keywords.

Follow these four steps to create an ATS-friendly resume:

  1. Pick an easy-to-read resume template
    Fancy fonts and design elements might confuse the ATS, which can wind up getting your resume sorted into the wrong pile. Create a streamlined, ATS-friendly resume that focuses on your experience and skills, not overly complicated charts, graphs or symbols. Also use the expected section headings, like Summary, Skills, and Work Experience, to help the system process your information correctly. Here are some ATS-friendly templates to help you get started.
  2. Read through job listings for keywords
    For every job you apply for, you need to create a customized resume with keywords that reflect the specific job listing. You should also have a sense about the range of keywords used for the types of positions you’re applying to. For example, that may mean knowledge of certain computer programs, or a specific degree or certification. It could also mean listing general skills and experience like time management or customer service. 

    Reading a few different job listings with keywords in mind will give you a better sense of the keywords for your industry, experience level and position. Hone in on a job description and write out some of the keywords you notice.

    When you are writing your resume, you should mirror the phrases and keywords exactly as mentioned in the job application. Humans might understand common synonyms and acronyms, but ATS don’t always pick up on those types of variations. The listing can be used as a style guide for the job, cluing you to the keywords to use in your resume.

    Let’s say the listing mentions a specific computer program that is important to the job. Instead of listing “and other technological skills” on your resume, mirror back the name of the program exactly. If a job listing notes Google Analytics as a qualification, it’s helpful to list that specifically, not simply “analytics” or “SEO.” The same goes for various certifications and other types of software
  3. Update your resume, using keywords
    Now is the time to update your resume, using the keywords you found. Read through your resume and search for synonyms or abbreviations. Replace those with keywords, wherever possible. Don’t go overboard, but ensuring that the words in your resume match up with those in the job listing will help you get past the ATS. Focus on the action verbs, technical skills or software requirements, and other role-specific requirements used in the description.

    If you’re not sure exactly which keyword the ATS might be searching for, consider using a slash to incorporate both potential words, such as: proofread/edit, Search Engine Optimization/SEO, experience with Microsoft Excel/Google Sheets, etc. You shouldn’t do this too frequently, but if these terms fit in context, it can provide a bit of keyword insurance.
  4. Customize Your Resume for Each Employer
    Because ATS have become so widespread, it’s critical to write a resume that can get past the screening phase and straight to the hiring manager. That means creating a custom resume for every job you apply to, focusing on keywords mentioned in each job application, and using a format that is easy to read by robotic eyes. The time and effort you put into creating a custom resume loaded with appropriate keywords from the job listing will likely pay off in the long run

    Ready to build your ATS-friendly resume? Get started now with our Resume Builder.