How To Write An ATS Friendly Resume

May 6, 2022

6 minutes

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Looking for a job can be an exciting, and nerve-wracking, experience—especially if you’re new to the application process. Your resume is often your first—and only—chance to prove you deserve an interview. And it’s only through the interview you can reach your ultimate goal: the job offer. No pressure, right? 

Determining what content, wording, and layout will most likely impress a recruiter is no easy feat. But, did you realize that your perfectly scripted resume may be rejected before it ever reaches a recruiter’s desk? 

Thanks to resume scanning software, formally known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), most job applications are reviewed, analyzed, ranked, and often rejected by a computer program—not the hiring manager. In fact, 99 per cent of fortune 500 companies, along with many small and mid-size companies, use ATS in their recruiting efforts. 

What does this mean for you and your goal of landing a job that will launch your dream career (or at least help pay for the car you just bought)? It simply means your resume needs to be customized for an ATS before you hit “submit”. And, we’re here to help. 

In this article, we cover what an ATS is, how to craft an ATS-friendly resume, the ideal ATS score, and how to achieve it.

What is an Applicant Tracking System? 

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software that companies use to sift through resumes to determine if an applicant meets the qualifications for a job opening. Applications that don’t meet the keyword criteria determined by the employer are filtered out by an ATS so that the applicants that remain are already well-matched to the job. These are the resumes that make it to the hiring manager’s desk.

Because some companies receive hundreds of resumes every week, it’s almost impossible for recruiters to carefully read through each submission. It makes sense, then, that companies rely on Applicant Tracking Systems to efficiently scan, filter, and rank resumes before they ever land in front of a real person. 

Why are ATS resumes important? 

Submitting an ATS resume is an important step in the hiring process that can benefit you and the employer. Employers want to hire the absolute best candidate they can, and an ATS ensures every single application is reviewed for the job—something which might not be possible if one person had to read through hundreds of applicants. The upside for you is that you can be certain your application will not be overlooked. But will it progress past the ATS?

With a competitive job market, you should use every tool available that gives you an edge over other candidates. And optimizing your resume for ATS is instrumental to improving your chances of being ranked among the best. 

You can think of the job application process as multiple rounds of tests. Creating a resume to get past the ATS is your first test. If you pass, you’ll move on to the next round—a real person reading your resume. Pass that, and you’ll hit the next milestone—a first interview. But a resume that’s not ATS optimized may prevent you from progressing at all. 

How to write an ATS-friendly resume

Crafting an ATS friendly resume is relatively simple if you follow some basic guidelines. Here are our top tips for making an ATS optimized resume:

Use an ATS resume template 

The layout of your resume matters. When an ATS scans your resume, the placement of the content can impact how your application is judged. If you have limited or no work experience, the Skills Based resume format may be your best option. This style highlights your strengths to offset what you may be lacking in professional work experience. If you do have solid work experience, then a Chronological Resume format may be a better choice. But there’s no need to come up with a layout on your own. Keep it simple with our ATS-friendly resume templates that are professionally designed to optimally convey your skills and work experience for both the software, and recruiters.

Tailor your resume to the job description 

To determine if you’re qualified, an ATS will scan your resume for specific keywords that directly relate to the job. Luckily, you have access to most, if not all, of these words since they are often used in the job description. This is key to building an ATS optimized resume. 

When describing your skills and work experience, try to use words that match the job listing provided. The more keywords you include, the higher the likelihood your resume will progress into the pool of eligible candidates. Take note of keywords related to duties, certifications, technical skills and soft skills. If you think of the job description as a question, your resume is the answer. An ATS will scan for cues in your resume to make sure it matches the job description and the criteria the employer has set. 

Use a simple layout for your resume 

You may be tempted to dress up your resume to differentiate yourself from other candidates. But an ATS has difficulty interpreting elaborate components like graphics or tables. Certainly, the recruiter may appreciate your unique wording or creative flair, however such additions will likely prevent your resume from passing the ATS criteria. 

It’s also important to have clear and concise headings. This helps signal to the ATS that the information it is looking for is in that section. If it sounds like we’re asking you to suck the personality out of your resume, that’s not the goal. Our goal is to help get you an interview so you can get the job you want, but that’s only possible if you get past the ATS. And keeping your resume simple is one proven way of doing that. You can include all the personality you want in your cover letter. 

Label resume headings correctly 

The ATS algorithms search for clear, easy-to-understand titles for the sections of your resume. A typical resume will have three to four sections that cover areas such as your education, training, work experience, and personal qualifications. An ATS organizes your qualifications based on basic resume headings. You want an ATS to be able to pick up on exactly which section it's scanning to prevent information from being overlooked. If you're creating a Work Experience section, don’t label it “My Past Endeavours,” label it Work Experience. It’s not fancy, but it works. 

Use appropriate keywords

A company’s ATS is looking for a way to compare your resume to the job description. It’s ranking you, and in order to earn a higher ranking, you need to carefully adapt your resume to the posting. You have the opportunity to incorporate keywords in the various sections of your resume. Carefully review the words used in the job description, and if you have those skills, repeat those same keywords in your resume. 

What you should avoid including in your ATS resume 

What you exclude from your resume can be almost as important as what you include in your resume. When crafting your ATS resume, be sure to avoid these mishaps that might hurt your chances of moving to the next stage in the hiring process: 

  • Don’t mix fonts. Remember, simple is better. 
  • Keep your resume left aligned. Centre aligning can confuse an ATS. 
  • No abbreviations on their own. Write everything out in full and include the abbreviation next to it. This will help when an ATS is scanning for keywords. 
  • Keep paragraphs short and only include relevant information.
  • Avoid using tables, columns, graphics or any images. 

Take a look at our ATS friendly resume templates. They simplify the process of building a resume. Simply add your information to your preferred layout and you’ve already improved your chances of surviving the ATS filters. 

How to beat ATS screening software

While it may be tempting to think that your superb resume is set up to “beat” the software, what you’re really trying to do is give it what it wants to rank your resume fairly. The one thing you definitely don’t want to do is try fooling the system. Any effort to cram your resume with skills or extra keywords won’t work. 

To ensure your resume is optimized for an ATS, use the Prepped ATS Resume Scanner. It scans your resume and provides feedback on keyword analysis, formatting, and more. 

What are good ATS scores? 

An ATS score is out of 100. To stand out, you want to achieve an ATS score of 80 per cent or higher. This is important because multiple sources state that Applicant Tracking Systems turn away up to 70 per cent of resumes. When you use the Prepped ATS Resume Scanner, your resume receives a score out of 100, along with feedback and suggestions on what to improve.

Get your resume ATS ready with Prepped 

As you embark on your next job search, you now know the importance of submitting an ATS-optimized resume. By following the tips we’ve provided, you can update your resume to improve your likelihood of landing the job you want. When you’re ready, be sure to upload your new resume to Prepped’s ATS Resume scanner. You’ll receive the feedback you need to apply with confidence, and score big on the ATS, and your job search. 

Sign up now and get full access to all Prepped’s tools, features, and resources.   

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.