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How To Create An ATS-friendly Resume — The Ultimate Guide

Updated: Jun 22

What is an ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System and it is a piece of software. Companies use ATS to make the recruitment process simple.

Why, you ask?

We're a job board. Most of the jobs we post, given that they usually pay very well, receive hundreds of applications. Some jobs receive thousands of applications.

When jobs are good, the competition goes up exponentially.

HR teams simply cannot go through every resume sent to them. It’s just not possible. So, they use an ATS.

How to create an ATS friendly resume?

Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

What does an ATS do?

An ATS is designed to scan and rank resumes based on their relevance to a specific job description, essentially serving as the first gatekeeper in the hiring process.

The primary function of an ATS is to parse resumes and extract information like contact details, skills, work experience, and education. The parsed information is then compared against the job description to evaluate the compatibility of the candidate with the job role.

ATS utilizes advanced algorithms and keyword scanning techniques to sift through a vast number of resumes, identifying those that best match the job description.

The ATS scores each resume on a variety of parameters and ranks them, significantly reducing the workload for hiring managers by presenting only the most relevant candidates.

Key factors ATS looks for in a resume

The ATS evaluates resumes based on several key factors. Firstly, it assesses the relevance of your skills and experience to the job description. The more your resume aligns with the job requirements, the higher your chances of being shortlisted.

Next, the system considers the use of keywords. This doesn't mean stuffing your resume with as many keywords as possible, but rather strategically incorporating them to match the job description.

Your resume's formatting is another critical aspect. Simple, clean layouts with clearly defined sections are more likely to be accurately parsed by an ATS. Using standard section headings like "Work Experience," "Skills," and "Education" ensures the system correctly identifies and categorizes your information.

Lastly, the system looks at your professional summary. This should be a concise, impactful statement that encapsulates your key skills and experiences, highlighting your suitability for the role.

How to create an ATS-friendly resume?

Use the right keywords

A critical aspect of ATS optimization lies in the strategic use of job-specific keywords. Keywords are essentially specific terms or phrases that an ATS is programmed to identify as indicators of a candidate's suitability for a job role.

They could be specific skills, job titles, certifications, software, or industry jargon.

Use the right keywords at the right place and your resume can very easily reach the top of the pile.

The software uses keywords to assess the relevance of your skills and experience to the job description. A resume that accurately reflects the keywords in the job posting is more likely to score highly in an ATS review, increasing the chances of being shortlisted for an interview.

Research Industry and Job-Specific Keywords

Researching the right keywords requires a thorough understanding of your industry and the specific job you're applying for. Start by examining the job description closely.

Identify the skills, qualifications, and experiences the employer values most. These are your primary keywords.

Next, review several similar job postings. Notice the recurring terms? Those are likely important keywords in your industry. You can also visit the websites of industry leaders or refer to industry publications to identify common jargon, trending topics, or recurring themes.

Additionally, using tools like Google's Keyword Planner or industry-specific job boards can provide insights into what potential employers are searching for. Remember, the goal is to understand the language your industry speaks and translate it into your resume.

Implementing Keywords Naturally in Your Resume

Once you've identified your keywords, the next step is to incorporate them into your resume naturally.

The key here is balance.

While it's important to include relevant keywords, keyword stuffing - the practice of excessively using keywords - can be detrimental. Most ATS are sophisticated enough to detect this and will penalize your resume for it.

Instead, aim to weave these keywords into your resume organically, particularly in your professional summary, skills section, and work experience.

When detailing your work experience, use these keywords to describe your responsibilities, achievements, and skills you utilized.

For example, if "project management" is a recurring keyword in your industry and you have relevant experience, include a bullet point like: "Led a team of 5 in the successful execution of a $500,000 project, utilizing strong project management skills."

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Structure your resume with the ATS in mind

ATS is designed to parse structured data, meaning it's programmed to recognize and understand specific sections of your resume.

If your resume isn't structured correctly or if the information isn't presented in a way that the ATS can interpret, your application may be overlooked, no matter how qualified you are.

Optimal Formats and Templates for ATS Compatibility

When it comes to formatting your resume for ATS, simplicity is key. ATS may struggle to correctly parse information from overly complicated or heavily designed resumes. Opt for a clean, straightforward layout that is easy to read and understand.

Regarding file types, a Word document or a plain-text file is typically the safest choice. While many ATS can handle PDFs, some older systems may have trouble reading them. Avoid using headers and footers to convey important information, as some ATS may not recognize it.

Section-wise Advice for Optimal ATS Scoring

Contact Information: Place this at the top of your resume. Include your full name, phone number, professional email address, and LinkedIn profile if applicable. Avoid embedding this information in a header, as some ATS may not scan it.

Professional Summary: This section should be a concise and impactful overview of your career highlights, skills, and experience. Make sure to incorporate relevant keywords naturally.

Work Experience: List your work experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent job. For each position, include the company name, your job title, dates of employment, and a list of responsibilities and achievements, making sure to incorporate relevant keywords.

Skills: Create a dedicated section to list your skills. This is an ideal place to incorporate keywords from the job description. Be specific and truthful about your competencies.

Education: List your highest degree first and then work backward. Include the name of the institution, the degree earned, and the dates attended. You can also list any relevant coursework or projects.

Certifications: If you have professional certifications, create a separate section to list them. Include the name of the certification, the organization that issued it, and the date you earned it.

Advanced Tips for Beating ATS

Tailor your resume for each job application

We’ve got a great guide on how to customize your resume for a job application. You can read it here. For now, a quick summary:

Each job posting is unique, with specific skills and experiences highlighted.

To increase your chances of passing the ATS, tailor your resume to match each job description. This involves tweaking your professional summary, adjusting your skills section, and rephrasing your work experience to reflect the language used in the job posting.

Avoid Common Pitfalls: Graphics, Images, Unusual Fonts, etc.

While a visually appealing resume might impress a human reviewer, it often does the opposite with ATS. Extraneous graphics, images, unusual fonts, and unconventional section headers can cause parsing errors or go entirely unnoticed by the ATS. Stick to standard fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri, and keep the layout simple and clean.

Use Bullet Points Effectively

Bullet points can enhance the readability of your resume, both for ATS and human readers. When describing your responsibilities and achievements under each job position, use bullet points to present the information clearly and concisely. This not only helps the ATS parse your resume but also makes it easier for hiring managers to scan.

The Role of Professional Networking and Referrals Alongside ATS

While optimizing your resume for ATS is crucial, it should not be your only strategy. Professional networking and referrals can often help you bypass the ATS altogether. Having a connection within the company can lead to your resume being passed directly to the hiring manager. Use platforms like LinkedIn to build and maintain your professional network.

Continuous Resume Updating and Optimization

Beating the ATS is not a one-time task. As you gain new skills, experiences, and achievements, keep your resume updated. Regularly revisit job descriptions in your field to stay aware of shifting keyword trends. An up-to-date, optimized resume increases your chances of making it through the ATS and standing out to hiring managers.

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Evaluate and Adjust Your Resume Strategy

The ability to review the success rate of your applications allows you to gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of your ATS-optimized resume.

Create a simple spreadsheet to track each job you apply for, noting down the job title, company name, date of application, the response received (if any), and any feedback.

Over time, this data will provide a picture of how well your resume is performing and identify any patterns that might indicate areas for improvement.

Adjust Your Strategy Based on Feedback and Outcomes

Your job application strategy should be dynamic, not static.

Based on the responses and feedback you receive, you may need to adjust your approach.

For example, if you're getting responses for certain types of roles or industries but not others, it might be a sign that your resume is better optimized for those roles. In this case, you could either choose to focus more on these types of jobs or adjust your resume to better fit the other roles.

If you're not getting responses at all, it might be worth revisiting your resume with a critical eye, or even seeking professional help. A resume consultant or career coach can provide valuable insights and help you identify any potential issues that might be hindering your success.

Learn from Unsuccessful Applications to Improve Your Resume

While it can be disappointing not to land an interview, each unsuccessful application provides an opportunity for learning and improvement.

Review the job description again and compare it with your resume.

Did you miss any important keywords? Was your resume tailored enough to the role?

Don't be afraid to ask for feedback if your application was unsuccessful. While not all companies provide feedback, some do, and this information can be incredibly valuable for improving your resume and overall application strategy.


All this talk of optimizing resumes and beating the ATS shouldn’t leave you thinking that it’s nigh on impossible to get a job. That’s not true. The fact is that a good resume will already be ATS-friendly to an extent.

This blog is all about fine-tuning your resume. Given the huge competition of high-paying jobs these days, even a slight advantage is worth striving for and that’s what this blog should allow you to do. It should take a good resume and make it a great ATS-friendly one.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for high-paying remote jobs, check out Simple Job Listings. All jobs on Simple Job Listings are remote, most pay really well, and a significant number of jobs we list aren’t listed anywhere else.

Visit Simple Job Listings and find your dream remote job. Good luck!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are ATS-friendly fonts?

ATS friendly fonts are those that are recognized and scannable by most ATS software. Some examples include:

  1. Garamond

  2. Helvetica

  3. Arial

  4. Calibri

  5. Georgia

  6. Times New Roman

Can I run my resume through ATS?

The simple answer is no. While there are a few websites that claim that it can be done, the fact is that there are multiple companies that make ATS software. Each one of them works slightly differently.

Also, it is the recruiters who decide what they’re looking for. Two companies looking for freelance writers won’t necessarily want the exact same skills or experience. So, they tune their ATS to look for different things.

In summary, there’s no reliable way to run your resume against an ATS.

Does ATS read PDF files?

Absolutely. Most, if not all modern ATS will read PDF files. In fact, PDF files are the preferred way to submit your resume.

The reason that some people claim that ATS can’t read PDF files is that when ATS tools were new, they couldn’t read PDF files. Even then, it was an exception and not the rule. But there were some that couldn’t read PDFs.

Nowadays, PDF files are standard.

Can ATS read two-page resumes?

Yes. ATS can read two-page resumes.

Can I use columns in resume with ATS?

No. It isn’t advisable to use columns in a resume. While it is visually pleasing, ATS software isn’t great at picking up columns.

In general, the best way to make your resume ATS friendly is to keep it as simple as you can. Remember that ATS has to read your resume. That’s the most important point. It literally has to pick up on words and read the resume. Keeping it simple is the best way to do that.

How do I make my ATS-friendly resume online for free?

You don’t need ANY paid tool to make your resume ATS friendly. In fact, you don’t need any resume tool at all.

Just follow these steps to make your resume ATS-friendly for free:

  1. Read the job description thoroughly

  2. Create a list of skills that the company is looking for

  3. Edit your resume so that it matches those skills well

  4. Use important keywords that are mentioned in the job description

  5. Use traditional, well-known fonts

  6. Use a traditional format with no extra graphics or columns

  7. Don’t apply for too many roles in the same company at the same time

Does ATS scan both resume and cover letter?

Oh yeah. ATS can and at most times, scans both, your resume and cover letter. In the cover letter, the ATS mainly looks for keywords.

How many companies use ATS?

99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS.

In fact, it’s fairly safe to assume that most medium and large businesses, including big tech companies, use ATS.

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